Assassin’s Creed III reinvigorated its brand by releasing an expansive game that far surpassed its predecessors. I was quite enamored with all the changes and improvements, so naturally anything relating to the universe would catch my eye and attention. I just want more. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation beckons to this call by releasing a side story with a different assassin hero on the Vita for an pocket-sized assassin experience. Liberation borrows heavily from the book of Assassin’s Creed III, but crumbles and rips the most sacred of pages, resulting a package that is frustrating at almost every turn.
In Liberation, we are presented with a new assassin, Aveline de Grandpré, a female Creole blessed with riches and freedom within her habitat in New Orleans during the mid-1700s. On a surface level, even if the game doesn’t really capitalize on it, just seeing an assassin that isn’t a man is something refreshing in of itself.
Sadly, even though she is new and different, Aveline doesn’t reach the heights of Ezio or Connor, mainly because it feels like we were instantly tossed into her life without much buildup. You play as her as a child for a minute then the scene fades and she’s an already an assassin. How did she become inducted into the Brotherhood? Why? When? Although it throws players right into the thick of things and lets you wield the wrist blades instantly, the lack of a meaty, narrative-building introduction results in feeling like you have less of a connection with her and consequently makes her feel a bit less important than previous protagonists in the series.
While not a glowing example of character, Aveline does a fairly competent job, especially when compared to the rest of the plot. The disjointed narrative tries to tell a story of Aveline’s journey to free some slaves and take down some Spanish that are doing such nefarious deeds but none of it is told with much care. Every person with information leading to the next person seems loosely connected and I wondered in almost every mission why I was doing the things I was doing. Tasks seemed mundane and unrelated all the way to the ending, which was not only infuriating, but confusing and anticlimactic. I guess it retained the signature “confusing” aspect almost every other Assassin’s Creed game has.
Heavy topics like slavery are hinted at, but done in a sort of sugarcoated way. Slaves are present, but they really don’t feel like they are slaves. You never see any of the negatives that come hand in hand like blatant racism, beatings, or other inhumane, disgusting actions. I know that sounds terrible to actually say, but a weighty topic like that deserves some sort of respect to be portrayed in a way that is not only accurate, but also in a way that would give more credence to actually wanting to take down who is responsible. Tackling slavery must be an incredibly hard line to straddle without being offensive, but if a franchise could have done it, I would have expected Assassin’s Creed to handle it in a historically accurate, tasteful manner. Instead, we are left with a tame, children’s book interpretation of such a subject matter, showcasing its failed potential in not only the personal story, but in the greater topic at large.
Assassin’s Creed III carried the franchise forward in a plethora of different ways, with the biggest coming in the gameplay subsection. Liberation takes this advanced skeleton an adds an array of cancerous organs and muscle tissue to fill out the empty spots.
Combat, instead of being a worthy successor to the Dark Knight, takes the counter/strike flow of ACIII and makes it about half as responsive and about five times as annoying. Aveline only counters about half of the time when you know you hit the button (and usually horrendously clips when she does counter), which isn’t even counting when the counter icons fail to appear. Because of this, combat is only passable when your opponents don’t actually attack back, which doesn’t speak too well on the AI.
To say that when the AI is only not frustrating when it is bad is indicative of the problem at large: the AI is busted. Not only will your allies get stuck, die, or get caught without your permission, the enemy AI is as intelligent as most of the hay piles that permeate the world. They instantly go from being completely unaware of your presence to spotting you as soon as you so much as cough within a few yards of them, which is especially maddening since their SSI triangles don’t actually work.
Getting caught is made infinitely more worse by the game’s destructive addiction to keeping fail states incredibly strict. Every single Assassin’s Creed is guilty of this fallacy, some more than others, but Liberation takes this to a level that would even make Revelations blush. It is downright sickening how many missions say “Remain undetected” and I often couldn’t think of a logical explanation of why it had to be that way. Liberation‘s broken AI makes it incredibly difficult to actually sneak anywhere since you rarely know when they’ll decide to spot you. Expect to fail quite often and rage quit.
