Review: Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD Est Aide-Mémoire
Isn't it weird how in recent years there's been so much to say about the stereotypically white thirty-something protagonist of most triple-A games and yet when there's an entirely different kind of protagonist in game it ends up flying so low under the radar? And that's not even the reason you really want to play Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD, either.
- Worth The Time?Like every Assassin's Creed title, this game will keep you busy.
- Things LovedThe story was actually quite interesting; Being a spinoff meant they could distance the characters from Desmond and the modern-day plot; Exploration and combat is based off the Assassin's Creed III additions, meaning tree-running and sexy multi-counters; The Persona system finally gives notoriety a purpose.
- Things HatedThe Bayou is interesting enough but a chore to navigate; The visuals are okay but still feel milky and blurry at times; Aveline herself is well-imagined but you'll struggle for other strong character presences throughout the story; This game has more glitches than all of the main Assassin's Creed titles combined.
- RecommendationAt its current price, if you're a fan of the Assassin's Creed series then you should look to picking this up. If not, and you're just looking for a cool game to play, it's still worth a look but perhaps you should keep reading.
- Name: Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD
- Genre: Stealth Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC
- Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Price: R169
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Let’s get the origin story out of the way. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD is the remastered version of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, which released in October 2012 for PlayStation Vita and was developed by Ubisoft Sofia using the same version of the AnvilNext engine used for Assassin’s Creed III. Liberations HD however, is a fully fledged title for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC and features a bunch of improvements to graphics, AI and sound. It’s weird because that effectively means the game we’re playing here is based on an engine that was originally created for consoles, then ported to the Vita and then ported back to consoles. Does that sound to you as if they’re just asking for bugs and glitches?
It is important to note that Liberation HD, from here on in simply Liberation, is a spinoff title in the Assassin’s Creed universe. That effectively means that although it is considered canon for the story, it does not necessarily need to follow any particular ongoing plotline, specifically all that bullshit going on in the modern day storyline involving Desmond. Liberation is well aware of this, in fact, and is presented much in the same way that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was presented, as an Abstergo Entertainment simulation.
The result of this is actually something quite interesting. No time is wasted in the modern day, you don’t meet the person whose memories you are reliving, nor do you at any point interact with anyone in the modern day. For the purposes of this game, you are at all times stuck in the past. In fact if not for us already having knowledge of the Assassin’s Creed universe, we might simply assume that the game is just based in the past from the get-go. The really cool twist here is that Abstergo are using these simulations to present alternative viewpoints to the truth, doctoring memories and cutting out things that implicate or incriminate the Templars and making it seem as if the Order isn’t that bad after all.
If that sounds like a stroke of genius to you, it is. And it plays out even better. In many ways, it’s almost as if Ubisoft, with Abstergo, are parodying themselves. The ancestor that you get to play as this time, although really she is pretty much the only protagonist to be found in this game, is a French-African resident of New Orleans called Aveline de Grandpré. Estranged from her mother at a young age, with no sign of her father anywhere, she is taken in by a white foster family who bring her up as a Lady. However, at some point in her life she meets Agaté, a member of the Brotherhood of Assassins who takes her under his wing and teaches her the ways of the assassins. The end-result is a character who is capable of living not just dual lives but three very distinct walks of life.
Once again, the game is very much aware of this and takes full advantage of it by introducing what’s called Personas to the game. There are three in total, namely Lady, Slave and Assassin. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses that use pre-existing elements of the mechanics we’ve known for a while now; for example, the Lady persona cannot free-run but barely gains any notoriety and can use an umbrella dart gun to kill guards pretty much in the open without so much as raising an eyebrow. The Slave persona can free run and pickpockets extremely quickly but gains notoriety for pretty much anything including free running and has low health. The Assassin persona always has a level 1 notoriety, meaning it always raises some suspicion, but you have full access to your weaponry and can free run, however you cannot pickpocket as quickly, and you still gain notoriety for killing.
Each persona also has unique sets of missions, collectibles to be found by navigating the world and a unique notoriety system. For the Lady, you must kill witnesses to lower your notoriety. For the Slave, you must tear down wanted posters. For the Assassin, you must bribe magistrates. The cool thing is that you can do any of these as any persona and in fact, if you simply swap to another persona then your notoriety will slowly drop to its lowest over time anyway. This is probably the best implementation of the notoriety system that I’ve seen in the Assassin’s Creed games yet. In a sort, if it really must exist, kinda way.
Aveline herself is quite an interesting, free-spirited character. It’s a shame that the story starts off quite slowly and then, towards the end, just races to a conclusion, with a whole bunch of filler in the middle. Pacing is definitely not quite right in this game. Still, Aveline herself presents the type of character who is empowered and independent but not in an unrealistic sort of way. She will still use whatever she can to her advantage and isn’t a one-woman force to be reckoned with, but like the other characters in this series, there’s more to her than meets the eye. It’s a shame that her character model has those oddly glaring eyes, but otherwise, it was a pleasure watching her struggle with her beliefs on slavery and her loyalty to the Brotherhood, and then watching it falter when those two aspects of her life clashed. Her conflict was one that felt genuine and not at all contrived.
I would even go so far as to say that if you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed titles then you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you don’t pick up this game and give it a play. Especially at the price Ubisoft is asking for this game. It’s not even that large of a download. The story is so great because it’s presented from the perspective of Abstergo Entertainment, through Aveline’s life, which means that her experiences and her memories are altered to show a positive perspective outlook for the Templars. Then, at random points in the game, the ‘Erudito Initiative’ (think of it like a hacker group) kicks in and you’re asked to kill ‘CitizenE’, which unlocks a sort of ‘what really happened’ cutscene. It’s really, really interesting both as a storytelling mechanic and as a commentary on every conspiracy theorist’s greatest fear, that we shouldn’t believe what we see because it’s all created to manipulate us.
