Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD Review
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on PC and Sony PlayStation 3
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation lives up to its name by breaking free from the portable PS Vita and making that high-definition jump to home consoles. By finally giving home console fans of the series a chance to unlock this once Sony-exclusive companion piece to 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III, the tale of Aveline de Grandpre has the potential to become one of the most important episodes in this saga to date. So what’s holding it back?
The historical playground for our new assassin is 18th century Louisiana, at a time when the Seven Years’ War had just come to an end. The defeat of the French meant that the city of New Orleans is now ruled by an occupying Spanish government, and unbeknownst to its citizens has become the latest tactical stronghold for plotting Templar agents. Enter Aveline de Grandpre – an assassin born to an African mother and a wealthy French father. As the series’ first female protagonist, she should be a classic character in the making, particularly when her racial background and social status is taken into consideration.
The problem with Aveline is that she is fairly lacking in the personality department. Ezio Auditore left big shoes to fill and it seems that the only character to come close is the pirate Edward Kenway from the most recent entry in the series. The lack of suave charm seems to be localised to the Assassin’s Creed III strain as both Aveline and Connor Kenway make for rather boring characters in comparison to their ancestors. Let’s just hope this lack of charisma and pizazz skips a generation.
The blame shouldn’t entirely be placed on Aveline. Despite the exciting era, relatively unexplored as far as video games are concerned, there’s very little in the story to distinguish it from the others in the series. Some of the game’s supporting cast are interesting but nowhere near as memorable as the Borgia family from Assassin’s Creed II or Desmond’s allies from the series’ conspiracy-drenched backbone. The cultural mix of French, Spanish, and African settlers has very little impact on the story beyond the opening sequences which seems like an absolutely wasted opportunity. Even the modern day battle between Abstergo and the Assassins is reduced to nothing more than a few internal messages that set up certain plot points explored in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Thankfully, the gameplay still maintains the trademark fast-paced fluidity, even after the conversion from the Vita. The best part of this handheld to console transition is that using a controller feels much more natural than the controls featured on the PS Vita. Perhaps it’s just matter of impulse, considering that we’ve experienced every other title on our Xbox 360s or PlayStation 3s. Aveline gives her ancestors a run for their money by being able to free run up the tallest buildings in New Orleans or hop from tree to tree in the swampy bayou of Louisiana with ease and grace. Even the chain combat system that is introduced in Liberation is much easier to navigate on a controller than with the Vita touchpad.
Mission types follow the formula of the other games, with each time frame being broken down into a series of sequences. Mission types consist of the usual mix of covert tailing missions, high speed rooftop chases, all out combat and of course the signature assassinations. Similar single-player steeped in stealth, such as the Batman: Arkham series promote a healthy balance and intriguing detective work, and for a spin-off title, Liberation would have benefitted from having something truly unique added the gameplay.
There is one huge addition to the Assassin’s toolkit, in the form of the new personas system. Aveline can disguise herself in a number of different outfits in order to avoid the authorities and gain access to restricted areas. It comes as a surprise that similar disguising features haven’t found their way into Black Flag, given that Edward Kenway is just as recognisable as he is handsome. However, on closer inspection it seems that there are more flaws in the persona system than there are benefits.
The slave garments not only give Aveline similar flexibility as with her Assassin attire, but also allow her to confidently sneak into certain areas without raising suspicion. She can even start a riot in certain scenarios, which makes up for the fact she isn’t quite as fast in these garbs either.
She can also hide in plain sight as a noble southern dame by dressing in one of her elegant dresses. There isn’t much room beneath these extravagant belle dresses so free-running up walls and spires is out of the question. Instead Aveline uses her good looks and social stature to charm others to act as personal bodyguards or simply walk into restricted areas. And it is during these sequences that the game grinds to a halt. It takes far too long to get from one end of the city to the other and many of the mission types are restricted to following or sneaking into enemy strongholds.
Speaking of looks, Liberation has been giving somewhat of a facelift during the transition from handheld to home console. Ever since the first glimpses of the original game were released, the series has always prided itself on containing picturesque views and beautifully detailed locations to explore. Unfortunately, even after the HD treatment, Liberation doesn’t quite live up to these standards.
The upscaling isn’t to blame. In fact, many of the games cutscenes and character models have improved from their Vita counterparts. The problem is that even with a fresh HD glaze, blowing up this game to big screen proportions just doesn’t do it any favours. The setting may have seemed exciting on paper, but on screen 18th century Louisiana is a rather bland place to explore. It’s perhaps the darkest location to feature in an Assassin’s Creed game, particularly when you compare New Orleans to the vibrancy of Renaissance Italy or the warm, inviting ports featured in Black Flag.
The green and brown colour palette just isn’t as inviting and it makes each landmark indistinguishable from the last and even the crocodile-infested swamps are so dark and mossy that exploring them becomes more of a chore than adventurous spectacle. Having new locations outside of the the standard city is great and taking the free-running into the bayou proves that the series can be taken out of the city context, but in comparison to the gorgeous tropical paradises in Black Flag, the Bayou is a rather boring and uninteresting place to explore.
For those who’ve played the original version, the update has nothing new to offer except for a slight spit-and-polish and a few extra lacklustre missions. The multiplayer has been removed completely but to be honest, it’ll probably not be missed. Strapping yourself back into the Animus for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD feels like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back, particularly so soon after the release of the brilliant Black Flag. However, you can’t escape the feeling that Aveline de Grandpre is just getting warmed up and that by introducing her to a new audience, Ubisoft are giving fans clues on which direction this never-ending saga through time could be going. As the mystery of the Assassin’s Creed universe grows, so does our anticipation, which is why we can’t help but keep coming back for more.