Just when I had finally managed to tear myself away from the excellent Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, along comes Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD. Originally released as a PlayStation Vita title in late 2012, Liberation plays a sort of companion role to Assassin’s Creed III, but it stands just fine on its own. Although it fails to measure up to the lofty standards set by ACIV, Liberation HD is still a fine experience, and one worth picking up for anyone wanting to round out their AC library.
Liberation breaks from series tradition by featuring a female protagonist, Aveline de Grandpré. Starting in 1765 in Louisiana, the story revolves around France and Spain contending for control of the colonies. While there is the typical level of AC intrigue in the plot, there are only loose connections to the ongoing struggle of the Assassins and Templars, making the game feel like a side story to the main series arc.
The main functional difference between Aveline and other characters in the series is her ability to take on different personas. In addition to her assassin’s garb she can present herself as a proper lady of the times or a slave, with each of the three personas presenting both positive and negative attributes. For example, dressed as an assassin Aveline stands out in a crowd, but wearing a long formal dress as a lady she can move around a party full of dignitaries with ease. Likewise, a slave can move around a plantation freely, where either of the other two outfits would arouse suspicion.
Each persona carries its own notoriety level, and the method for reducing that level varies. The assassin must pay corrupt magistrates to look the other way, while the lady must quietly eliminate witnesses. In addition, the combat abilities for each are different. Not surprisingly Aveline has her full arsenal available as an assassin, while the slave and lady personas restrict her weapon and movement abilities in different ways.
While Aveline almost feels like three different characters, the game never takes full advantage of it. In an early mission, I was tasked with entering a mansion, which I could accomplish as either a slave or a lady. The choice made me stop and consider the possibilities for each, and weigh their various differences. Unfortunately, it’s the only instance of such a choice in the entire game – all other missions must be completed as a set persona, to the point that changing outfits is actively blocked. While that restriction makes sense in some instances, I was still left with the feeling that the game promised a mechanic that it ultimately didn’t deliver on, which was disappointing.
In terms of game play, Liberation is unmistakably an Assassin’s Creed game. There are perches to synchronize, collectables to find and sub objectives in missions to earn 100% sync. There are a few new elements in the mix though. After building up a meter through stealth kills Aveline can execute a chain kill, allowing me to select multiple targets and then watch as she dispatched them in cinematic fashion. There is also Citizen E, hacked into the Animus by a mysterious person who claims that the memories being played have been altered. Finding and killing a Citizen E will trigger a new or an extended version of a previous cut scene, exposing new plot elements.
While the core of Liberation feels like the other games in the series, its construction is clearly geared to the mobile device it debuted on. Missions are short, generally lasting 5-10 minutes, and the world is relatively small, with only three main areas to explore. Even with routinely getting distracted by side objectives, I finished the main story in just under eight hours. Completing everything in the game would likely run closer to ten hours, which is a far cry from the standard length of an Assassin’s Creed game. It’s not a bad thing, simply a reflection of design choices, and the game’s $20 price tag reflects that appropriately.
For a game originally designed for a five inch screen, Liberation takes to the television nicely. Once again it suffers for arriving on the heels of the visually stunning ACIV, but it’s only a half-step behind, which is quite impressive. The game’s music is good but lacks variety, and I always felt like I was hearing the same score. Still, it was never bothersome, and even a little catchy.
One place Liberation stumbles a bit is in the controls, which aren’t as sharp as Black Flag’s. Blocking and using tools in combat can sometimes be unresponsive, and simple actions like picking up an object occasionally required me to hammer on the button in order to trigger them. Other examples were more annoying than anything, like when I would finish a fight with my sword, and then find upon starting another one that for some reason, the game had defaulted back to Aveline using her fists. Mission check pointing is good though, so the occasional cheap death was more a nuisance than anything else.
For being a relatively short experience, Liberation still manages to have some unnecessary elements. Aveline can build up a fleet of ships and use them to trade commodities between ports for profit, and also expand her local business by killing competitors and taking their shops. The latter doesn’t result in direct profit, just cheaper goods, but I had so much money throughout the game that I had no need for either one of them. Chests are relatively plentiful and of high value, so I never needed money and didn’t have it. They don’t hurt the game any, but it would have made the experience a little deeper if these systems were more than just filler.
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD feels like what it is – a console port of a portable game. It makes a nice transition to the big screen, and at a $20 price point and 8-10 hour experience, may be particularly appealing to anyone intimidated by the standard Assassin’s Creed model of a huge world with a long story and tons of collectables. For series fans who missed it on the Vita, it’s a solid choice on consoles. Players looking for the full Assassin’s Creed experience will be better off with Black Flag, but anyone looking for a more streamlined, less daunting game will find a lot to like here.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.