In all of our excitement over Assassin’s Creed III, it took a little while to get down to business with the first title in the franchise for PlayStation Vita. Liberation is a handheld spinoff in a new location with a different story. It’s not the first time Sony’s portable hardware has been treated to Assassin’s Creed, with Altair exploring ancient cities in Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines on the PSP.
Liberation goes one step further, giving players a huge open-world, a host of mechanical improvements (as seen on PS3 in ACIII), and a female Assassin for the first time. What could be wrong with a game that lets you take an open world and a pair hidden blades wherever you go?
Technically speaking, Liberation is astounding. It can be dumb-founding to look at the size of the map, the number of NPCs lining New Orleans streets, and know that you can explore every nook and cranny in full 3D on your Vita. Crossing 18th century rooftops and clambering up towers to synchronize your map feels just like it does on console. While the city isn’t as vibrant as in previous games, such a huge scale on such a small device is truly amazing.
In that way, Liberation is fodder for the handheld wars. With two analog sticks and the complete array of face buttons, Sony’s portable means Assassin’s Creed exists as it should on the bus, in the doctor’s office, on car trips and, let’s face it, on the toilet. Climbing around and assassinating guards, tailing marks on city streets and hiding behind crates or diving into hay comes as close to ACIII as you might imagine.
What’s more, it’s refreshing to see Ubisoft shine the spotlight on a character as fresh as Liberation‘s protagonist Aveline de Grandpré. The daughter of a Frenchmen and a slave woman, Aveline toes the line between the two societies in conflict at the heart of New Orleans.
Much like Connor in ACIII, Aveline’s motives and methods are in conflict with the world around her. To allow players the ability to experience both societies, Ubisoft Sofia has given Aveline the opportunity to switch her outfit as her objectives change. You can take on the Lady persona to charm guards and infiltrate unfriendly zones. The Lady, dressed in the trappings of the time, can’t climb, run, or enter open combat.
The slave dress allows you to climb, run, and fight, but it’s true strength lies in blending in with other slaves in unfriendly locations. The slave persona has weakened combat abilities to balance against the Assassin uniform. All three types of dress have independent notoriety levels, but completing actions to lower those levels will vary on what action you use.
Unfortunately, much of the outfit-swapping feels arbitrary and gimmicky. I can’t stand the lady costume, if only for the way it limits players from the most enjoyable part of Assassin’s Creed: the fighting and the climbing. It’s true that these different uniforms are contextually accurate, juggling between the three uniforms actively detracts from your in-game enjoyment.
Ubisoft Sofia has also made a confusing choice in Liberation‘s multiplayer mode which ditches the console version’s fantastic stabfest for a poorly explained card game. It would have been a better choice to pour the time and energy into the single-player campaign, or at least do a bit more bug fixing. Every time I tried to play against another player, I kept thinking about how much I’d love to take the Homestead building and economy of ACIII with me on the go.
Liberation is an enticing endeavor, not just for fans of historical murdering, but for Vita owners everywhere. But while Liberation may be a technical marvel, it doesn’t quite hit the bar. If you’re a fan of the series or you want to spend time running around stabbing people, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation will suffice, but because it tries so hard to be like a console title, its failure to match the level of depth, breadth or enjoyment you’d expect is all the more heartbreaking.