The promise of Sony handhelds has always been that they could provide console-like experiences on a mobile device. While the debate on if console-like experiences on a mobile device is really what gamers want may range on forever, there is little denying that Sony, mostly, fulfilled that promise on the Playstation Portable with games like God of War: Chains of Olympus, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, amongst others. That promise on the Vita has been less realized since its launch, with just Uncharted: Golden Abyss to really show for it over the first few months since launch; however, company has arrived for Nathan Drake on the Vita with a slew of high profile Vita releases featuring console quality gameplay.
While it is easy to point at Need for Speed: Most Wanted and site the fact that it is the full console title shrunk down, or that Playstation All-Stars is a title that can be played across both the PS3 and Vita online, the one that held the most promise was Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. Liberation marks the first attempt at making a true, fully featured Assassin’s Creed game on a handheld and like many first attempts it shines in some spots and falters in others.
Taking place in New Orleans during the late 1700s, players will take over the role of the assassin Aveline. Aveline marks the first time a female has headed up an Assassin’s Creed title and for those familiar with the series, she fits right in. Aveline is also multi-racial, the daughter to a plantation owner and a former slave. Aveline’s sex and race are key to the main story components and newly introduced gameplay mechanics and while none of it necessarily strays too far from the Assassin’s Creed formula, it is a pleasant change of pace.
Liberation introduces the Persona system. This system allows Aveline to dress appropriately for what she is doing. Heading to a ball? Aveline can don her Lady persona. Want to blend in with the crowd easily? Put on your slave garb. Traipsing through the Bayou? Your traditional Assassins gear is available. While it may seem cosmetic at first, as the game progresses the value of utilizing the right persona at the right time becomes quite apparent, although the game does make certain section fool proof by forcing you to use a particular persona.
Outside of the Persona system, gamers familiar with Assassin’s Creed’s gameplay loop will find themselves right at home. There are buildings to climb and haystacks to dive into. There are sequences to complete, with sub-objectives to be completed for 100% synchronization, and of course, most importantly, people to kill. And all of it is tied together with a cinematic story, complete with well-done voice acting.
The story is more straight-forward than ever before, eliminating the Desmond aspect of the overarching story in favor of having you the player be the one in the animus. Some will find this to be a welcome change but personally I missed the overarching tie in. Still the story is interesting from a variety of levels, although it falters in the last third, and plays very strongly with the theme of liberation.
In many regards Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation feels like a fully featured Assassin’s Creed title but sadly it is all window dressing and when delving deeper into the game much of the initial good will it garners is lost. That’s not to say it is bad, just that it is not of the same high quality that one has come to expect from and Assassin’s Creed game.
It is clear that while the Vita is a very strong system, there are technical limitations that hold Liberation back. The Bayou seems to be quite literally cut and paste and there lacks a real sense of place to it. New Orleans, while seemingly big is actually quite small with little to do inside its walls. NPC’s to bribe or wanted posters that can lower one’s notoriety respawn by just walking away from them, both of which make it very easy to manipulate the system notoriety system.
And sadly the technical limitations are not the only aspects that hamper the game, the worst is actually in the hackneyed use of Vita specialized functions. Two repeated instances in particular had me wanting to wring the design team’s neck. The first is letter opening, at times Aveline will receive a letter and to open the letter one must run their fingers simultaneously across both the front and rear touch screens, ripping the envelope. It is dumb and pointless and oftentimes does not succeed on the first attempt. Worse though is after one gets the letter out of the envelope and tasked with a stupid light puzzle where players have to hold their Vita up to a light source to solve a puzzle. Evidently the Sun is not a legit light source in this instance so if you don’t happen to be near a spot light while playing you could be stuck. This “puzzle” was not fun in Uncharted and it is less fun, and less original, here.
The biggest missed opportunity though may be in Liberations slapped together multiplayer. Over the last couple years Assassin’s Creed has become one of the more interesting competitive multiplayer games around. Liberation does not replicate that experience, in fact it does not even try. Instead multiplayer in Liberation is a weird menu driven component that does not actually have you ever facing off with any sort of skill against real players. It is a letdown to say the least.
Still even with these technical limitations, dumb design decisions and atrocious multiplayer, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation offers a fun eight hour campaign set in the world of Assassin’s Creed. It is still fun to explore new areas, climbing to the highest viewpoints in the area. It is still fun stabbing people in the neck and putting them down quietly. In short it is still fun to play Assassin’s Creed and while it fails to impress on many levels, if you want to play on the Vita, you can.