I’d never played an Assassin’s Creed game before I picked this title up for my Vita. I’d watched a few friends play and I have a general sense of the storylines from the previous titles because of it, but I just didn’t get interested. Then Ubisoft set Assassin’s Creed III during the American Revolution with a companion game set in Louisiana with a new character. I was immediately intrigued by the Vita title, and I’m probably going to end up with Assassin’s Creed III on the PS3 just to link them for bonus goodies, but I must admit, Assassin’s Creed III Liberation is not the best game to enter the series with, especially if you’re not all that familiar with the games before it. It does however fill a much needed hole in my Vita games library with a title that has pretty much dominated my time with the handheld since it came out. Let’s take a look.
There are two modes of play offered with Assassin’s Creed III Liberation, a single player mode and a multiplayer. The multiplayer is not at all like it’s big brother on the living room consoles. It’s an asynchronus game where you send troops to take over nodes around the globe for the Assassins or the Templars. You put your forces to work on a node, earning double points for that node if it’s near your actual geo location. It’s not a bad little distraction and doesn’t take long to do, but it feels tacked on and doesn’t offer much to the player other than a few trophies and a spot on a leaderboard. The real meat of the game is in the single player mode.
The game itself is supposed to be a game set in the Assassin’s Creed universe where Abstergo, the company run by the Templars who the Assassin’s are trying to thwart, is releasing the Animus system as a game for the public to enjoy and for the Tempars to use as a tool to bring people over to their side of thinking by twisting the memories of the lead character to show the Templars were not as bad as the Assassin’s make them out to be. There’s an over-arching story here where a friend of the Assassin’s has hacked the game and is giving the player the opportunity to see the truth by taking out certain key individuals to unlock the true memories so that Abstergo doesn’t get their way. This is treated more or less as a subplot that only actually affects your storyline twice while you have to actively seek out the other people to kill on your own to unlock the true ending.
The main plot line takes place in the past, just after the French and Indian War and leading through the American Revolution set in French and then Spanish controlled New Orleans, the Bayou, some areas in Mexico and a quick trip to New York City. The player of Abstergo’s game takes the role of an African and French descent woman, the daughter of a former slave whose father is a wealthy business owner in New Orleans, Aveline de Grandpré. When she was very young she was separated from her mother and stumbled across a slave auction and then was mistaken for a slave herself. Rescued by her now mentor, Agate, an escaped slave himself, she was inducted into the Assassin Order. Re-united with her father, she was raised in a home of privilege and money and when her mother disappeared under mysterious circumstances, was very excepting of the woman who became her step-mother. As she grew up she became a very vocal opponent of the slave trade in New Orleans, using her father’s name and power to protect her while she got on with her less than legal activities.
We then follow Aveline through several key moments in her life where she continues to investigate the Templars activities in New Orleans attempting to track down the ring leader and put a stop to it. The game runs from 1765 through 1777 with Aveline dealing with French and Spanish troops, slavers, spies, business rivals, and smugglers all to help fight the slave trade and the Templars in her home. It’s an interesting story, but because of the way it’s told it feels uneven and choppy and like it’s missing some key elements to tie it all together. If you’re new to the franchise like me, and this is your first game, the whole Assassins vs Templars thing will be totally lost on you, especially the game within a game with someone hacking it to get you the true story. They did do a fantastic job with Aveline and she isn’t the only strong female lead in the game either which is pretty awesome.
Visually this game looks absolutely amazing at times and at others you can see where they cut corners a bit to make things work. The areas they created for the time period are stunning, and when you get out on the rooftops and look over a city, the Bayou, or when you’re in Mexico, it’s amazing to look at. Where it can get a little weird are some minor graphics glitches in characters you’re running around with in the crowds as you change areas especially in New Orleans. There are different types of people in different areas and sometimes when you change areas, a person you’re standing near will suddenly change not only textures but character models to reflect the area you’ve just gone into. So that wealthy businessman will suddenly be a scraggly looking dock worker right before your eyes. Also hidden treasure boxes that you’ve already collected on will sometimes pop back up on your map long after you’ve collected from them. Overall though I’d have to say it’s a pretty stunning game visually falling in that mid-range of better than the PS2 but not quite at the level of the PS3 which is where I’d assumed Vita graphics would have fallen anyway.
Audio in the game is actually really good, but not if you’re listening in on the Vita’s speakers. Through the speakers it can sound tinny, off, too loud, too soft. I thought they’d just gone way out there with it and was going to have to completely discount it. Until I put on my headphones I use for my MMO gaming because my cat ate my earbuds for the Vita. It was like night and day. Now, I realize my headphones are a bit pricey and high end, but they can only interpret the signals being sent to them from the Vita, and when they were on Liberation went from being some crappy monotone single speaker on a phonograph to a full blown symphony orchestra. That tells me a few things, the game was designed for far better speakers than the Vita actually has, that it was designed with 3D sound in mind, and they failed to properly test it on the Vita using just the handheld’s speakers. The music in the game is really well done and I love the themes. There are some issues with it cutting out in the multiplayer when you’re assigning troops and being far too loud when it’s back. Single player though it’s amazing. Effects are well done and I didn’t notice any real problems in cutscenes as long as I wasn’t snapping screenshots like a madman. That will actually screw up the lip-syncing a little bit. The voice actors do a really great job bringing these characters to life. Aveline especially has that right change between her different personas and what she’s trying to accomplish. The accents aren’t too bad at all and it really feels like Louisiana during that time period.
