Ubisoft’s been going to town with releases in the past year: Rayman Legends, Splinter Cell Blacklist, and not one, but two Assassin’s Creed games. Today’s subject, Liberation, is not connected to AC IV in anything except the title. The game was made originally as companion of AC III for PS Vita. There it got a lot of praise for its mechanics and narrative and fans petitioned for it to be brought to home consoles and PC. Graphics got upgraded, gameplay reworked, and DLC added into the main game free of charge. But is it a step forward, or two steps back?
Liberation tells the story of Aveline De Grandpre, daughter of a rich French merchant and his unofficial African wife, living in 18th century New Orleans –- roughly around the time Connor Kenway’s adventures take place. Her mother disappears, Aveline gets recruited into the Brotherhood and starts working to free slaves and fight Templars, when they try to take control of the city (switch from French to Spanish rule). Of course, nothing in this affair is what it seems — expect First Civilization artifacts, trips to Mexico and a lot of secrets in the Louisiana Bayou.
Aveline’s plot is not part of Desmond’s memories and she doesn’t contribute to the main trilogy, similar to Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines (PSP) back in the day. There is still a hint at present day anti-Abstergo plot, but it’s so small that you can safely go the extra mile; no one will pester you to hack computers. The individual segments are well-written and engaging enough to keep you playing till the credits roll, with big questions arising out of a satisfying ending.
The problem is the main story is boiled down so it’s easy to play in small portions, due to Liberation’s handheld origins. So boiled down, in fact, that it’s easy to lose track of how Aveline gets from one situation to another and the text during loading screens only does so much to explain. It’s confusing.
Another thing that might disappoint players is the game’s longevity. The story sequences and most of collectibles clock in at a mere 9 hours, another 3 for repetitive side quests. There’s also no multiplayer (at least none that yours truly could find). There’s no hunting, crafting, territory control or naval segments here, and traversing the three medium-sized locations gets old pretty quickly, especially with no real fast travel system. If you’ve been looking for a shorter AC game, you’re in luck, but the rest of you might want to take note.
Liberation, however, does bring something new to the series with experiments in mechanics. The most notable changes are in combat. Counters are no longer automatic, neither are other defensive moves. You first have to parry, and then follow it by a quick counter input. It takes some getting used to and requires precision, but once mastered, provides a rewarding experience. The enemies still attack you one at a time and they’re still easy to fool when you’re in stealth mode, but they’re strong in numbers, especially when using firearms, from which there’s no obvious defense.
Another try to switch things up is the introduction of Personas. Aveline can visit a changing room at any time to shed her assassin uniform and dress up as a slave or a lady, each with own set of weapons and tools, as well as restrictions. While the Assassin can climb, run, use guns, hatchets, cutlasses, blowpipe and bombs, the Lady can only carry a hidden blade and a parasol gun, and the Slave replaces those with 2 hidden blades and a whip. Notoriety levels and mechanics to reduce them are separate for all three, as well as the speed with which the guards notice you. It sounds nice on paper but outside of main missions has almost no practical use.
Oddly enough, if you play on PC, you won’t be able to use the controller too. The reviewer’s Xbox 360 pad, which is recognized by most games, was completely ignored by Lady Liberation. The good news is the controls are easy to get used to and mapped intuitively.
Ubisoft promised updated visuals when they brought Liberation to the big platforms and they did an admirable job indeed. Textures have been completely replaced, they’re now mostly clear and high-res. All models now have more polygons in them. Physics got added to most of the previously static objects. Environments got redesigned to provide more options on missions. Some Vita-specific segments were cut and replaced by new ones. Finally, the effects, like lighting, water and snow have been improved, with the overall look coming very close to AC III.
There are, however, some sore spots. The draw distance remains unchanged and could provide some ugly landscapes. Some textures look blurry when examined up close, too. And the amount of invisible walls in the bayou clearly gives away the game’s origins. Water effects could be better too. Liberation can be eye-candy one minute and get spoiled by one ugly detail the next. This is probably due to the engine’s limitations and doesn’t detract much from the overall good look. Just don’t be startled when you see it. The tradeoff is that it will run on last-year’s hardware without problems. Audio department did an even better job of the port, with no obvious flaws in music, or voice acting. The writing is what makes some dialog sound dumb, not the voices.
If there’s some advice we could give, be careful when buying Liberation. Because of its hand-held origins, it looks worse than AC IV, takes less time to complete than AC IV and plays like a limited AC III with wasted attempts at innovation. However, if you can look past old graphics and some hit-or-miss writing, you’re in for a beautiful adventure without much of the dreadful present-day idiocy, unnecessary multiplayer and cumbersome grinding of AC IV.
Reviewed on: AMD FX 6300 3.5 GHz, 8 GB Kingston HyperX Blue DDR3, Palit GeForce GTX 660 2GB, Acer S235HLbii 1080p Monitor, Windows 8.1