Not exactly the greatest or clearest view.
While the PlayStation Vita has birthed such titles as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Resistance: Burning Skies, portable entries in two of Sony's most popular franchises, these games, while not bad, still aren't comparable to their console brethren. With Sony heavily marketing it as a system seller, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation seemed to be a hopeful exception to the trend. Sadly, it falls in line with its handheld predecessors, not quite reaching its true potential.
One of the most unexpected problems with Liberation is the story. When one of the Assassin's Creed franchise's main selling points is the well-written narrative, it's alarming to see this title turn out so poor. Liberation casts you as someone who purchases Abstergo's latest product, essentially a home version of the Animus, that allows you to live out the memories of Aveline de Grandpré, the daughter of a freed slave and a wealthy Frenchman. As a young Aveline, the player experiences the disappearance of her mother. While this seems to be a great setup to learn how Aveline joins the Assassins, we never get this portion of the story. Immediately after losing her mother, we jump to Aveline as a young adult already a member of the Brotherhood, leaving little to no reason to care about the character. From here on, the convoluted story boils down to Aveline's struggle with slavery.
Gameplay remains largely unchanged from console to handheld, except for some problems. Missions are similar to other Assassin's Creed titles: Investigating clues, tailing suspects, and silently taking out targets make up the majority of objectives. Free running still has occasional problems, and some of the touch gimmicks that developers infamously shoehorn into Vita games are present, though not as common as in other titles such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Of these arbitrary elements, one stands out as utterly broken. Pickpocketing, used to obtain keys and other important items from guards, is performed by swiping down on the rear touch pad. While functional in design, the execution is finicky and inconsistent across many levels of finesse.
Even the animals respect the Lady persona.
New to the franchise are personas. Aveline has the ability to switch between three of these identities: the Lady, the Assassin, and the Slave. The Assassin persona plays the same as Ezio or Connor, but the other outfits have a drastic effect on how gameplay works and how the NPCs perceive Aveline. The Lady persona is unable to scale buildings or free run, but has the ability to charm her way past guards and is respected by most of New Orleans. The Slave can use most of the abilities of the Assassin but also blend in better and incite riots among other slaves. The only downside to these disguises is that the player is forced to use one of the personas early on, but later missions provide more open-ended ways of completing objectives.
By no means does Liberation look like a console Assassin's Creed title, despite using the same engine as Assassin's Creed III. In fact, draw distance is downright awful and frame rate, while constant when not in motion, chugs when running through the streets of New Orleans or the trees of the bayou. Some character models may catch your eye, but no one will mistake this for a console release.
Also included is a new multiplayer mode. Unfortunately this is not the multiplayer found in previous Assassin's Creed games, but rather an asynchronous, poorly explained Risk-esque game where players choose a side (either Assassin or Templar(, and fight to take control of nodes across the world. Ideally there is a tug-of-war mechanic, as players assign troops to battle for control of enemy areas, but Assassins far outnumber the Templars, usually leaving the Brotherhood a few steps ahead at all times and the whole experience as an overall letdown.
Unlike Liberation's multiplayer, Risk is fun.
I'd like to say that Assassin's Creed III: Liberation takes a step in the right direction, but in reality it hasn't made any progress in delivering a true console experience on the go. It's fun to perform assassinations in the palm of your hand, but in an environment where home consoles are readily available, there is no compelling reason to pick this up over its console sibling. Atrocious story, poor graphics, and tacked-on multiplayer that makes absolutely no sense keep Liberation from being the system seller the Vita desperately needs.
Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign, Multiplayer)
Platforms: PS Vita (Reviewed)