Controls are actually set up like a typical action title, but there are a few things that move to the touchscreen and most of those you can skip after the first tutorial if you don’t want to use it. The left analog controls your direction and movement, the right moves the camera around. X handles your sprint and jumps, Triangle has you use a tool or your ranged weapon, Circle lets you interact with an object or character, and Square is the ever important attack or assassinate. The up arrow puts you in Eagle Sense mode, right puts you in chain kill mode, and down reloads your weapon. You can parry and counter-attack with the circle button, X will fire off a kick attack. You can tap the weapons on screen to open up a weapons wheel to select a weapon or change it out there. The touchscreen you can use to pickpocket in a little mini-game you only have to use a few times to get around objectives. It wasn’t very lucrative so I stuck to doing side missions and the shipping business. More on that in a few.
But the Vita has touchscreens, you’re saying. Yes the game uses those too. Sometimes you’ll get or steal letters you have to open by swiping the front and back touchscreens at the same time. I’ve read complaints about it, but it’s not that hard to do and is a cute touch. There’s a smaller portion of the game where you can use a canoe to get around the Bayou and can use the back touchscreen to paddle with limited success. I just pressed the button they gave you on the side instead as I had more control there and it was easier to press a button than to swipe the back of the Vita over and over again. Where the touchscreens get interesting is using them to target specific people you want to use your ranged weapons on. Now that’s fun. Need a guard gone? Tap the front touchscreen where the guard is to select him, pull out your pistol or blow gun and hold the firing button to get a lock and fire. Poetry.
The basic gameplay from what I’ve seen is largely unchanged from the formula that worked on the bigger console version. You’re basically an urban explorer who also happens to be an Assassin. Most of the time you can run across rooftops, leap from tall perches, climb just about anything, leap from tree to tree in the Bayou, and so on. They’ve coupled this with dropping mechanics in death from above moves, or you can use your elevated status to take out targets long range with your pistol or blow gun. There are a number of ways to assassinate someone, long range as I’ve mentioned, poisoning a nearby target to go into a rage and kill everyone around them, walking up behind for a stealth kill with your wrist sheaths, or the more direct and in your face route with weapons out and just slaughter the person. The last one will in fact attract the city guards or other nearby official looking type persons who will give chase. If they see you doing the long range thing they’ll also sound the alarm even if you take them out, unless you do it quickly. Now the AI in the game isn’t the most intelligent I’ve seen, but they’re not entirely stupid. It relies heavily on line of sight so getting out of sight quickly will allow you to lose your tail very quickly. From what I’ve read elsewhere these are much easier to ditch and deal with than in the regular version, but in my experience I’ve had to go to great lengths to get rid of the guards on several occasions.
Where they’ve made some changes to the basic formula is to give Aveline three personas to move about the areas with. Some are level and story dependent, after awhile you can pick what you want, but even then some bonuses will require a certain outfit. You have the Assassin, the Lady, and the Slave for your personas to choose from. You can customize the look of each by spending money at shops to buy variations on the outfits and change them out there. For some reason you can’t simply select these at the different dressing areas around where you can change personas, which is odd. The Personas each have their strengths and weaknesses. The Assassin gives you the most weapons available along with options to take out your target, ability to climb and roof run, but the downside is that you’re always under suspicion as your Notoriety never drops below a certain level with the Assassin. Notoriety basically determines how the NPCs and guards will treat you upon seeing you. You can affect this by removing wanted posters around town for both the Assassin persona and the Slave persona. For the Lady the only way to cut it down is to take out Witnesses using the stealth stab n the back and walk away kill or the blow gun so no one knows it was you.
The Slave persona gives you a good range of flexibility, but you’re lacking some of your weapons from the Assassin. However you can travel along the ground much easier than you can in your Assassin persona and can get in passed guards on the ground by simply walking up and picking up a crate to carry into an area like you belong there. Now you can and will build up Notoriety with the Slave if you just go around acting like your Assassin persona with rooftop antics, but you’ll blend in a bit better with a crowd this way. I’ve yet to blend effectively with my Assassin.
The Lady persona is how Aveline is best known around New Orleans. It’s the identity she uses to run her family’s business, the one she’s seen with around town doing daily life. It’s also the one with the most limitations. You can’t climb with the Lady, you only have a parasol that’s really a disguised blow gun and your wrist sheaths for combat, and if you’re trying not to draw attention, you move around town like a snail. And this is not a small town by any means. So if you have to use the Lady persona for a mission, I recommend using one of the other two to get near where you need to go and then change to the Lady. The Lady can also charm NPCs around town to get men to escort her or to get guards to let her passed. You can also bribe guards as the Lady. This helps as in the rougher parts of town, there are small groups of men who will go after you because, well, you’re a lady with money they want. They don’t know you’re an Assassin that can slaughter them, which if you do will get you noticed, which you don’t want. So if you charm a guy into following you, you’re far less likely to get attacked because you have an escort.
