Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation tries so hard to look, feel, and play like its big brother console game, Assassin’s Creed 3. It tries so hard, in fact, that it’s very often to its detriment. Liberation succeeds in establishing its own setting apart from the cities of Boston and New York in AC3, and sets up some interesting themes in its main character and the culture surrounding New Orleans. Liberation unfortunately fumbles on almost every technical front. Problems range from constant frame rate drops to unresponsive controls. Liberation lacks very crucial layers of polish that proper AC titles have always had, yet still inherits the same movement woes of said console games, making them even more frustrating to deal with.
Liberation has been marketed as the ‘Assassin’s Creed experience on the Vita’, and somewhat of a companion to Assassin’s Creed 3 on consoles. For the most part, this is true. Due to the Vita’s Dualshock-like control layout, it’s actually possible to pull off AC’s complicated control scheme. Any AC veteran will feel immediately at home when you first gain control of Aveline. This helps, because Liberation does not bother to explain a lot of its fundamental control systems, a similar fumble as in AC3.
Liberation pulls away from the northern colonial cities of Boston and New York found in AC3 and introduces you to the South; specifically New Orleans. Even though this iteration isn’t developed by the usual AC ‘A-Team’, Liberation does an impeccable job at making New Orleans feel like its own city. Going from the booming economy of New York to the more rural desperation-filled city of Spanish-occupied New Orleans instantly gives off a very different vibe.
There is a surprisingly clever premise attached to Liberation, both in the character you play and the justification for being in control of an Animus. According to the game, you’ve purchased an official Abstergo Animus console that allows you to relive the life of different people throughout history. Your console contains the life of Aveline de Grandpre, a female Assassin who is of French and African descent. After her mother mysteriously disappeared when she was a girl, Aveline was brought up by her father and step mother and was eventually introduced to master Agate, who then trained her to be an Assassin. Aveline fights in opposition to slavery, which was a pivotal part of the economy in the Southern colonies. Much like a masked superhero, Aveline hides her Assassin life from her family, a seemingly proper lady to them. It’s a fantastic premise at heart, though unfortunately there is very little meaningful payoff for the potential this premise holds.
If you’ve played an AC game before, you’ll feel right at home controlling Aveline on the Vita. Liberation features the same control enhancements found in AC3 and adds a new “one-button sprinting” mechanic that significantly improves the parkour system. Holding down ‘R’ will now put you in a full sprint that will assume you want to stay high, and will try to prevent you from touching the ground. Holding down both ‘R’ and ‘X’ will then assume that you want to take more drastic jumps. This helps to limit accidental jumps that lead to cheap deaths.
Likely the most unique and ultimately unrealized trick up Liberation’s sleeve is its three-persona system. As Aveline, you can freely swap between your assassin, slave, and lady guises that each provides its own advantages. Assassin robes grant access to all tools and weapons, but also come with automatic notoriety. Slave garments are easy to blend into crowds with, at the expense of most of your tools. The lady dress allows you to charm men into helping you past hostile guards, though at the same time is dreadfully slow and you’ll be without almost all tools. As seems to be a pattern in Liberation, the persona system has definite potential, but greatly lacks in execution. Missions don’t give players the options of deciding what persona they want to go in with, but rather confine you to very specific moments when each disguise is required. If my current disguise has no credence to which one I’ll actually be using during a mission, then why have the option there at all? There is basically no advantage to using anything other than the assassin guise outside of missions, which makes the entire system very perplexing.
The combat in Liberation is also mirrored from AC3. Combat in AC has finally found a nice balance between defensive and offensive options. Both options are now completely viable; counter-attacking and being aggressive can get the job done. There are a couple of enemy types that require more than a simple counter or swing of the sword, so a bit more attention is required, but the quality of the combat is often squandered by Liberation’s frequent bugs. The game will often not respond when buttons are pressed, specifically during combat and stealth assassinations, which will certainly ruin your day.
That is by far Liberations biggest and most detrimental fumble: that it’s just so darn unpolished and buggy. In theory it’s all there; the controls, the movement, the premise, the combat. However, it all feels so forced that it becomes quite apparent how little attention was spent to making sure the game ran well. The frame-rate sucks, the controls are inconsistent, and bugs are abundant. Not to mention the game’s oddly low audio quality, which for some reason resembles that of a $3 pair of headphones.
One of my largest complaints with AC3 is its abundance of busy-work activities that are functional, but don’t give players much incentive to do them. Liberation detracts from this issue by having little-to-nothing to do when the story is finished, creating yet another issue. The story will keep you busy for a while, especially if you’re like me running from 8-10 hours. Just don’t expect to stay long after that. There are very brief side missions centered on freeing slaves, but these are quite repetitive and frankly, they are not fun. If you’re a collectible guy, you’ll probably squeeze out a few more hours searching for useless treasures and feathers.
Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation holds very strong concepts in a very sloppily thrown-together package. The strong story premise alone initially had me hooked, but it desperately hangs on the fragile hooks of its premise until the entire adventure decrescendos into a dry and meaningless ending. It lacks polish in every sense of the word, often feeling broken in combat while having a consistently poor frame rate-all along the way. If you can look past Liberation’s technical fumbles, there is enjoyment to be had. In fact, I think AC veterans can find plenty to enjoy when you look deep. If you’re looking for yet another excuse to jump from buildings and stab people in the neck, then Liberation does that; but if you’re looking for a great game on the Vita, go buy LittleBigPlanet.
Assassin’s Creed 3 Liberation gets a 6/10.