Aveline’s personas are a new gameplay facet to try to yield different playstyles, but it rarely succeeds in this endeavor. She can disguise as a slave, an assassin, or a lady at designated stations. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but the game never, apart from one or two times, calls for player choice. You’ll often be forced to play as one, but later on the game abandons the thought of different personas, almost forgetting about it completely. Since you have to go out of your way to find and buy a dressing shop, it is often a hassle to change even if you wanted to. The mission structure doesn’t even allow for multiple playstyles so, unless you are forced on a certain one, you’ll probably always bank on the classic, heavily armed assassin. Had each mission had multiple options like Dishonored, maybe this persona idea could go places. Alas it doesn’t, creating this illusion of choice.
At least the motion controls don’t give you an illusion of choice; you don’t any choice at all. Games on new technology often have features jammed in to show what it can do, and Liberation not only does this, but does so terribly. Pickpocketing is done solely through the rear touch panel touch panel and almost never responds correctly. The ball rotating minigame is a practice in patience, since it doesn’t actually work with real Earth physics.
The worst offender is holding the Vita up to a light. After nearly every side mission, you are forced to hold your Vita up to a light source, but it almost never functions. You’ll spend minutes figuring out what to do, changing up every single variable, when all of a sudden, it decides to just throw you a bone and work. Not only is this flawed from the conception (you can’t exit if you aren’t near a light source), but it happens at such an alarming frequency and nearly stopped me from doing any side missions. The touch screen works fantastically for the map and weapon selection, but it should have been neutered at that.
Aside from a lot of larger problems, plenty of stupid issues plague the game at every turn. Notoriety can be all too easy to gain, but can be entirely too hard to bring back down efficiently, leading to endless cycles of getting caught and becoming notorious again. Aveline not only constantly defaults back to her small weapon, but her ability to immediately jump into high profile mode and gut the nearest guard is appalling. If you are too far from a guard you want to silently assassinate and press square, she won’t extend and retract her blades to show the player she can’t stealthily kill her target at that range. Instead, she’ll pounce on said guard in high profile mode without press the trigger and disembowel him for all to see. Stupid design decisions like this plague many aspects of the game and listing them all would be tiresome.
Assassin’s Creed is a series of spectacle, something that seemed impossible to successfully translate onto a handheld. Ubisoft technically did it, but with a few sacrifices and caveats. From a pure visual standpoint, the game looks pretty good. Environments from the swamp to the city are filled with detail, something that caught me off guard given the Vita’s limitations. Animations, while wholeheartedly ripped straight from Assassin’s Creed III, look solid, even with the occasional wonky stutter and frequent clipping. All of this comes at a cost, which the biggest detractor being the framerate. It never looks quite right, with it feeling its “best” right under thirty frames per second. Combat doesn’t work by itself, but the mildly choppy framerate doesn’t help fighting or the platforming.
Game soundtracks usually fall into two categories for me: infectiously catchy or forgettable (but not bad). Let’s carve out a new niche for Liberation: repetitive and grating. Only a handful of tracks are actually present in the game, but they repeat so often that you can’t help but grow a vicious hatred for most of the musical pieces. Instead of focusing on ambient noise, something ACIII does superbly, they choose to obnoxiously loop each track so much, that muting seemed like the option for keeping my sanity. It haunts me.
Liberation has multiplayer, but you (and judging by the difficulty to find a game, everyone else) won’t play it. Instead of finding a way to borrow the series’ brilliant cat and mouse multiplayer, there is a Risk-like copycat. It’s poorly explained, barren, and just not any fun to play. Fans of boredom and cooldown timers might be the targeted audience for this ill-fated mode.
It took me a bit to realize that Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation wasn’t a good game. Like a battered wife, I kept making excuses for its shortcomings but then realized that it actively hated me. With all of the poor decisions from broken AI to a foggy story to strict mission design, its palpable hatred for the player was the only logical conclusion I could come to. The few real Assassin’s Creed moments are barely present and fail to bring the game up to any memorable standards. All it had to do was be an Assassin’s Creed game and it could barely manage that. It liberated itself from good game design and solid storytelling, something I don’t think the game’s title intended.
+Above average visuals with good animation
+Tiny glimpses of classic Assassin’s Creed
-Overly punishing mission objectives with ludicrously stringent mission parameters
-Combat lacks responsiveness
-Incoherent, jumbled story that treads safely around controversial topics like slavery
-Obnoxiously grating soundtrack that repeats over and over
-Braindead friendly and enemy AI
-Motion control and touch screen gimmicks are repeated far too often
Final Score: 5/10