Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation (Liberation) is a third-person open world action-adventure game exclusively for the PlayStation Vita. Ubisoft Sofia developed the title with Ubisoft publishing it. The Bulgarian studio has previously developed portable titles of some popular Ubisoft games like Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, so this makes them well suited for bringing a new portable Assassin’s Creed game to life. Unlike prior portable Assassin’s Creed portable games, Liberation features a new protagonist and an original storyline taking place in 18th century New Orleans and that does not explicitly have anything to do with Connor’s journey in Assassin’s Creed 3 (AC3) (although Connor meets up with Aveline during his game by linking the PS Vita with PS3 version of AC3). Not only does Liberation feature a brand new assassin and storyline, but also it is one of the few big games coming out this Holiday Season for the PS Vita.
Aveline’s feeling of abandonment and the loss of her mother makes up the emotion core of the story. The meat of the plot is about Aveline becoming an instrument for eradicating Spanish (and by extension Templar) control in New Orleans. What brings this control to her attention is the steady disappearance of slaves in New Orleans. Over the game’s timeline, more than just slaves end up disappearing, regular worker and people do too, and Aveline must investigate the disappearances and find out how the Templars are involved. Slowly, she learns that a man named Rafael Joaquín de Ferrer is bribing the New Orleans goveneur to help him steal people. Now she must stop the Templar plot and kill de Ferrer to stop people from being stolen from New Orleans. Eventually, she learns what is really happening to the missing people. What becomes clearer, especially when she learns the truth, that part of her drive to find out where all these missing people are going is her underlying sense of abandonment. That first hurt from her childhood, the scar that never healed, is losing her mother. If she can uncover the Templar plot then maybe she can find her mother. Perhaps by leaving a trail of Spanish bodies and covering her hands in blood, she can heal the wound that will not close.
Liberation’s story has plenty of historical intrigue and satisfying character moments that the Assassin’s Creed series is known for. It takes a risk by having a half African and half French female protagonist who is a fully fleshed out character. Aveline is complicated and more nuanced than first glance would seem. This is not simply a ruthless assassin who only has the kill in mind. She is not simply a cog in the Brotherhood, but uses her own discretion on missions. This leads to a falling out with her mentor, Agaté, because she chose mercy at the seeming odds of the assassin’s personality. However, in choosing mercy she is not weak, she is merely letting her victim make a choice: death by her hand, or by taking “freedom”, death by his employers for his betrayal. Regardless this does not sit well with Agaté and he revokes her status in the Brotherhood. However, it is an empty gesture because she does not need the Brotherhood or Agaté, she has enough leadership ability, intelligence and ingenuity to take on the Templars on her own (with some help from her compatriots). Even when the story seems to be going in the sappy direction of her finding love, she side-steps it and tells her number two, Gérard, when he confesses his undying love that she does not feel that way about him. Her father’s insistence about her getting married is met with a dismissal of the subject. Aveline is not waiting for a man to take the lead; she is a strong, independent and resourceful woman that is also as deadly as they come.
The gameplay in Liberation is not revolutionary; it does not deviate hugely from the Assassin’s Creed formula. Aveline fights with an arsenal of weapons, both close range and long range. Once again Aveline has access to a large range of weapons, but the hidden blades remain one of the more useful weapons, so using the other weapons tends to take a backseat. However, the machete is effective and fun to use in combat. The ranged weapons have some nice variety and the pistol is good to use when on the Assassin’s person for its large amount of shots. Aveline has access to a dart gun once she meets up with Agaté; this becomes one of the better weapons as it really lends itself to a more stealth approach because Aveline can dart a guard then walk away letting the enemy fall dead to the ground and be out of the area before other guards notice. The most unique combat weapon is the “Berserk” poison addition to the dart gun: when using this weapon any enemy hit will go into a frenzy and attack other guards. It is a clever addition to the Assassin’s Creed repertoire.
