Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation is awesome. It’s by no means a perfect game; in fact, there are plenty of frustrating elements to complain about, but at its root is one important fact: Uncharted: Golden Abyss was not a fluke. Let me explain.
When the PS Vita was first announced, I was pretty certain that I did not want one. While I loved my PSP for the fact that it was a really good JRPG machine, I was completely turned off by all the bad console ports that flooded the system. I was pretty certain that the Vita would end being pretty much the same thing; just a bunch of half-cocked console ports with a smattering of decent JRPGs.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss changed my mind. It showed me that the Vita was not only capable of displaying near-console quality visuals, but some pretty decent original titles could provide a console-like experience in the palm of my hand. It blew my mind, and I looked forward to what the Vita had in store. Unfortunately, there was a pretty gnarly dry spell for the Vita, and the only other potential “console” experience I played was Resistance: Burning Skies, which didn’t really impress me all that much.
Was the Vita doomed to the PSP’s fate? Sure, I love my Disgaea 3, and Persona 4 Golden looks amazing, but other than these niche RPGs, what of the AAA franchises like Call of Duty that the Vita could support? I mean, truth be told, Black Ops Declassified doesn’t look all that impressive. Will there ever be a handheld system that takes the one step closer to offering a full blooded console experience? Was the awesome Uncharted: Golden Abyss just a fluke; a tease?
Thankfully, before I jumped the gun and shelved my Vita for the near future, Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation dropped into my lap. It restored my faith in this fledgling system, and reminded me that I shouldn’t be so quick to form an opinion about something. Good things come to those who wait, right? Delayed gratification VS instant gratification, right?
All annoying life lessons aside, I’m more than impressed with ACL (which is how I’ll refer to the game from here on out). It’s really impressive what Ubisoft has managed to cram into this game, and even though the game suffers in some aspects because of this ambitious need to jam pack it full of features and size, I didn’t feel that any of its shortcomings were deal breakers.
One of the things that I was most curious about was the storyline; what does the plot of ACL have to do with Desmond? He is, after all, the central character to this franchise, and the one thing that ties all the different characters and time periods together. ACL answers that question right away…literally. It’s the very first thing that’s addressed.
Desmond is not involved in this. In fact, in a move that’s reminiscent of films like Surrogates and Total Recall, it turns out that Abstergo is “selling” the Animus experience, allowing people to live through the adventures of their ancestors. That’s as much as I’m willing to give away because, as you’re all aware of at this point, the odd plot twist is not something that the AC franchise shies away from.
[quote_right]The setting for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is fantastic and is packed to the brim with atmospheric personality.[/quote_right]What I can tell you is that ACL puts you in the shoes of one Aveline de Grandpre, the first female assassin in the series. The story takes place at largely the same time as the events of Assassin’s Creed 3, and you may or may not even cross paths with a certain hooded Mr. Kenway during your time with ACL. Rather than rehashing the locations from AC 3, ACL moves things down south…to New Orleans, to be exact.
The setting for ACL is fantastic and is packed to the brim with atmospheric personality. The scenes that take place in the bayou have a very Pirates of the Caribbean (the Disneyland ride, not movie) feel to it. New Orleans is vibrant and brimming with life, though after playing AC 3 and witnessing how crowded a city like Boston can be, it’s almost a letdown to see the sparseness of New Orleans in ACL. No doubt this is due to the constraints of the Vita system, but nevertheless, it’s not something that’s a huge negative.
If you play ACL without adopting too much of an “under the microscope” attitude and aren’t very cynical about the whole thing, then the game’s visuals will surely impress. It’s a beautiful looking game. Yes, if you press your nose up against the OLED screen and start looking for every imperfection, you’ll find a lot of flat and jaggy textures. You’ll also probably run into quite a bit of screen tearing and slowdown. In fact, there are some instances where the framerate slowdown is very noticeable, even without breaking down every frame millimeter by millimeter.
