It’s 1765 with Spanish forces scheming to take control of Louisiana in the south – but they have yet to deal with brand new Assassin’s Creed protagonist Aveline who will play a crucial role in the turbulent beginnings of a new nation.
Although Assassin’s Creed spin-offs on handhelds have been done before on both the DS and PSP. Yet, it’s apparent right from the first press of the X button than Ubisoft have really outdone themselves this time in tying Liberation to the PS3 game creating two totally different adventures set in different parts of 18th Century America but with overlapping timelines.
Obviously, without spoiling how both titles are tied together storywise, it is clear that there are more than a few similarities in both the design and gameplay on offer. Whilst Connor deals with the Frontier, Aveline has the Bayou. Compared to the PS3 version, it is true that Aveline is pitted against fewer hostilities but she deals with them all in pretty much the same vein as you fight large predators in Assassins’ Creed III, more often then not in quick time events. It also had a familiar Arkham Asylum/City combat feel to it, which is never a bad thing. The Vita swamps provides hours of exploration with treasures to be found in trees whilst smugglers are dotted around offering you gear and weapons.
Exploring the swampland is just so much fun, jumping from branch to branch, swimming through stagnant waters, canoeing and even wrestling with crocs. Apart from the main swampy story of hunting down Acolytes there are also side missions to go at such as curing locals of an intense fever by tracking down special mushrooms.
So far Aveline might sound a bit of a softy compared to Connor but fear not as she is just as agile as Connor. If it’s brutality you are after, there’s plenty to hack at in Liberation’s story missions. Aveline and Connor share the same weakness for exaggerated melee kills and she’s a dab hand with her “sugar cane machete”.
Although the swamplands play a big part in the story mode there is so much more than that. Without spoiling too much, some of the subplots involve the slave trade and the military resources that France eventually uses in their war for independence. The first main story mission involves Aveline infiltrating a fort in the Bayou where several slaves have been kidnapped. All isn’t as clear cut as it seems, with the slaves not all that eager to be rescued. The story also involves you working with an ally in New Orleans, an accountant named Gerald. His take is to get answers by drawing out a diffident governor from hiding and Aveline manages this by goading a rebellion and seizing a gunpowder delivery.
Abviously, stealing said gunpowder is far from smooth running. Fans will be glad to hear there are horse carriage sequences made all the more difficult thanks to having to weave through the tight streets of New Orleans. This is one of the few times you’ll find yourself wanting to use the touch controls in favour of the physical buttons. Thankfully, they all respond well: you tap the screen to speed up, press and hold to slow down. Talking of touch controls, it was a blessing that there was no Uncharted touch gimmickry here and players will only have to resort to touch controls on the odd occasion just to try them out rather than being obliged to use them. A good example is swamp canoeing. Although you can use the rear touch screen to paddle, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself reverting to the X button as it is much, much less fiddly.
The protagonist is just as adept as any other assassin in laying low and taking out enemies from long range. The Vita does away with manual aiming when it comes to using a poisonous blow dart. You just have to maintain your line of sight and stay undetected for a couple seconds whilst holding down the triangle button for an accurate shot. The game is jam packed with stealth missions which don’t allow you to go in, all machete’s swinging. If you get spotted when on a stealth mission, it’s back to the checkpoint with you.
The franchise is also renowned for placing strong emphasis on blending in with the crowds and jumping over rooftops. You’ll be happy to hear that this plays a massive part in Liberation, mainly due to Aveline’s background and her “need” to keep her secret assassin side a secret. How is it implemented here? Well there is a gameplay mechanic known as the Persona system. Basically, as Aveline is the daughter of a French merchant and a slave, her privileged upbringing makes her the perfect mole. Whatever Aveline chooses to wear conditions the abilities available to her. When dressed as a slave, she can seamlessly blend in with the lower classes, and these loose clothes mean she can run to her hearts content. When dressed as an assassin, she is equipped to the teeth with killing tools and can free roam, but she sticks out like a sore thumb. Finally, she can wear a stunning, bright green aristocrat dress, which obviously slows her down and restricts her use of weapons but it does let her get into areas only the high society are allowed to enter. You can also pull down wanted poster’s to reduce suspicions and charm aristocrats who will help you out of a muddle.
So, apart from the gameplay, how does it all stand up on the Vita? Well, this is where the game loses a few points, but only a few. There is a great deal of detail (obviously downgraded from home consoles) but it can be a bit on the choppy side. Although constant, the frame-rate is low as Aveline moves explores the swamps with the Vita clearly struggling to cope with all the information the game card throws at it. Having said that, the game does manage to render a much more habitated world than previous handheld attempts. Qualms aside, the controls couldn’t have been better – fully responsive and there were no fiddly controls to hinder gameplay, particularly as gamers are not obliged to stick to touch controls. The always important Assassins Creed mechanics are rock solid, as always.
Talking of Assassin’s Creed III on the PS3 and Liberation, an Ubisoft spokesman said that the games aren’t so intertwined so you don’t really need to play them in any particular order. The truth is, Liberation plays as a great standalone game and there really is no need to have played Assassin’s Creed III beforehand, although you’d be mad not to play it in parallel or afterwards as Liberation will leave you yearning for more action. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation isn’t as domineering as its predecessors on the PS3, nor as graphically impressive, but it plays brilliantly and has just as much of a story to tell as it’s big brothers. Surely that’s enough to keep fans of the series happy.
Editor-in-Chief / Features Editor