If I could have just one complaint about the story, it’s that some of these characters are not very interesting and their progression really just doesn’t exist. In fact if you’re not playing this game just to see how Aveline deals with being black, French, a freed slave, an Assassin and a female all at the same time, then you’re going to feel some disappointment at the supporting roles. Once again, the pacing is the issue here. Characters are introduced at odd points and rather than flowing smoothly, it feels like a jumble of key plot points mixed arbitrarily together. The final few Sequences feel like a rush to a conclusion, and the conclusion itself is, in true Assassin’s Creed style, entirely inconclusive and confusing. You sit there going, “Dafuq did I just watch?” And then the credits show.
The one thing that I did like about Liberation is that it has two endings; a fake ending for those who don’t really care about the game and just want to rush through it, and a true ending for those who really put the work in with the game. Actually it’s simpler than that; you just need to kill CitizenE enough times and break the ‘lie’ so to speak. I loved that about the game. In fact, I’m tempted to bump up the rating based on that one thing alone, because that in itself showed us something you rarely see in ‘happy ending’ scenarios, specifically: What happens if it’s not actually a happy ending and they just told us it was in order to push an agenda? More conspiracy theories here.
Unfortunately, while it’s mostly been positive so far, the game has a lot of negatives as well. To be completely honest, I felt as if Liberation was trying its absolute best to make me dislike it. I was extremely disappointed at the sheer number of glitches present in the game. I suppose it’s to be expected of a game ported over and then ported back, but then that just begged the question of why they didn’t use the original ACIII engine in the first place? Have a look at the video above and then come back here. It shows a basic comparison of the visual difference between Liberation HD and the original Vita version.
Now even with that visual difference shown in the comparison, this game is not that pretty. In fact, I went back and looked at Assassin’s Creed III and it doesn’t really compare. Now that’s not to say it looks bad but rather, it looks stretched out as if you’re watching a video on a non-native resolution. It’s blurry and milky and murky and at times I found myself thinking, “It doesn’t matter how many particle effects and leaves-in-the-air you throw at me, Ubisoft, it’s not going to make this game pretty.” Still, it’s not as if they were billing this game as the next great graphical experience, so fair enough…
… if only it stopped there. Note that I haven’t elaborated on the glitches. The one biggest issue I had with the game is that it picks and chooses when to show you optional objectives in a mission, and there’s no alternative way to find out what they are while on the mission. This meant that I went through a few missions not knowing at all what the optional objectives were, until I failed them. A nightmare for a completionist such as myself. On that note, I actually did end up 100%-completing the game and it took me around fourteen hours to do so. Other weird glitches included disappearing enemies, falling through the game world, getting spotted by guards through walls, being unable to continue a free run when it’s very clear that I can actually climb whatever I’m in front of, and finally one very strange, near game-breaking bug, that involved the screen fading to black whenever I changed personas. It would consider me as in-game but the screen would be blacked out, so I could still run around but I couldn’t see shit. Changing personas constantly did this for a while and led me to believe that I might no longer be able to progress in the game since I was stuck in a particular persona. Thankfully a quick visit to the Assassin’s Bureau fixed that and I was able to continue, although I’m quite sure main missions will force-change your persona anyway.
With regards to the game world, Liberation is set in late 1700s New Orleans, more or less around the same time as Assassin’s Creed III. While Connor is learning the ropes (for hours) and then murdering his dad up north, Aveline is trying her hardest to free slaves and liberate her city from its oppressors down south. The explorable world consists of New Orleans and the Louisiana Bayou, which you might compare with Boston and the Frontier from Assassin’s Creed III. New Orleans isn’t as roof-heavy as previous Assassin’s Creed games, at times forcing you onto the ground, but it still contains some decent pathing and is fun enough to run around in. Unfortunately, the Bayou is just an absolute chore, with not nearly enough viewpoints present to expose the map and swamps everywhere, meaning either a lot of swimming or the use of horrendously slow little boats. Tree-climbing does help a lot, though, probably my favourite addition from Assassin’s Creed III.
Further additions that are present in the game include the ability to perform multiple counters, ranged weapons along the likes of pistols and blowpipes and then there’s some completely new additions including an Indiana Jones styled whip, for dishing out ironic deaths to slavers, and a Chain Kill system ripped straight off the Vita, although whereas that version allowed the use of the touchscreen, here you simply select three enemies to dispatch in one fell swoop; a very handy tool for when you’re dealing with boss fights or heavy infantry.
What’s really neat is that, in true Assassin’s Creed fashion, missions are designed around these tools and really force you to use your entire array of weaponry in order to be effective. Some missions will require complete stealth, which can be ridiculously frustrating until you figure out that a specific tool will make all the difference. I found that to be incredibly rewarding, because it meant that they weren’t just throwing a whole bunch of weapons at me and leaving me to do as I pleased, all the time. After every few story missions, there were also missions that took you to other places in the world and tasked you with finding artefacts or capturing escaped enemies. There was even a late cameo from another assassin, whom some of us hate but I absolutely love.
In all the experience playing Liberation was that of enjoyment. I wouldn’t be so quick as to compare it to Assassin’s Creed II but I’d happily compare it to any of the other games in the series. It’s not necessarily that long, as I’ve said above, nor is it that large of a game, considering it was originally created for a handheld device. Yet it has a charm to it, a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s not pretty to look at and yet it’s delightful to play. Only it’s not that delightful to play because of the glitches but it’s got an interesting story. Only the story has terrible pacing but you don’t mind because you’re intrigued by all of it. Better than a mediocre experience certainly, but only fans of the series are really going to appreciate it. The rest of you will simply wonder what the point of it all is. But hey! It’s cheap and it’s a full game. Why not?