I compare this to watching a movie like The Sixth Sense. You can sit back and enjoy the movie, or you can try to figure everything out as the movie progresses and sit there unimpressed at the end, since you “figured it out before everyone else.” I’m not saying that you need to shut your mind off…just simply remember that you’re playing this game on a Vita, not a PS3.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, ACL plays exactly like you might expect. Leaping across the rooftops of New Orleans feels very natural, and leaping from tree to tree is as fluid as it is in AC 3. I have 2 complaints about the gameplay, 1) because ACL requires some fairly deft maneuvering during the platforming and combat sections, anyone that has hands sized average or larger is going to cramp up pretty badly, and 2) the number of trees that you can actually travel through and across is very small compared to AC 3, where it feels like a lot more trees can be interacted with.
Because of this, sections of the game in the bayou or the wilderness often felt like a massive search for interactive trees, or you’re stuck just running along the ground, which is not exciting at all.
There is also a new gameplay mechanic to the AC series, and this takes the form of three different Personas that Aveline can take: Assassin, Lady or Slave. As expected, the Assassin persona is the most well rounded, offering the best selection of abilities and weapons. The other two have their benefits, but these are mostly restricted to blending in with certain crowds and therefore are not much more than glorified disguises. In fact, the Lady and Slave personas not only take away many of your weapons, but your movements are severely restricted as well. For instance, in the Lady persona, you can’t climb anything, so forget about leaping from rooftop to rooftop.
While this does add a bit of challenge in terms of avoiding enemies, more often than not it just feels too restrictive. In the beginning of the game, you’re forced into to using each of these personas at least once, and I’m being very diplomatic when I say that the Lady persona level is less than stellar. Even later on in the game, Aveline will say something along the lines of “I should change into my slave clothes and sneak in unnoticed.” So it’s not like you really have much of a choice.
[quote_left]It’s big, it’s sweeping, and though it can get repetitive sometimes, it fits the game like a glove. The worst thing about the audio is the voice acting; some of the “French” accents are pretty groan inducing. [/quote_left]As expected, there are a few Vita specific touch controls in ACL, but they almost feel like an afterthought. You get your typical menu navigation via touch controls, but also a few quirks like tearing open a letter by using the front and back touchscreens, locking onto enemies, or switching weapons. None of these are very important to the overall gameplay itself. The one thing that I felt worked very well with touch is the Splinter Cell-esque “Mark and Execute” sequences. You initiate the feature by pressing Right on the dpad, then “mark” your target by tapping them on the screen, and press X to unleash the pain. It’s a very cool effect, and I found myself using it any chance I had.
The sound is one of the highlights of the game. Not only are the ambient sounds of the bayou something that’s amazing to listen to through a good headset, and weapons clashing as good as you’ve heard in any AC game, but the soundtrack is fantastic as well. It’s big, it’s sweeping, and though it can get repetitive sometimes, it fits the game like a glove. The worst thing about the audio is the voice acting; some of the “French” accents are pretty groan inducing.
There is a multiplayer mode, but it’s not what you would expect if you’ve played any of the multiplayer offerings on the console versions of AC. It’s an asynchronous mode that plays more like a very light RTS/tower defense game than anything else. The concept is very simple; you choose a side, select specific locations to attack or defend, and send your troops out. At no point do you ever control the troops. It’s not particularly fun, and I felt that it didn’t need to be in the game at all. But, we’re a multiplayer-centric world right now, and the console AC series has such a fantastic multiplayer suite that I guess Ubisoft felt that it was necessary to include some form of it.
If you’re buying Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation expecting a carbon copy of the console versions, then you’ll probably be disappointed. It gets as close to those version as it can, but the Vita hardware can only do so much. Is ACL a system seller? I’d say yes; with this and Uncharted: Golden Abyss, you’re getting two games that show exactly what the PS Vita is capable of. In ACL, you’re getting tight AC gameplay, beautiful visuals, top notch sound, and a very strong entry into the AC universe.