A couple years back Ubisoft made it clear that Assassin’s Creed was going to be a yearly franchise. Joining the ranks of sports game and Call of Duty, we have received a new Assassin’s Creed game every year since. What they did not tell us back then, however, is that with the Vita, we would receive a second fully-fledged Assassin’s Creed game in 2012. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is a spin-off of the Assassin’s Creed III story and takes place within the same time period, but mostly in a different region. You will follow the exploits of Aveline de Grandpré throughout the Louisiana bayou.
The game begins with you as a child walking with your mother, but you soon find yourself lost in the city and eventually part of the nobility. This game takes on a lot of heavy subject matter such as sexism and racism in colonial America since you play as an African-American female. These themes are not overt and in your face, but are instead just a few of the many threads that weave throughout the narrative to pay attention to. Kudos to Ubisoft for addressing sensitive topics in a tasteful way while maintaining a cohesive story. It starts out slow, but picks up over time and you even run into Connor from AC: III during the game.
Fast forward a few years and you are a respected lady in the society. Or maybe you’re an assassin. Or maybe you’re a slave. That’s one of this game’s most interesting facets – each of the three personas can be used in different situations. If you need to take on a large group of enemies, or sneak into an area like a traditional Assassin’s Creed protagonist, it may be best to don the assassin persona. If you need to infiltrate an enemy compound and blend in, maybe the slave persona makes the most sense (at a cost of carrying less gear with you.) Finally, the lady persona is best for blending into regular society, but you cannot run, jump, climb or use any weapons besides your assassin blade and other stealth-based weapons.
Without a doubt, the most impressive thing about this game is the fact that Ubisfot managed to successfully move a massive AC game into the palm of your hand. The areas in the game are huge and sprawling whether it be the dense swamplands or the bustling city. Lighting effects are beautiful and really encourage you to seek out all of the highest areas in the game to check out the wonderful views. The voice acting is, as you would expect, top-notch with an impressive score to match. The graphical fidelity of the cut-scenes is a bit disappointing, as the character models aren't as detailed up-close as you would hope. In-game everything looks absolutely great though.
Gameplay is silky smooth and really lets you mix things up easily in combat, just like any AC game. With various different weapons and upgrades to purchase, you can take on enemies with a decently sized variety of weapons. Combat typically involves countering enemies attacks and taking out multiple enemies at once by timing your attacks and retaliations very carefully.
Just like any game that involves an agile character climbing around on buildings, some of the suction moments can be really frustrating. For example, while running from rooftop to rooftop, sometimes I would want to jump down onto something below me or aim my trajectory at an angle. Instead, the game essentially tries to predict where you want to land and guides your path. The AC games have always been like that, but it does feel like a step back at times in this installment as I often felt like I wasn’t even in control of my character.
Technically there are “multiplayer” features in the game that try and take advantage of the Vita as a “play when you have the time wherever you want for a couple minutes” device and created a mostly passive experience. Instead of actually interacting with any other players in real time, it's really just a half-hearted strategy-esque game. It really doesn't add anything to the experience and would have been nice if whatever effort was put into it was instead reinvested in the single player experience for added polish.
Similar to Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation takes the basic premise and outline of a successful console franchise and puts it onto the Vita. This game is not an example of how to make a franchise handheld-friendly, as it really does beg to be played in long stretches of time instead of short bursts. However, what this game does do, is once again prove that the Vita is entirely capable of producing near console-caliber experiences on a portable device in the palm of your hand. Let’s hope we start getting some original franchises from developers now that show off the Vita’s potential; someone needs to push the system even further.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PlayStation Vita provided by Ubisoft.