It’s hard being a side-game. Too many people concentrate on the main series and side-games are usually hastily put together as afterthoughts, especially if the main series is on a console and the side-game is on a portable. That is why, as excited as I was about Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, I was afraid that it had been given just as little due by the people developing the game as it had by the people marketing it. However, since I was picking up a Vita anyway, I got myself the nice Assassin White model, which came bundled with Liberation, and gave the game a shot. What did I think about it? Well,
What is it?: The portable tie-in to the main Assassin’s Creed series, which I have described the basic premise of elsewhere. The same central conflict between Assassins and Templars is still present and is still the overarching focus of the game. This time, the game follows Aveline de Grandpré, a young woman of mixed-racial heritage living in Louisiana during its occupation by the Spanish, which happens a few years before the American Revolution. The daughter of a slave, she is freed and adopted into a family of high social standing and possessing an extensive trade empire.
So how tied-in is it?: That is a very hard question to answer. As far as its ties to AC3, they are minimal. In fact, Liberation would do just as well to not even have the “3” in the title at all, because of how little it intersects with the main numbered titles. Really, the game has more to do with the little subplots that the multiplayer segments of Brotherhood and Revelations have begun than it does with AC3 itself.
Let’s say I don’t know anything about the Assassin’s Creed lore. What does this mean for me?: It means you’ve got a very self-contained experience which, in doing so, gives it more in common with AC1 than with any game since then.
I know a whole bunch about the Assassin’s Creed lore. Explain.: In terms of the lore, you are playing as a nameless consumer who is experiencing the now-commercialized version of the Animus that has been developed for less-than-savory purposes by the multinational corporation Abstergo.
Okay, enough of the lore stuff, just tell me straight up, how does it play?: Surprisingly, very, very well. Given that no AC game has been without its hangups, frustrations, and bugs, this is actually one of the tighter games in the series, mechanically. I attribute this to the fact that it’s likely using a modified version of the AC2 engine as opposed to the new one developed specifically for AC3. Sure, you get parts where you jump out to nowhere for no real reason, and some quests and graphics bug out from time to time, but it’s rarely ever that intrusive. The Vita has dual analog sticks, so the control scheme is, with few exceptions, exactly the same as AC3’s and doesn’t suffer from the problems that games like, for example, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker did in regards to camera control. The Notoriety system that has been present since AC2 has also returned, but with an additional modifier: what disguise you’re wearing. Dressing up in disguises is a major part of gameplay. Aveline has three disguises: the Lady, the Slave, and the Assassin, each with its own strength or weakness. For instance, the Lady does not gain notoriety as fast and can charm guards, but cannot equip many weapons, has a much smaller health meter, and cannot climb. The Slave gains notoriety twice as fast, and has a moderate selection of available weapons and tools, and can blend in with more crowds. The Assassin has the largest health meter, can equip any weapon, and has the greatest combat prowess, however, she always has at least one level of notoriety. All in all, this really differentiates Aveline from the other Assassins and makes her feel like her own character.
This can basically be considered a Vita launch title, and you know how launch titles go. How is this one?: Well, they do a fair amount of trying to shoehorn Vita hardware features into the game when they really shouldn’t have, and most of the times they do it really don’t work all that well. It seemed to me that just when I was really getting an appreciation for the Vita hardware features, there would be some pointless puzzle that completely ruins it for me.
Ugh. Okay. How does it look?: Absolutely beautiful. I was constantly impressed by just how wonderful everything looks. The Vita is a graphical powerhouse, and this game is a very,very wonderful showcase of that.
I remember you and others had quite a few complaints about Assassin’s Creed III. How about this one?: Okay. I’ll actually go through and address each complaint I had about Assassin’s Creed III and tell you how Liberation compares.
- Pointless sidequests: Liberation doesn’t have very many of those. There are a lot of collectibles, yes, but you are rewarded for those with new outfits and such. There is a slight city-development mechanic, for which you are rewarded through shop discounts, as well. There are a couple footrace sidequests, and those are still horrible, but there are not nearly as many as were in AC2.
- Disappointing plot and/or ending: I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that this game expands the lore in a meaningful way, and gives the same sense of mystery as AC1. Mostly, this is because the game is not bogged down by plot threads like the recent main-series games have been. Also, the ending definitely has a twist, and there is an additional ‘true ending’ that you can unlock, but neither of them are as ‘out there’ as the endings to AC: Brotherhood and AC3.
- The main character: Aveline is more focused as an assassin than either Ezio or Connor. She reminds me of Altair, and that’s a good thing. She’s also ruthless as hell, and once you unlock the true ending, you realize just /how/ ruthless she is.
- No need to upgrade weapons: Liberation actually retains this problem from AC3. You can make it through the entire game using your starting equipment. It isn’t /as/ bad because the shop weapons actually /are/ upgrades, but since the enemies don’t really get any stronger or more varied, you will just be learning how to fight smarter and not harder as the game goes on.
Anything else that stood out?: Aveline’s costumes. Not just the game mechanic, but how they look. She dispenses with the traditional assassin ‘robes’ and has an assassin outfit that is more suited to the time period. Also, the special outfit she receives for collecting all of a certain collectible is quite simply the most badass outfit in the entire series so far, and I will not spoil it for you. The Lady and the Slave also get special outfits that are quite beautifully detailed, as well. The other thing that stood out was the voice acting. It’s extremely well done and really adds to the immersion.
How about negatives?: The guards sometimes spot you completely out of the blue when you don’t even have any notoriety or anything. It’s pretty annoying.
Would you recommend it?: I actually think it’s a better game at times than AC3 is. Would I recommend buying a Vita just for this game? No, but if you’re buying one anyway, this is a must-have for your collection.
[This review originally appeared on the gaming website Attack Initiative.]