Better late than never
Yes, we know, this is late. The games been out since October 30th in North America and October 31st in the UK and Europe, and being the terrible humans we are, it’s taken over a month and a half to get the review out the door. Forgive us, or don’t, whatever. If you’re thinking of getting Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation with some of that Christmas cash/vouchers, read on and see why you should.
What is it?
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is the first Assassin’s Creed title for Sony’s latest entry into the handheld gaming market, the PS Vita. The aim is to bring the console experience from the living room into your pocket, giving you the power to be an assassin no matter where you are.
I’ll get this straight in there, the story is not the best in the series, but it’s not the worst.
Instead of it being black and white with a clear line between good and evil, like in the Ezio Trilogy of games, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is more in line with the original Assassin’s Creed on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and by that I mean the characters are hard to read, the end result is unclear and it can take a few playthrough’s to fully understand what’s going on.
You play as Aveline De Grandpré, a young black woman in 18th century New Orleans who just so happens to be an Assassin.
Her story is a bit confusing: She’s the daughter of a rich French merchant and a former African slave who was freed from a life of slavery when she was married by the aforementioned French merchant.
Aveline, as a result of her parenthood, is a member of high society within New Orleans. How she came to be a member of the Assassin’s isn’t exactly explained fully, with very little of Aveline’s back story being offered to players. Maybe this is something that will be explored in potential future games in the series, if so, it’s another reason to invest in the series.
The story, like I said before, isn’t the worst, but it is a bit confusing. Characters come and go with little or no character development to draw you in and question why they are present, or what their purpose in the story is. Some are more integral than others, with around half of the characters introduced are nothing more than throw away tools to push the story onward.
Without giving too much away, if you’ve got half a brain then you’ll see where the story is going pretty early on in the game, but the fun lies in getting to the conclusion rather than the ending itself.
All in all, the tale being told is ultimately satisfying and fans of the series will appreciate the effort made by Ubisoft Sofia in its first attempt to bring the series to the PS Vita.
This is what we were all nervous about, would it play like an Assassin’s Creed game, or would it be another disappointment like Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines on the PSP? Thankfully it’s an experience worth paying for.
Ubisoft Sofia has done an excellent job at bringing the console-experience to the Playstation Vita, it also helps that Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was built upon the same Anvil Next game engine that powers the big brother game, Assassin’s Creed III.
Everything is in the game, literally everything. Free running, brutal fighting, hunting down collectibles, and more.
I’ll start from the top with the free running. Straight off the bat the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s dead easy and takes next to no time to get a hang of. The controls have been optimised for the Playstation Vita and its lacking of L2, R2, L3, and R3 buttons. Movement is fluid and feels natural, even more so with the PS Vita’s dual analog sticks which were sorely missed with the PSP. Aveline’s animations are not just copy and pasted from the console game, but they are made specifically for her. She’s a woman, and she moves like one, agile with grace, without a trace of being made weaker just because of her gender. The city is your playground chock-a-block with climbing frames to traverse, though, it’s not just the city that you’ll be stalking your prey in. There’s another section of the game which you are free to visit at any time (after you’ve completed the tutorial missions), The Bayou. Much like The Frontier in Assassin’s Creed III, The Bayou is a dense wild expanse of land that you can explore. This is where I was most impressed. I thought that the traversal through the tree’s would have been left out from the PS Vita game, only to be found in Assassin’s Creed III, but I was wrong. You’re free to explore The Bayou any way you want, whether it be just running along the ground, swimming through the murky swamp waters or darting along the branches of trees. It’s a real testament to the power of the under-appreciated PS Vita that so much from the console game translates so well to the handheld companion.
The first time you take to the rooftops is immense, the best way I can put it which most gamers will appreciate is that it’s like when you swung around the city of New York in Spiderman 2 for the first time, that feeling of freedom and the “wow factor” are just as noticeable with Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. It’s wonderfully fluid and is an impressive achievement.
As cool as running across the rooftops is, it wouldn’t be a complete package without some combat – my word is it brutal, but in a good way of course. You’ve got a wide selection of weapons at your disposal which all have different characteristics and provide different finishing moves to bring down your opponents. Making use of the PS Vita’s touchscreen, weapon selection is handled by a couple of simple taps and boom, your done. It’s touch screen controls done right, not shoehorned in there, like in Uncharted: Golden Abyss where it was like “Look at me! I’m a PS Vita, I can be touched! Touch me! Please touch me again and some more! Swipe me! Tap me! Lick me!”
Combat however is all handled by the physical buttons, as you would expect. The trick is learning to counter and block, as well as knowing when you’re outnumbered. If you’ve earned it, you can take out some of your foes with a target and kill style of mode, not unlike the “mark and execute” feature found in another Ubisoft title, Splinter Cell: Conviction. It’s easy to execute, but it’s not what you would call the easy way out of a fight, as you still have to earn it by performing stealth assassinations.
Fighting isn’t the only way to get the job done, though, there are other means to the end.
One of the much talked about features before the game released was the “Persona” feature. Basically, you can take on three personas: Assassin, Slave and Lady. Each has their own pro’s and con’s, and the idea behind it is that you can choose how to complete the missions using the three personas. In principle it sounds like a good idea, and for the most part it works. The only problem is, there’s no real need to use all three. The game does force you to use some personas for different sections, but where you have the choice, you can get the job done quite easily as the Assassin without having to bother changing your outfit. It was a great idea, but ultimately it’s fallen flat and doesn’t really add that much to the gameplay.
