While the initial 2012 release of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation received a lot of hype from Ubisoft, a good chunk of the series' fans probably never played the game due to it being an exclusive on the struggling PlayStation Vita. Perhaps hoping to expand the title's accessibility, the publisher has now brought the former handheld adventure to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in the form of ASSASSIN'S CREED: LIBERATION HD. The result is a game that while fun to play, can feel restricted in both its structure and presentation due to its roots. That being said, fans of the series will likely still find something to enjoy here.
Set around the same mid-1700s time period as Assassin's Creed III, and even sporting a cameo from that game's protagonist, Liberation focuses on the first playable female assassin in the series' history, Aveline de Grandpr , a New Orleans resident who is the offspring of a nobleman and a freed slave.
Unlike most of the other protagonists throughout the series, we don't start with much background on Aveline and aren't told how she got involved with the Assassin order. Honestly, I don't find her to be that interesting of a protagonist, either. The main plot, however, is a little more engaging but I would still say that other games in the series tell a more compelling story and feature characters who are a lot more memorable.
The actual gameplay is fairly standard Assassin's Creed fare. You have several unique open-world areas, most notably New Orleans and a nearby bayou, all of which have plenty of secret collectibles to find and side quests to participate in. Environmental traversal brings with it all the elements both good and bad that you associate with past games in the series, such as the thrill of leaping across trees and rooftops, as well as occasionaly running up against a wall or falling to your doom when you don't mean to.
Mission length is generally the same as the previous portable version, but the brevity of most of them becomes more apparent when you play on a home console, as you're naturally going to compare them to the main entries in the series. I found most of the missions enjoyable, but overly straightforward and simple at many points. Don't go into this game expecting too much of a challenge, because there isn't much of one to be found.
Unique to Aveline's adventure is the persona mechanic, where entering specific locations allows our heroine to switch between assassin, slave, and lady costumes, each with different benefits and disadvantages. The assassin, for example, is better equipped for battle than the other costumes, but will attract the most attention from guards, while the lady is basically the opposite, and the slave falls somewhere in between.
Most missions require the use of a specific persona, but you're free to experiment with all three. I found myself mainly sticking with the traditional assassin costume, both to better protect myself in battle and to have an easier time getting around, but other players may prefer one of the alternate getups.
As far as the remastering of the graphics goes, Liberation HD does look crisper, cleaner, and more detailed than the Vita version, but it still comes up short when you compare it to more recent games in the series, particularly Assassin's Creed III and Black Flag. I noticed in particular a lack of detail on characters' skin, as they all looked a bit too clean and lacked definition. The animations during conversations in cutscenes can also come off as a bit stiff at times.
The layouts for environments like New Orleans are visually appealing, but they look a bit bland and underwhelming when viewed from a distance, such as during the series' trademark zoom-outs when you synchronize on a rooftop. There's quite a bit of pop-in with the random citizens spread throughout town, too. Nothing looks particularly bad, but if you know about the game's handheld origins, it's easy to tell that the graphical budget on this wasn't quite as high.
The removal of the Vita's touch pad function allows for some noticeable improvements to certain elements' controls. Using canoes relies on the left and right triggers for movement instead of the rear touch pad, and certain minigames, such as rolling a ball through a maze, now simply use the analog stick instead of tilting the controller. I find elements like this in many Vita games to feel a tad too gimmicky and forced, so I was happy to see them streamlined a bit.
In the end, ASSASSIN'S CREED: LIBERATION HD keeps both the good and not-so-good elements from its portable origins, while addressing issues like the touch controls, but overlooking others, like mission length. The graphics could also have used some more polish overall. Despite these problems though, I enjoyed my time with the game and think that Ubisoft made a smart move in bringing it to a wider audience on home consoles. Longtime Assassin's Creed fans should definitely consider looking into this, but newcomers to the series still might want to start out with one of the better, earlier entries.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which we received for review purposes.
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