You are not Desmond Miles. The Animus is not a secret. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is the world according to Abstergo Industries, and you’re playing their game—and they’re playing for keeps.
From the moment you enter the world of Liberation, it’s clear that this is not your typical Assassin’s Creed experience. Abstergo, the modern-day front for the Knights Templar, has brought their Animus technology into the world. Now everyone is their own Desmond, living the life of Aveline de Grandpré, experiencing history as Abstergo wants you to know it. The question you may ask yourself as you play Liberation, one that I am still asking: is this the history that I want to play?
For five years and through four (now five) full console iterations, Assassin’s Creed has been the story of the Assassin Brotherhood struggling throughout time against the Order of the Knights Templar. Even more specifically, Ubisoft Montreal has followed the life of reluctant assassin Desmond Miles and his ancestors Altair, Ezio, and Connor as they piece together the mystery behind the Templars, the First Civilization, and a prophecy of the end of the world. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation flips the script on us. No longer shackled to the present-day narrative of Desmond and his lineage, Liberation puts you in the shoes of Aveline—the series’ first female protagonist—in the streets and bayous of 1770’s New Orleans.
The daughter of a French businessman and an African slave, the character of Aveline does stand out as one of the more interesting in Assassin’s Creed lore. While Assassin’s Creed III hero Connor Kenway shares dual parentage of British and native mix, he is still a man, and the unique worldview that Aveline possesses as a female assassin is one the series was lacking. Unfortunately, this opportunity to explore the ideas of race and gender in a video game is largely underdeveloped. It is a trend that occurs all too frequently in Liberation.
Aveline is a woman split between worlds, and the developers acknowledge this through an interesting persona system. As the Lady, Aveline can walk the streets of New Orleans as a woman of high standing, her petticoat and parasol speaking to her well-to-do means, though without the full resources of her assassin arsenal at her disposal. Donning her assassin garb gives her full access to the familiar weapons of the trade, with the drawback that she is always on guard; your Notoriety, a feature carried over from the console space, is permanently at level 1, drawing attention from guards even when you’re walking around at street level. Her Slave persona is useful for blending in and remaining unnoticed, but any hostile or unusual actions—like clambering around rooftops—will increase your notoriety quickly, and your weapons are limited to your Hidden Blade and a useful blow gun reminiscent of Ezio’s spring-mounted darts.
One of the greatest benefits of the Assassin’s Creed games is the player’s freedom to attack challenges as they see fit. There have always been optional “correct” solutions to each puzzle or challenge presented, but you were still free to ignore those suggestions and play the way you wanted. Some of that freedom is lost in Liberation, especially with regard to these personas. While many missions allow the use of one or more personas to achieve your objective, often enough even those missions lean far more on one persona than the other. A good portion of the game’s opening hours take your choice away entirely, requiring you to play as one persona or the other. While not a game-breaking issue, it would have been nice to see how Ubisoft Sofia could have let us tackle a high-society mission as a Slave, or stroll into the Bayou dressed in your finest linens. But story constraints keep these options from being viable, and ultimately limit the replayability of the game—if a Trophy had been attached, I could easily have seen myself running through each mission three separate times to see how a different persona would affect the outcome.
Having finished the game’s narrative, and a few of the game’s sparse side missions, the saddest statement I can make about Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is that I have no motivation to come back to this world. The story is serviceable, but makes no great strides in narrative nor has any twist comparable to the discoveries at the end of the original Assassin’s Creed or Ezio’s first two adventures that left me scratching my head and wondering where they could go from here. In fact, the game’s big reveal in the third act was so telegraphed that I found myself waiting to see when Aveline would figure it out herself. This is not a criticism of the developer’s story, only an acknowledgement that such reveals have been done before, and with more of a lasting impact than Liberation left me with.