Graphically, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is impressive, even more so when you consider the sheer size of the vast open city and the murky Bayou you can explore. It’s not on the same level as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but it’s still impressive all the same. Characters are well designed and move fluidly in their actions, which helps in immersing you into the world.
There is one “major” thing that could be a deal breaker for some, but not for others. The frame rate can dip, and it does, especially in high action sequences around New Orleans. For those who can’t stand any drop in performance, this could be an issue, but the drop isn’t that noticeable, not to me at least. At worst, it’ll stutter for a few seconds, at best it runs smooth as butter.
The city of New Orleans is also very well done, in fact, it’s fantastic and you’ll find yourself just stopping in your tracks to have a good look around. I’ve been playing it since release day (a day early, actually) and even now I find myself forgetting that I’m playing on a handheld console rather than on a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360.
There are of course a few graphical glitches that occur, and unfortunately they make their presence known more than you’d like. The one that occurs at least once a week, for me at least, is when fighting a group of enemies, instead of them doing the logical thing when they die and fall to the floor, they instead opt for a Matrix style death, by that I mean the animation stops when they are halfway down to the dirt. To be honest though, I find it more amusing than annoying, and much to my mates’ annoyance, every time it occurs I’ll shove the PS Vita in front of them and say “look, Matrix!” at which point I the get a roll of the eyes and a heavy sigh. Some people just don’t have an imagination…
Another glitch you will definitely encounter on at least a daily basis is what I like to call the “Dave” glitch. Let me explain.
When you’re walking or running around the city of New Orleans, you will sometimes encounter pop-in of characters, but they don’t always render in their final form, so you’ll find what I assume is an early build of a generic city man who is nowhere near on-par graphically as the rest of the characters and he walks quite stiff, and whenever you go towards him he will walk away rather quickly and disappear through walls in a ghost like fashion. Now, the name for this glitch is that I have a somewhat silly imagination and an overly positive look on things, instead of complaining about a glitch, I like to create a back story. This isn’t really part of the review, so if you’re not interested in what goes on in my head, skip down to the next section, otherwise, stick around.
Basically, I created an entire back story for Dave: In my mind he was a rich resident of New Orleans, but he was scammed by his business partner (they sold spices to begin with, but then they moved into the expanding tobacco industry.) Dave found out that Maurice (his business partner) was ripping him off with the profits and confronted him, in which a fight broke out in the local tavern between the two friends. They fought and eventually a bottle of whiskey smashed and caught alight from the fireplace in the tavern. The fire quickly spurned out of control and the other drinkers who were looking on in amusement quickly downed their beverages and scampered from a toasty death.
Dave and Maurice were still at each others throats, then they broke apart and a wooden beam dropped from the roof, separating the two men, but leaving Dave trapped on the fire side of the drinking hole. Maurice fled the building leaving his one-time best friend to burn to death. And that’s exactly what happened. Poor Dave tried in vain to make his way out of the burning building, but couldn’t get out, and, you’ll be thankful to know, he died from the smoke inhalation instead of death by burning flesh. He did however burn badly, but a local hero (which I imagined to be the Assassin Agate) entered the tavern and tried to rescue Dave, but he was already gone and his face was disfigured by the fire.
Now Dave roams the streets of New Orleans, looking just as he did when he died, (hence the reason he doesn’t look as good as other character models) looking for revenge on his old friend Maurice, but at the same time making his presence known to the Assassin’s as a way of thanks, and as he’s dead he can walk through walls, because he’s a ghost and stuff.
Yeah, it’s a bit daft, but all this came together as I was explaining it to my partner Beth when she just so happened to be watching over my shoulder as Dave appeared on the screen, she asked why he looked the way he did and why he could walk through walls, and off the top of my head, the story you have just read is what came out of my over-imaginative mouth, and, now that you’re in on it, you are obliged to keep it up. Alright, back to the actual review…
Aside from the aforementioned glitches, the rest is spot-on. The views into the distance, the amount of characters wandering the streets going about their daily business, the overall design on the world that Ubisoft Sofia has given us to explore is just fantastic. A true achievement for the Playstation Vita and a level other developers should be aiming for. What you have to remember is that this is one of the first games for the PS Vita to feature an open world, things are only going to get better. Hopefully we’ll be able to see future titles evolve just as the Uncharted series has done, the first one was impressive, but by the time Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception came out the graphical difference was immense. Hopefully in future entries on the beastly handheld, the developers will learn more tricks to squeeze every bit of power from the PS Vita.
The music is fantastic, let’s just get that in there right away. The characters are well voiced by some talented actors/actresses, the weapons and other sound effects are engrossing, but there is a slight problem. At times, the sound quality can sound less than stellar, for the majority of the time, I didn’t notice any horrific sound problems, but the quality does dip, unfortunately.
For the best sound experience, I found that whacking in a pair of earphones did a good enough job, just don’t go plugging in your sound system…
Disclaimer: This review was conducted using a retail copy bought at the expense of the reviewer.