Back in October, 2012, Aveline made her debut on the Vita with a companion piece to Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Now, here in 2014, those that didn’t get to play the game on Sony’s handheld can play it on the consoles, as it’s been ported to the PS3, Xbox 360, and the PC. The “III” has been dropped, some tweaks have been made, and the game has gotten a title change. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD tells the story of Aveline de Grandpre, a woman of French and African heritage, giving us the series first female assassin. The game covers the years spanning between 1765 to 1777, and takes place mainly in New Orleans, with side trips to Chichen Itza in Mexico and upstate New York. The game has gotten a graphical overhaul, and for the most part the game matches its console brethren in visuals. But is that enough to recommend this game to those who have already played the Vita version, or to newcomers trying out the series for the first time at a budget price (the game is $19.99 US)? Or is this just for fans of the franchise only?
For those who played the Vita, this version is a step up, both visually and in correcting some of the handheld version’s issues (not all were fixed- more on that in a bit). Newcomers to the series may enjoy the game, but will most likely be confused by the story, which is fractured in episodic in nature (a necessity coming over from the Vita, where smaller story chunks work a bit better). The game does give you text to fill in some of the gaps, and if you find all of Aveline’s mother Jeanne’s diary pages there is a pretty solid story here, but you do have to dig for it. The game starts with young Aveline on the streets of New Orleans in 1765. She gets separated from her mother, and ends up a slave. When we meet Aveline later in New Orleans, we learn that she has become a member of the Brotherhood of Assassins. We’re never shown this, you just need to pick it up along the way as the game unfolds over 9 sequences and 42 missions.
Aveline has the basic weapons those familiar with the series have come to use often in dispatching various foes. She has the hidden blades and pistol, and you can purchase swords and hatchets as well. She also gets a blowpipe with both poison and berserk darts, though use of this weapon is a bit more clumsy than in Assassin’s Creed IV. She can also pick up a musket. Eventually, she will also get a whip, which is useful for pulling enemies close to lay a beatdown on them as well as aiding in crossing gaps, a la Indiana Jones. Combat controls are the same ones we’ve gotten used to, with the ability to parry blows and break defenses as well as attack. The whip varies things up slightly, but not too much. For the most part these controls work, but like in all titles of the series they will occasionally fail you. When it happens, you’re bound to be rewarded with a cheap death.
Moving around the world works much the same way. Aveline can run and climb, and move through the trees like Connor in Assassin’s Creed III. And just like in those other games, she will at times prove to be uncooperative, jumping in the wrong direction or trying to climb a surface that she’s unable to climb. There are the occasional invisible walls as well to block movement. When the movement controls fail you, it tends to be at the worst times, like when you’re on a timed mission. This can lead to multiple failures and restarts, and a couple in particular had me frustrated enough that I had to quit the game for a bit so I wouldn’t hurl my controller across the room. It’s a shame these incidents happen, as they can be frustrating enough to make a person quit altogether, which would be a shame because the story, such as it is, it fairly decent, and Aveline herself is quite an engaging character.
Mixing things up a bit for the series is the introduction of the personas. Aveline has three personas- Assassin, Lady, and Slave- and all serve their purpose during the game, though they are a bit underutilized. Also to use them you need a dressing chamber to swap the costumes. There are buildings scattered about that you can renovate for that purpose, and it can take some guesswork as to which one will work best. The Assassin persona needs no explanation, as that’s the most powerful and the most familiar to players. The Slave persona retains the ability to climb and free run, and can use multiple weapons and blend well into the crowd. Pick up a crate and passing into guarded areas becomes a bit easier. The Lady persona is the weakest of the three, but it has its uses, as you can charm guards into following you and talk your way into places that otherwise would be blocked off. The Lady cannot climb or jump, and is limited in combat to hidden blades and her fists. It does bring something unique to the series, and it would be nice to see it expanded in future titles, as it adds a layer of strategy on how to approach missions.
Sadly, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation doesn’t always allow for much freedom, forcing you to do things the game’s way instead of approaching tasks in multiple ways. It gets frustrating when you sneak into a fort, only to discover that the game demands that you kill all of the guards outside. Tailing missions once again ear their ugly head, though for the most part their mercifully short and few in number. Worse is when you need to get into a place undetected, and all it takes is one obscure guard you didn’t eve know was there to spot you for you to get desynchronized and have to try again. For a game whose main group espouses the use of freedom (“Everything is permitted”), this game can be awfully restrictive in parts. Most of the missions are fun, despite this, and more than a few involve no combat at all, which does give a little variety to the proceedings.
In addition to the main story, which can take you between 8-10 hours to complete, there are side missions to do and collectibles to find. The side missions come in a few varieties, including Business Rival, Free Slaves, Ship Crew, and Citizen E. That last one is the most important, as it provides the “true” ending to the game (you can finish the game without doing the Citizen E missions, but you will get the “false” ending). Citizen E unravels more of the plot, rewinding scenes and showing you additional material to flesh out the story. It’s often enough to provide a plot twist, and that makes them worth seeking out and finishing. Collectibles come in various forms. There are the aforementioned diary pages, alligator eggs (which you need to battle a gator via QTEs to gather), pocket watches (which can be purchased from smugglers), Mayan statues, and the series standard loot chests. All of these can be tackled after completing the main story, or during, depending on your preference.
In all, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD is a decent, though not completely necessary to own, addition to the franchise. It offers an engaging character in Aveline, some good voice acting, a decent story, and some nice visuals (though they are inconsistent in spots). It does add the unique element of the personas and gives a new location (New Orleans and the surrounding bayous) to play around in. There is no actual modern day element to the game, short of occasional hints from a voice that’s hacked into Abstergo’s computers. There is no Desmond connection, as in this game the Animus is being marketed by Abstergo as a way for people to play games based in history. This is just as well, as a modern day component would have only muddled things, as most tend to enjoy playing in the historical eras instead. The ending does leave a possibility for a sequel, and it would be nice to see Aveline return in a future installment, although it would be better for that title to be designed for the consoles from the ground up and not be a port from a handheld. It’s a game that’s both fun and frustrating, and while it may be a step down from the most recent outing for the franchise, fans should still enjoy this. It won’t make any converts, but for those who want to see an expansion of the franchise at a lower price, this may be worth your time.
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