The unique moments of the game are found in how the conceit of a ‘commercial Animus’ is turned on its’ head. The story presented is the one that Abstergo wants you to see; you will find few mentions of the Templars, and many of the conspirators are made to look sympathetic, even reasonable—nothing like the diabolical natures of Robert de Sablé or the Borgias of past adventures. But someone wants you to see the truth: a hacker by the name of Erudito. Throughout key events in the story, you’ll hear the disembodied voice of your truth-teller and have to locate and kill a civilian, one of the three tenants of the Assassin code expressly forbidden. Worry not, though, as these characters are code within the Animus that, once ‘deleted,’ show you the way events actually happened. This aspect of the game really spoke to what fun could be had with the narrative construct, I only wish that there had been more than a handful of instances where this was a possibility.
All of these issues are secondary to how the game feels when you pick up your Vita and play. Here, the team behind Liberation gets things mostly right. If you have played an Assassin’s Creed game, these controls should be instantly familiar. The game runs on Ubisoft’s Anvil Next engine, created for Liberation’s parent game, and it looks fantastic on Vita’s screen. The world feels alive, with people, animals, and scenery to spare, though the scope of such a feat does lead to some texture pop-in and some draw distance issues. Where the team stumbles is on the implementation of Vita-specific features. Taking more than a few notes from Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Liberation tries to make use of every feature the handheld provides, with varying degrees of success. Finding a bright light with the back camera to uncover secret messages, using the rear touchpad to paddle a canoe, and utilizing the Sixaxis tilt controls in one of the game’s few puzzle segments are novel (and in the case of canoe control, optional), but they’ve also been done before. The use of the touchscreen in menu selection for personas, weapons, and general navigation is probably my favorite Vita-centric component, but not one that’s innovative or special.
There is a multiplayer component to Liberation that is quite unique compared to the console version. Rather than pitting you directly against opponents online, Liberation features an asynchronous multiplayer pitting Assassins against Templars for control of the world. Choosing either to play as an Assassin or Abstergo/Templar agent, you pit your various combatants against your opponents in order to take ‘control points’ across the globe. It’s a confusing mechanic to me, in all honesty, and my time with the game’s multiplayer suite has been limited. Sadly, even after more experience with the multiplayer, I’m just as confused as when I first started. There is fun to be had, it’s an interesting mechanic, and like most Vita games, the asynchronous nature makes it easier on the system’s resources than a standard console multiplayer experience, but it should have been fleshed out more. Which seems to be the case for many of the game’s mechanics, sad to say.
For owners of Assassin’s Creed III: If you purchase Assassin’s Creed III for the PlayStation 3, there is a nice way to connect your experience with Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Before you reach Memory Sequence 8 in Liberation, connect your Vita to your PS3 with both games running on their respective systems. In the Main Menu of each game, there will be an option to connect your devices. Doing so will unlock AC3 protagonist Connor in one of your final missions, as well as making his signature Tomahawk available for purchase and use. Details on the link between this game and AC3 will be included in our review of the console game.
[UPDATE: For those wondering how things from Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation would cross over into it’s console big brother, here’s your answer: it doesn’t. While there’s benefit to having AC3 if you own Liberation, there’s no benefit to having Liberation if you own AC3. None of Aveline’s weapons or items, none of the unique features of Liberation, such as the persona system, make any appearance in Assassin’s Creed III. Unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected.]
Make no mistake: Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is not a bad game, just not a memorable one. Ubisoft Sofia’s ambitions with Liberation should not be overlooked. This is an Assassin’s Creed game, through and through, from the open city of New Orleans and bayou of Lake Ponchatrain to the free running and aerial assassinations that distinguish the series. Liberation feels like the Assassin’s Creed game you’ve always wanted on a handheld. But the little nags, mixed with a confusing narrative structure and story that doesn’t quite connect, prevent Liberation from standing right along her console brothers as a must-play experience.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was based on the PSN downloadable version of the game. Download codes were provided to us by the developer shortly before the game’s release. The review is based upon 80% Synchronization of the single-player story and 2-3 hours of time with the multiplayer suite.