Just out of reach.
Given the name, I think a lot of gamers got excited about Assassin's Creed III: Liberation by extension of Ubisoft's big-budget sequel on consoles. Following in the footsteps of Assassins' Creed: Altair's Chronicles and Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines, Liberation purports to bring the life of an assassin… to life on the Vita. Unlike other subtitled entries like Brotherhood and Revelations, Liberation introduces a brand new protagonist of French and African American background.
Aveline de Grandpré is the focus of Abstergo's Animus software, a piece of entertainment used to transplant you centuries in the past. While Liberation certainly looks like an Assassin's Creed game, can it keep up with the catlike Connor and the Revolutionary War setting?
Anyone with a Vita might decide to shut their ears off because this spin-off is not the kind of software Sony's handheld needs. It's unfortunate to see a game with so much promise effectively hamper itself throughout its execution. It's true that Liberation presents players with a massive open world and the tools to be a violent, silent murderer at will, but Ubisoft's Montreal and Sofia studios have also included equal parts boredom.
Aveline and players will have to thread the needle in New Orleans as the Spanish are coming to replace the waning French rule. Much like Assassin's Creed III, we begin with a younger, more naïve Aveline and watch her develop as the conflict rises and resolves. Cutscenes are numerous and are not lacking any of the high-production values the franchise is known for.
It's an interesting concept—viewing the life of an assassin through the eyes of their arch-nemesis puts the narrative off balance, but it also means you'll probably care a lot less. Without a strong backbone, Liberation relies heavily on turning a console experience into a handheld experience in the open New Orleans and Bayou maps. Getting into fights, climbing, and running assassinations all return from ACIII on consoles, but beware that the experience feels a little clunkier for the diminutive hardware.
Following enemies in the shadows is fun and tailing marks works well, which is good because you'll do it frequently in the game's campaign. But whenever I got into fights, I had trouble registering counter inputs and frequently decided it was better to run away than stick it out with unreliable mechanics.
What is reliable? Liberation's consistently gorgeous setting. The Vita is no slouch and many times it can feel like Ubisoft has squeezed more than should be possible out of the hardware. Carrying Liberation around with you is worth it, if just to show it off to friends. It's not hard to sell people on the Vita when the experience looks so similar to what you play on your couch.
In fact, I wish there was more focus on directing the player to run around, climb, leap and explore the city at length. I really wanted to chase enemies across rooftops or race against the clock from one point to the next. Those moments don't come and instead direct players into the Bayou.
While it's probably not fair to expect a stinky, humid, muddy Bayou to be a whole mess of fun, I wish the large expanse had more going on aside from the occasional story mission. My favorite moments in Assassin's Creed III revolved around the characters and events in the wild, but Aveline (and I) kept heading back into town where the real action was.
Then we settle upon the ridiculous dressing rooms and outfit swaps Aveline's saddled with in her adventure. Dressing like a lady lets you charm guards and generally get away with stuff. Unfortunately, it's not that fun to wander around restricted to the ground. Swapping into your slave persona allows you to infiltrate more unfriendly compounds and climb on roofs, but you'll be weaker in combat. Then the assassin outfit typically attracts the most attention, but allows you to play the game like a true AC title is supposed to be played.
Unfortunately, the outfit swaps can seem pandering, betraying the Assassin's Creed identity you'll hope to grab hold of in Liberation's best moments. The fact remains that the game takes those moments away from you as soon as you come within reach, leaving it feeling like an amazing tech demo. The same can be said of the game's card-battling multiplayer mode which fails to really teach the player what's going on.
Assassin's Creed fans will still enjoy the portable gameplay. Even Vita owners looking to justify the handheld through pure technical power can find a lot to love in Liberation. It's just not the experience you might expect from the franchise.
Copy provided by publisher.