|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Ubisoft Sofia|
|Release: October 30, 2012|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Assassin's Creed fans are getting a double treat this Halloween, with not one, but two completely original games.
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is an exclusive PS Vita title from publisher Ubisoft, and I can say with complete confidence that it’s an absolute must-have for any Vita owner. A lot of the system's past titles have been shoddy ports from previous console versions or new games that don't take advantage of the portable's full potential. Liberation may follow Assassin's Creed’s game mechanics, but it feels completely fresh, it looks and sounds great, and it presents new locales that are well worth exploring.
I'll begin by pointing out the game's technical prowess, because this is by far the most beautiful game for the system yet. When compared to Assassin's Creed III for the HD consoles, you'll notice some rough edges and stiff animations, but the amount of detail presented in such a huge explorable space without load times between areas is remarkable. Everything looks authentic to the period, and you'll shed a tear of joy when you discover no lag, even in crowded streets while tackling a half dozen or more guards.
The musical score and sound effects are pristine, and actually still sound quite crisp through the system speakers (though headphones are still recommended). The voice acting is also top-notch, especially when it comes to the heroine you control. The only small criticism I have is that sometimes the music is a little too melancholy when the ambience is light and lively, which seems contradictory.
For the first time in the series, you will play as a female protagonist, who is as refreshing as every other aspect of the game. Aveline de Grandpré is the daughter of a wealthy French businessman and an African slave. Granted freedom from birth, Aveline was raised with etiquette, but also possesses compassion and a desire to help those with few liberties. Unable to dismiss the memory of being abandoned by her mother when she was just a child, Aveline has become obsessed with finding an explanation for her mother's disappearance. This leads her to join the Assassin Brotherhood and get tangled in the politics of Spain and France's claim to the area, the war between the Assassins and the Templars, and the liberation of slaves.
It's an interesting enough plot to pursue, but not nearly as engrossing as following Desmond as he and the Assassins race against time to unlock the memories of his ancestors while being chased by Abstergo, a Templar corporation. In fact, there's no modern timeline at all. Instead, the introduction is an Abstergo commercial promoting the home version of the Animus system, where you can experience historic events (in this case, New Orleans during the American Revolution). What Liberation lacks in an epic storyline, it makes up with Aveline. Unlike Altaïr, Ezio, and what I’ve seen of Connor so far, Aveline lacks the arrogant, bombastic, and brooding attitude. She's charming and pious, yet still skilled in the lethal arts.
Throughout the campaign, Aveline can enter dressing rooms and change her outfit between a lady's gown, a slave's work clothes, or an Assassin's attire, with each persona yielding advantages and disadvantages. As a Lady, Aveline can charm soldiers into protecting her and bribe guards to enter restricted area, though this outfit prevents her from running or climbing. As a Slave, Aveline is the most inconspicuous, able to blend into groups and approach targets without notice, as well as stirring up the poor to cause distractions. As an Assassin, she has access to every purchased weapon, but sticks out like a sore thumb to guards, making her notoriety level higher than with her other guises.
When Aveline is witnessed committing a crime, her notoriety increases, and the guards become more suspicious and more likely to attack. Each persona retains its own notoriety level, so if things get too hot, you can change costumes and work on lowering that intensity. Bribing magistrates lowers the Assassin's Notoriety, tearing wanted posters off walls lowers it for the Slave, and killing witnesses reduces it for the Lady. All in all, the Persona system is a simple feature that adds strategy and originality to the series.
Other elements will feel very familiar. In between story sequences, you can freely roam your surroundings and search for chests to loot, eagle's nests to synchronize, people to pickpocket, and knowledge to fill your database with. And there's plenty of landscape to cover, from the sprawling city of New Orleans to the untamed Louisiana Bayou, and even the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. You’ll be able to discern key characters, hiding spots, clues, and other such things using Aveline's Eagle Vision, which washes the landscape in blue and highlights the important features in various other colors.
As expected, every structure (both natural and manmade) is subject to Aveline's acrobatic prowess, so leaping between buildings and trees to reach your destination or set up for an air assassination will be just as effective as tailing a target on the ground and peering around corners. You can manually jump, but for the most part the game will perform the necessary movement action based on the direction you are pushing the analog stick. In this regard, it is more sensitive than previous Assassin's Creed games, and oftentimes Aveline will launch herself off of a perch in the wrong direction and take a nasty tumble to the ground.