One of the highlights of the PlayStation Vita’s first year out was Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. The portable counterpart to Assassin’s Creed III was impressive for bringing to the Vita the unique gameplay and open world that has made Assassin’s Creed so popular. Now those people who don’t own a Vita – which is a lot people apparently – finally have a chance to tackle this fun side adventure for themselves. Liberation HD coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC means that we get more than just a simple port. The graphics have been spruced up, there are new missions, new weapons and the gameplay has been tweaked to match the lack of a touchscreen. However, a better resolution and higher quality textures cannot hide that this was once a portable game running on limited specs.
The game is not ugly, by any means, but it does lack in other areas. There are some serious draw distance problems, with characters popping into view very often and quite close at times. Clearly a holdover from the Vita, it’s odd to see that pop up even when running on a high end PC. The far more annoying issue is with the cinematic quality of the game. Animations in cutscenes and lip syncing are quite stiff. Many cutscenes involve characters standing still and spouting dialogue, a far cry from the visual flair usually associated with Assassin’s Creed.
While the effect of the story is lessened by the poor cutscenes, the true problem is how much the game has been streamlined. The story centers on a daughter of a freed slave, Aveline, set in New Orleans during the late 1700s. Aveline’s mother has disappeared, presumed dead, but you only know that because of a text box during a loading screen. Aveline is also a fully trained assassin even though there appears to be no other assassin influence in the city besides her crazy, old mentor living in the Bayou. The main plot has you investigating various problems in and around New Orleans but through line is hard to see as the story bounces around from one thing to another.
The story is interesting but the game is focused so much on moving you to the next section that much gets lost in the transition. Major plot details are delivered via text boxes, characters that seem interesting and important don’t get enough screen time and long periods of time will pass in between missions with little explanation or reasoning. The rushed feeling of the game also leads to a much briefer experience, with my playthrough ending around seven hours.
While Liberation HD’s portable roots might hurt the presentation of the game, it helps quite a bit with gameplay. In general, developers are more likely to try new things with smaller, portable games and Liberation HD definitely has some fresh ideas to bring to the Assassin’s Creed series. The main gameplay change is Aveline’s Guises, which allow her to change her appearance. Choosing to play as the Assassin, Slave or Lady for a specific mission will give you different abilities as well as different restrictions. For example, the Lady is not as noticeable and can charm guards, but is very limited in combat and cannot free run. The Assassin, on the other hand, has your full accompaniment of weapons and abilities but will always be investigated by guards when spotted.
Other gameplay changes are minor but still good. Aside from a couple new items is the ability to do chain kills in battle, which allows you to pause time and select up to five enemies to automatically dispatch in one continuous sequence. The money-making side activity is based off of Aveline’s father’s shipping business, where you buy goods in various ports and then send them to other ports for a profit.
Other aspects of the game are mainly the same as other Assassin’s Creed games. The combat still relies on countering but is fun. Free-running through the various buildings and trees still feels great and Liberation HD even brings back a touch of the “puzzle-solving” climbing that has been missing over the last few Assassin’s Creed games. Of course the various areas in the game are still filled with tons of side missions, activities and collectibles that will give you stuff to do after you finish the game.
Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is a good game that never quite gets past its portable origins. The main problem is not necessarily in execution, but more in expectation. It’s a briefer, more streamlined version of Asssassin’s Creed that honestly should be expected for a game with a $20 price point. It just feels and plays so much like a full, $60 Assassin’s Creed experience that you can’t help but notice the shortcuts and be slightly disappointed by them. If you go into Liberation HD reminding yourself that it’s a $20 port of a Vita game instead of trying to compare it to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, you’re going to have a fun time.
SCORE: 7.5 out of 10
A code for Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD was provided to PIxel Related for review.