Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Release Date: October 30, 2012
When Ubisoft announced they planned to bring an Assassin’s Creed title to the PS Vita, fans were elated. Here was, perhaps, the first must-have title for Sony’s new handheld. What made the game even more enticing was that it featured the first female assassin, Aveline de Grandpre, a creole aristocrat in 18th century New Orleans. Is Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation the system seller Sony hoped it would be?
While Assassin’s Creed 3 examines the American Revolution, Liberation takes a look at the political and social climates of 1700s New Orleans. Aveline, a lady by day and assassin by night, finds herself in the midst of preventing the Templars from taking over the city, investigating a series of disappearing slaves, and discovering what became of her mother. The story is full of the same convoluted twists and turns that we’re accustomed to in the series, but if we’re being honest, story has never been Assassin’s Creed‘s strongest suit.
Gameplay alternates between New Orleans and the bayous, with Aveline scaling trees, leaping and bounding through massive Cyprus trees and French colonial architecture. The big question is whether or not this setting compares to that of Renaissance Italy or Middle Ages Jerusalem, and the answer is yes and no. From a gameplay perspective, climbing through the bayou has such a nice fluidity and sense of exploration that I prefer, slightly, to that of climbing buildings. However, climbing to the top of a tree, or the top of a building to synchronize your view just doesn’t instill the sense of awe and wonder of previous AC titles–the bayou cannot compare to the Piazza San Marco.
The controls are the same as previous Assassin’s Creed titles, including the R button essentially doing most of the leg work in your explorations. At some points, when running through the bayou, it would be nice to feel a little more in control of Aveline. Combat is essentially the same, with the only notable change being that Aveline is not as strong as Ezio or Altaïr, but she is much faster.
The major gameplay mechanic in Liberation is Aveline’s need to change between three personas, depending on her situation. As the Lady, Aveline is able to bribe and charm guards and fellow nobles, but she is unable to climb or jump and she is very limited in her combat options. The Slave persona allows Aveline to blend in with other slaves, infiltrate buildings and plantations and she is able to jump, climb and fight. The Assassin persona, which has been featured in most of the advertising, is the fastest for climbing, jumping and fighting, but it is also very conspicuous and draws unwanted attention.
This mechanic is neat because helps cement Aveline as a strong, dynamic female character as opposed to Ezio with boobs. It takes into account both the advantages and disadvantages a female assassin would face and, when coupled with her own personal backstory, it makes for an intriguing experience. In fact, I feel comfortable saying that Aveline feels more thought out and developed than her console counterpart, Connor. To take it a step further, I found myself wondering why we couldn’t have experienced Aveline’s story on console and Connor’s on handheld.
The use of Vita’s touchscreens in Liberation aren’t terrible, but most of them do feel gimmicky. For instance, the canoe portions are almost painful in their use of the rear touchscreen. I would have preferred manual, button controls to the touch controls in almost every instance, which isn’t a great thing to say. Graphically, the title utilizes the Vita’s hardware and it is quite pretty.
Unfortunately, the game continues several of the franchise’s less than shiny issues. The controls are occasionally frustrating as the One Button to Rule Them All (it’s R button) grabs cover or benches when you’re just trying to run, or when Aveline seems confused by your chosen direction. Also, the voice work deserves a special eye roll. Amber Goldfarb is decent as Aveline, but the rest of the case is eye roll-worthy at best and teeth grating at worst.
However, Winifred Phillips’ soundtrack deserves special note here. It’s no exaggeration to say this is one of the best soundtracks the series has seen, and it plays well within the game.
It should come as little surprise to say you need to have more than a passing interest in Assassin’s Creed, as a franchise, to enjoy this title. Chances are if you’ve made it this far, you’re accustomed to the frustrating controls and jumbled mess of a story, and this title lives up to Ubisoft’s promise. It is a fully realized AC experienceon the handheld and it stars one of the most interesting characters in a long time. For fans of the franchise, it’s worth checking out and supporting one of the most interesting heroes of 2012. Besides, admit it: your Vita could use some love.