The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
The Assassin’s Creed series is one of the biggest success stories of this hardware generation. The historical open worlds, stunning visuals, and cinematic moments showcase the best of what console gaming can provide. While it offers an outstanding experience on the big screen, that ambition has not translated well to handhelds. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is the first portable entry to feel like a real Assassin’s Creed game – even if it isn’t among the best of them.
Most of the series’ hallmarks are present in some form. You run around a bustling city, assassinate slavers and business rivals, and search for an artifact from the First Civilization. At the heart of the action is Aveline, a heroine with plenty of personality and a cool arc – especially once the story starts exploring the gray area between Assassin and Templar. The experience doesn’t feel like a low-budget imitation of the real thing, though it admittedly isn’t as polished or extensive as what you find in Assassin’s Creed II or III.
Aveline’s main mission takes her between New Orleans, the bayou, and other locations, but she encounters a handful of diversions along the way. The main money-making loop involves her father’s shipping business. You load up ships with cargo, and then sell that cargo at a different port after the ship’s abbreviated real-time voyage. This addictive mechanic replaces the money you automatically get at intervals in other games, but I like how it requires more participation than simply sitting back and watching the money roll in. I only wish the shipping empire were accessible from more locations; it is inconvenient to hoof it across town to administer your fleet.
Other side missions involve enhancing your shipping, curing poisoned villagers, buying out rival shops, and finding collectibles. Without the constant and automatic influx of money, the value of these tasks is questionable, but they contribute to the sense of activity in the world and keep you occupied when you aren’t slicing through your enemies.
Liberation features a combat system similar to the one found in Assassin’s Creed III, reducing complexity while still making you feel like a capable killer. I miss the ease of Ezio mowing through a group of guards in seconds, but Aveline’s chain-kill ability is a good compromise. Instead of being a natural part of your moveset, it is a special ability that you activate in order to clear out a bunch of attackers in one satisfying swoop. The renewed focus on countering keeps you on your toes, but aggression remains an option. New tools like the whip and the blowgun are great additions to the arsenal, and Aveline shares Connor’s affinity for hatchets.
When Liberation follows the lead of other Assassin’s Creed titles, it excels. When it tries to carve out its own identity, it stumbles. Aveline’s unique hook is her three personas: the assassin, the lady, and the slave. In theory, the abilities of each encourage you to swap them frequently. In practice, the interplay between three personas’ characteristics is poorly thought out. For example, the lady can charm guards, but can’t climb anything – no scaling buildings, leaping fences, or clambering onto the dock if you fall in the water. Every persona has some sort of handicap like that, making them each seem like one-third of a true assassin instead of giving Aveline access to her full range of abilities.
Apart from the single-player campaign (which took me about 12 hours to complete), you can participate in an asynchronous multiplayer mode – but the less said about it, the better. It’s shallow and boring and should be avoided. Another low point is the Vita-specific features; they occasionally feel gimmicky, but more often they are just plain broken. The camera doesn’t detect a bright light even when held directly up to a bulb, the tilt function turns a simple ball-rolling maze into a disaster, and pickpocketing with the rear touchpad rarely works. Liberation serves as a case study in tragic implementation of the Vita’s unique capabilities – probably not what Sony and Ubisoft were hoping for from a system exclusive.
Despite the issues, fans of the series should still seriously consider playing Liberation. None of the worst problems are embedded into the core gameplay. Combat is fun, climbing and navigation work well, the story feels like a natural part of the AC universe. The tie-ins to Assassin’s Creed III are minimal (mainly one mission near the end), but Liberation may hint at what areas the series is exploring next. It isn’t a required piece of the puzzle, but I had fun with Aveline and enjoyed seeing her part in history unfold.
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