‘Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD’: Fun, but flawed

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12:30 pm EDT, January 27, 2014

Being a big Assassin’s Creed fan, I was disappointed when it was announced that Liberation was going to be a Vita exclusive. It sounded interesting, with its new protagonist and disguise system, but I didn’t want to buy a Vita just to play it. So I was pleased to hear that Liberation was going to be remade for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

The game follows Aveline de Grandpré, a young woman living in 18th century New Orleans, a few years into her career as an Assassin. Her father is a well-off French merchant, her mother a former slave. Aveline’s mixed heritage puts her in an odd position within society, allowing her to blend in amongst slaves and noblewomen alike. Using this to her advantage, Aveline embarks on a mission to free as many slaves as possible, as well as uncover a Templar plot.

She’s an endearing protagonist, intelligent and humorous. The fact that she begins the game a fully-trained Assassin is also good news, as the player isn’t subjected to long, dull tutorials. However, the game does feel rather short, with some later sequences containing only a couple of missions. Considering the game costs half as much as a “full” Assassin’s Creed game, this isn’t surprising, but it’s still underwhelming.

One of the most frustrating things about the game’s short length is that there are many parts of the story that are begging to be expanded upon. For example, Aveline’s relationship with her mentor Agaté becomes increasingly strained over the course of the game, but the significance of this is undermined by how little the player sees of their original relationship. The in-game database mentions that he saved her life when she was young, and it seems odd that this wasn’t even given a simple cutscene, especially given that the game opens with a flashback to her childhood.

Liberation mostly takes place within New Orleans and its nearby Bayou. The city is home to most of the shops where Aveline can purchase weapons and clothing from. There are also “dressing chambers” scattered around the city, which Aveline can purchase and use to change her persona (more on that later). The Bayou is more sparsely populated than the city, and can be explored through the tree-tops or with a canoe. It is home to hostile wildlife, which can be fought off through quicktime events. Throughout the world’s maps there are various treasure chests, collectibles, and side missions available for the player. Looking for these usually rewards the player with new shops or special outfits to purchase.

In terms of gameplay, Liberation plays much like the main games of the franchise. It provides all the running, climbing, and stabbing that players have come to expect from the series. Oddly some of the controls and mechanics differ from Black Flag, which was released a mere three months ago. The blow-pipe (a weapon the Vita Liberation introduced to the franchise), for instance, is controlled completely differently, which was jarring after only having just played Black Flag.

Eagle Vision, the ability Assassins use to highlight enemies, allies, and subjects of interest, has also been reduced in power. In Black Flag, players could use it to spot potential hiding places such as bushes. In Liberation, this function is gone. This made some of the night-time Bayou missions more frustrating, as it was difficult to differentiate between hiding spots and scenery.

Liberation’s biggest innovation is its persona system, in which the player can switch between three identities – Assassin, Lady, and Slave – by changing clothes. The Assassin persona is the best of the three, giving Aveline access to the full range of weapons, as well as a full health bar. It also allows her to climb and free-run. The downside is that guards notice her more quickly, making stealth in some areas much more difficult. The Lady person cannot climb or free-run, and has less weaponry and health. However, she can easily bypass guards by bribing and charming them, and she is rarely treated with suspicion. The Slave persona is as agile as the Assassin, but again with less health. Climbing in the Slave persona also accumulates notoriety more quickly, and it doesn’t take long for the city to be plastered in wanted posters. Like the Lady, the Slave persona is better suited to stealth, and has access to fewer weapons.

The addition, these personas do add some variety to gameplay, allowing the player to implement different degrees of stealth. Unfortunately, the game tends to force you into specific personas for most of the missions. It would have been more interesting had more of the missions allowed the player to take alternate paths depending on what persona they were in, and would have added to the game’s replay value.

The graphics of Liberation are good, but not great. Again, the game suffers from being released post-Black Flag, as it is visually a step backwards. This is particularly evident in cutscenes, where characters’ faces sometimes looked strangely blank. The game also fails to fully escape its handheld roots as important information is often provided through text boxes rather than dialogue and animation. Early in the game it is also evident that an escort mission from the original was choppily removed. I also experienced some minor glitches, such as markers failing to appear on the map, and animals attacking Aveline mid-mission. Nothing major, but frustrating nonetheless.

Overall, Liberation HD is an enjoyable, if flawed experience. The protagonist and persona system are interesting, and many of the gameplay elements players enjoy from the main series are still present. However, the game doesn’t live up to its potential, and I’d only recommend it to people who want to see more of the Assassin’s Creed universe while they wait for the next game’s announcement.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD is available via Steam, the Playstation Network, and Xbox Live Arcade. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

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