Besides the personas, there is also Eagle Vision. It’s supposed to let you see things no one else can and is actually really necessary for two key points in the game in finding hidden people that are changing the actual events that happened in the game which eliminating them will bring the true events to light. It also highlights hidden chests, sometimes, and other key points of interest on the map like allies and targets. It’s also good for spotting guards as you run around the map.
There are several, what I would call, mini-games within the game. You have multiplayer of course, which is outside the story mode but is basically a mini game in and of itself. There are items scattered about, hidden chests with things to collect, diary pages, Alligator nest hunting, finding all the perches in a level and syncing to them, which are all neat little time wasters that aren’t crucial to beating the game but can be fun to do. There are side missions that add bonus money to the game which usually involve you taking over a rivals business that also will unlock more places for you to change your persona which can only help you out. The big thing that ties a little bit into the naval aspect of Assassin’s Creed III is taking over your family’s shipping business. This is not nearly as involved as you may think as you buy goods, stock a ship and send it on its destination. You can lose ships to bad weather and pirates however, and the timer for sending ships only ticks while you’re playing the single player game, which can be highly annoying if you set the Vita down and it goes to sleep, leaving you still waiting for those ships to reach their destination when you fire it up again. It’s a neat distraction, but also not crucial to beating the game.
There are lots of trophies to pick up in the game, and unless you’re purposely failing a mission to start it over again or are extremely careful, you’re going to miss your shot at them and need to do parts of the game over again to get them, so there is that. It’s really easy to screw up a mission and not get 100 percent sync on it. Most missions are pretty straight-forward on goals though so getting them isn’t always insanely hard, you just have to be careful of what you’re doing. While there is multiplayer, it’s so uninvolved, after you get the trophies for doing it, I can see not going back to it, pretty much ever. It’s not holding my interest at all and the trophy is the only reason I keep going back to it. The game itself plays well and some of the missions are fun and inventive making them worth playing over again just to try another tactic to accomplish.
You do get a decent amount of content for your money compared to most action titles. It’s priced at the $40 point for the Vita which I think is pretty fair for the amount of game you’re getting. The challenges do get a bit more progressive as you go and the game tends to throw bigger stuff at you making it far more interesting. While they did add some padding with the mini-games, the story mode itself runs a pretty good length, especially for a handheld action title. I’d drop the money on this game again in a heartbeat.
While this is the first game that’s gotten away from the main protagonist, most of the gameplay elements are largely unchanged from the main games from what I’m looking at. They do change things up quite a bit with the persona’s and how you interact with the world which was neat to play around with. Overall though it doesn’t look like the base formula for the game itself was mess with much at all which is what attracts people to the game in the first place. The game makes itself very engaging, and I absolutely loved the urban runs through New Orleans and the Bayou. Figuring out how to make it up to a perch or how to get that diary page besides getting that kill have kept me playing this far longer than I should when I have to get to bed. It’s a solid titles that’s a spin off of a bigger series that actually manages to tell its own story within the game without having to rely on the bigger titles to do it all for it. It’s priced well and Aveline makes for one hell of a lead character that I’d love to see in more titles, Vita or otherwise.
There are lots of bugs in this game. While I haven’t encountered the game-breaking one that will kill your save game, I also haven’t seen it brought back up since the first few weeks of release. I didn’t get a lot of framerate issues, and the only other big bug I had was an area not resetting to its normal status until after I’d moved on to another so any time I wandered through there the guards acted like it was still restricted even though it wasn’t anymore and I’d have to run for my life, which can be exciting in the Lady Persona and can’t climb. Overall though, I’m not regretting the purchase at all even with the bugs I’ve encountered. The game is otherwise solid and it feels right at home on the Vita and I’d love to see more of them like this one. It was the first title I was actually looking forward to for my Vita besides Uncharted: Golden Abyss and I’m glad to say the Ubisoft delivered a game that didn’t disappoint me. Would I have gotten more out of it or appreciated it more if I had played the other games? Possibly. But the game can stand on its own for the most part which is a very good thing.
Control and Gameplay: Great
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
While Assassin’s Creed III Liberation isn’t quite as good as I expected, it is a welcome addition to my Vita game library. Aveline and her history is compelling, and the usual Assassin’s Creed gameplay makes a very nice transition to the handheld. While the game has some glitches, other staff have informed me that these are all pretty much prevalent through all the games, so this is pretty much an authentic experience on the Vita. Being my first entry into the franchise I was a bit confused and needed a little bit of a primer to really know what was in fact going on overall, but the game does a decent enough job telling you what’s going on at the moment. The Persona system is well used, each one having pros and cons. It’s an easy game to recommend, especially with the bundle that’s out that includes the Vita.