Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD marks many firsts for the Assassin’s Creed series. Originally released on the Playstation Vita and now re-mastered, it is the only game so far to make the leap from handheld to console, to not feature Desmond’s bloodline, and to have a female lead. That’s where most of the differences end, however, because at its core, Liberation is simply a more condensed version of every other Assassin’s Creed title.
Liberation is presented as something of a virtual reality experience, as the game you are playing has been ‘published’ by Abstergo Industries. This means that rather than witnessing history unfold first hand through the Animus like in other Assassin’s Creed titles, you are instead playing a supposedly static game that has been created from the gathered memories of the assassin Aveline De Grandpre. It’s a peculiar premise, but makes for an interesting and refreshing spin on the usual Assassin’s Creed formula.
In this collection of memories, Aveline De Grandpre walks the line between two very different worlds with a unique insight into both. Born of a rich French merchant and an African slave, her story is a very poignant tale of a woman fighting to bring together the two halves of her world, while trying to discover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. This gives it some correlations to Connor’s tale in Assassin’s Creed III, albeit in a very different setting. Events in Liberation also build upon the Erudito hacking storyline, which has been around in the Assassin’s Creed series for quite some time now, but hasn’t really stretched its wings yet.
Aveline’s journey will take you to three main locations; the streets of New Orleans, the Louisiana Bayou, and the occasional trip to Chichén Itzá, a Mayan dig site. Liberation’s environments are rich and interesting, but are few and considerably smaller than Assassin’s Creed fans may be used to. However, it is because of this smaller setting that the environments are such a joy to manoeuvre around, because the higher density of buildings and trees makes it much easier to free-run. At no point in Liberation does travelling distance become a chore, which has become more common in the latest Assassin’s Creed games as the world continues to grow.
The only particularly new feature for Liberation is the Persona mechanic, which allows players to take on three guises as Aveline; Assassin, Lady and Slave. These Personas are separate entities to one another, with their own notoriety levels, independent missions, and unique ways of getting the job done. These felt a little gimmicky upon first impressions, but the feature actually makes the game much more dynamic and enjoyable. The guises encourage you to approach missions in varied, stealthier ways, making the experience more strategic. After being a swashbuckling pirate with a less than subtle ship, it was fun to return to being a real assassin, infiltrating enemy territory and making as little fuss as possible. However, the individual missions do feel a bit forced at times, and seem as though they are just time fillers rather than meaningful additions to the game, which is disappointing.
As a game originally intended to be a handheld exclusive, Liberation makes a strong stance as a stand-alone title. It doesn’t have much impact on the over-arching Subject 17 narrative and is quite contained from the rest of the Assassin’s Creed universe, which is good for new players. However, that’s not to say it’s irrelevant to the main console series; it does provide some back up to the events with Abstergo Entertainment in Black Flag, and elaborates on some of the finer points such as the Animus gaming console. This means that even if fans are already up to date with the console games, it isn’t a waste of time taking a step backwards with Liberation.
Graphically, Liberation is quite impressive on the whole, but does show cracks. The appearance of the main game is on par with other recent Assassin Creed titles, with a beautiful representation of 18th Century New Orleans. That said, the occasional dialogue and cut scene are not upgraded in quite the same way, as character models are barely improved. You can see the graphical weaknesses clearly through muddy textures and less refined facial expressions during the close up scenes. They are a little off putting after playing the stunning Black Flag, but considering the game is a port it’s not too much of a problem.
There are, however, a few gameplay glitches in Liberation which are a little more of an issue. The most common is in the Bayou, where you will often find yourself either wading through water up to your neck instead of swimming, or diving and swimming through land. It’s jarring and awkward, and whilst not game breaking, should have really been addressed. Similarly, there is also some inconsistent free-running, where Aveline will suddenly decide she can’t climb a wall or will jump when she is supposed to climb, amongst other small snags. These problems are nothing new for Assassin’s Creed, but they should really be more streamlined by now.
Glitches aren’t the only thing to break up the game experience. Liberation is also littered with small jumps in story and loading screens, as well as a fade to black upon certain situations such as picking up an item. This gives the game disjointed flow, especially if you work your way through the story without straying for too long, as the breaks are in abundance during most memory sequences.
There are also a small handful of minor aspects in the game which make it feel a little lazy. There are boring QTE’s when hunting alligators, viewpoint climbs are identical, and the game as a whole is very straight forward. You won’t find much of a challenge anywhere in Liberation, as even the usually more difficult full synchronization requirements come quite naturally during normal gameplay. There is little reason to replay the game, so you probably won’t find yourself returning to it.
However, for all its little bugs and problems, the majority of Liberation is really enjoyable. Playing as Aveline is new and exciting, and she feels very natural as an assassin. The main missions are solid and varied, the story is intriguing, and the game as a whole fits in well amongst its console peers. It may not be as long or as complex as others in the series, but as a port and at half the price, it doesn’t feel as though it has to be. If you enjoy the Assassin’s Creed games it is well worth picking up Liberation HD for your collection, and even if you aren’t a long-term fan of the series, it is a good stand-alone title as well. That said, if you already have the Vita version, it probably isn’t worth the revisit.