Where Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood added Assassin’s Guild kills, Liberation adds huge chain kills to combat, outside of the traditional kill proficiency for deft combat. Once Aveline fills up the chain gauge, the player can activate chain kills by using the back touch screen. With a full gauge, Aveline can kill up to four enemies in a chain combo, which looks really cool and is useful in fights with a lot of enemies. Liberation does not get away from what has plagued the series in bit and piece, which is somewhat clunky combat at times. Due to being on a handheld, the sense of enemy placement in the game becomes a bit cumbersome and due to a lazy counter system, it leads to the player taking some cheap damage. The targeting system using the touch screen is a bit awkward at time, but once the player gets used to it, it becomes easy to manage. For the most part though, combat works fine and is enjoyable despite the few hiccups and clunky moments.
This is an Assassin’s Creed game in every sense, so Aveline naturally will parkour her way across New Orleans from the city to the Bayou. Honestly, the parkour and platforming elements of Liberation are the most enjoyable because even for a handheld game the world has a great sense of depth and expanse. This becomes obvious when the player syncs the world map from a high perch in the game. While combat and the adventure/platforming sections remain very much the status quo with minor changes, the area where Liberation does a lot to push the gameplay forward for the series is in the stealth aspect. Liberation introduces the “persona” system to the game, which essentially allows Aveline to change into one of three different outfits.
These are not simply cosmetic costume changes, each of these “personas” has its own specific advantages for missions. Before in other Assassin’s Creed games, the protagonist stayed in the same costume for the entire game (they could dye the color, but it is the same leather outfit). The outfit always screamed outsider and looked like a guy going to kill someone, so while there were stealth portions, they did not make sense because Ezio always wore a white leather killer outfit. In Liberation that changes, Aveline can change between Assassin, Slave and Lady “personas”. The Assassin is the most combat ready, but also stands out the most to guards. While the slave persona is weaker and has less access to weapons, it allows her to blend in easily and guards will generally ignore her while dressed that way. Then there is the Lady persona, which is the weakest and cannot jump and has only minor combat skills, but this persona can bribe guards or charm them and is generally beloved by all the NPCs. Each persona has its own notoriety that can be brought down by using other personas, so if the Lady has a high notoriety, the slave can bring it down for her. This is a smart and great feature to the gameplay that should show in future games of the Assassin’s Creed series if the games want to have a more authentic feel to what makes an Assassin.
Graphics and Sound
Liberation is another great looking PS Vita game that manages to create a really wonderful looking handheld game. Due to its scope, it is even more impressive with fully realized portions of 18th century New Orleans. The environments have a good sense of magnitude and size. The game runs smoothly with very few hiccups or frame rate issues. Aveline’s three different looks are rendered well and have a good amount of distinction between the three. The animations are fluid even if sometimes the player can get caught between NPCs when going through large crowds. The in-game cut scenes look good and give some emotional depth to the story. The voice acting is solid with no real complaints except that there is not really a standout performance in the bunch. It is all quite good, but no one really shines in the voice cast. With the score, it features great music for the most part with many of the compositions seeming like hugely orchestral pirate shanties to compliment Aveline’s swashbuckling looking Assassin’s outfit. There are weird musical cues in the scenes between Aveline and her father and stepmother that are distracting and quite awful. The scenes and the music would be better served without them.
Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation faithfully and successfully reproduces the Assassin’s Creed console experience on the PS Vita, while at the same time adding some new elements that definitely should be incorporated back into future console iterations of the series. It is not perfect, there are some issues with combat in spots, and the music has some weird compositions that change the tone and feel of the game for the worst. However, it does have fun platforming parkour mechanics that make exploring 18th century New Orleans a blast, an interesting gameplay mechanic in the “Persona” system, and features pretty graphics and an intriguing story with some emotional charged parts. This is certainly an excellent game that PS Vita owners should have in their collection along with Gravity Rush.