Assassin’s Creed: Liberation was created for the PlayStation Vita, bringing knives, jumping and general landing in haystacks to the delight of about 7 people (kidding!) The HD version is a bold undertaking by Ubisoft Sofia, one that meanders between innovative systems in some parts and being lost in the swamps of New Orléans in others. So how does the new HD version fare on last gen consoles and does it have a place there?
The game plays well relying on the old mechanics of previous iterations; if it isn’t broken don’t fix it! So the usual stuff is there, from chained attacks to swan diving off trees into haystacks, nothing too extreme has been added in or removed and the fighting system works surprisingly well. What is new is a system of personas that has been introduced meaning that what you wear and where you wear it has become a key feature.
Aveline de Grandpre is the game’s protagonist (and its first female to don the Assassins cape in the franchise) and has access to three different types of outfit that affect the way you will play and the way characters will interact with you. Each has certain restrictions/benefits, the ‘lady’ dress won’t allow you to run, jump or fight but will allow you access to pretty much anywhere and she can flirt with soldiers to get what she wants. The slave draws attention from guards when you are not seen to be working but allows you to hide in plain sight in crowds of other slaves.
Lastly the assassin is always hunted by guards (has a permanent wanted bar) but has use of all your weapons and abilities. But what you wear is not just a game mechanic as it makes the player face issues of inequality (in the slave outfit), privilege of birth (higher society) and of course notoriety (in the assassin’s costume). The new persona system is quite fun and while it does suffer a few hiccups here and there offers some interesting but not fully realized elements.
Aveline is a bit of a Robin Hood figure in the story – straddling two very different worlds while trying to protect people from the injustices of the time, after all this is set in 1760’ New Orléans, war, oppression and underground movements being the in thing. But instead of focusing on the character we focus on events that play out around her. Whether it’s the voodoo elements that feel rather contrived or her inciting riots she doesn’t seem to come out as the maker of changes, which is a missed opportunity and feels a little half-arsed. I think my biggest gripe about the game is that I just didn’t care about the characters. It was nice to play as Aveline, a protagonist of French and African descent, because it was different to the other games, but a better game that does not make. She is cocky sure, she has some nice one-liners (very few) but there is no real emotional development or ‘soul’ outside of her utter disgust at slavery. That being said, she isn’t as bad as ‘I want to nail myself to the ceiling Connor’.
The missions are often very linear with ‘go to checkpoint 1, pick up and move on to checkpoint 2’ and they can actually be very boring too. I also found that I would be completing a major task and instead of revelling in the moment, the scene would suddenly move to something completely different. It would be like watching as the Death Star explodes only to have the scene jump to some droids discussing the latest Plug in and Turn Me On magazine.
The fact that half the time you are in a swamp means you will be splashing about trying to get to these locations at a half crawl unless you want to frustrate yourself even more and dare use the canoes, the mechanics of which had me chanting mantras to calm down. I also encountered a few bugs that killed the game for me. One moment my companion is following me, the next she is standing staring off into space at the top of a ladder not allowing me past. Oh good times. While the game focuses much more on stealth compared to the last two it also suffers because it is a smaller game and that means a smaller map. So the options of how to approach something is far more limited.
Although some elements are limited by the map I have to give it to Ubisoft Sofia for the look of the game. With many ports from systems that are lower in specification, one expects issues with the upped graphics. I did not. When I played Resident Evil: Revelations it was very obvious it was a port from a ‘smaller’ system. Liberation is quite stunning, not in the same sense as Assassin’s Creed 4 of course but that is to be expected. You do get an eerie feeling when roaming about the swamps and the light effects are quite spectacular at times, I just wish we could have seen something that didn’t feel like a DLC story attached to AC3.
If you don’t mind repetitive missions and are keen on the era around the American Civil War, Templars and the like then you may enjoy this game. You can see that a lot of time was put into the porting as elements like the controls have been improved on (no swiping) and the graphics upped. You may also enjoy the new persona system which could have been built on had the game been first intended for more powerful systems. I still think Resident Evil: Revelations did a far better job but that’s because the story was able to hold its own whereas Liberation bounces from one scene to the next like a hyperactive ginger kid on “Kick a Ginger Day.”