Review by philpee2
A missed opportunity
While Assassin's Creed III: Liberation isn't the first portable entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise, it's the most true to form. Liberation feels a lot like a traditional Assassin's Creed game. But while most of the mechanics in the console games have survived the transition to a handheld, the franchise's signature polish, fluidity, and presentation values haven't.
Liberation plays like you'd expect a console Assassin's Creed game to play. There's an open world -- albeit a bite-sized one -- with lots of side missions, viewpoints, collectibles, purchasable stores, and an impressive amount of NPCs. You can purchase new items, outfits, weapons and ammo pouches and yes, Liberation even has it's very own pointless micromanagement mini game. Liberation certainly captures the feel of an Assassin's Creed game.
But its biggest problems are technical. This is most noticeable during combat. Fighting works a lot like it does in Assassin's Creed III, but the responsiveness and silky smooth animations that the series is known for are no longer present. Contact sounds were often off time, and animations were janky and misplaced. Aveline would sometimes perform a kill animation, but the enemy she was performing it on was standing a few feet away. Some of the faster double-counter animations were noticeably choppy, and Aveline has a hard time transitioning from one animation to another, which meant that countering an enemy while in the middle of a kill often didn't work. Stringing together a long series of kills and counters without getting hit was near impossible, making combat a chore.
It's clear that the Vita struggles to render an open environment with lots of NPCs. It's certainly impressive that you can run and climb through a heavily populated city on a hanheld, but the framerate will suffer during the occasional faster sequences. When a chase triggers, Aveline and her pursuers will appear to be jogging, as if the Vita needs some extra time to render environments and NPCs, and slowing you down is the only way to give it the time it needs.
Liberation is also riddled with bugs, from map icons not working correctly, to mission events not triggering, to the wrong mission objective showing, to NPCs getting stuck on objects or disappearing and reappearing out of nowhere. One time I somehow clipped into a building, and was unable to get out. I had to reload checkpoints about a dozen times due to various bugs and crashes. All told, Liberation is a technical mess.
Liberation makes use of Vita's alternative inputs with varying degrees of success. Tapping the mini-map to bring up the full map screen, or the weapon icon to bring up the weapon wheel is great. But pinching the back and front touch panels to open a letter is pointless, and rubbing the back touch panel to pickpocket someone never seemed to work properly.
The most annoying use of Vita's hardware, however, is pointing the camera towards a light. I can't understand why anyone would implement this in a portable device. It invariably makes you look and feel like an idiot, which I'm only okay with in the privacy of my own home. Had I encountered one of these sections in public, I would have stopped playing. There's absolutely no consistency in how the mechanic works, as pointing my Vita directly into a lightbulb often wouldn't register, but sometimes pointing it at nothing would. It baffles me that a single person thought this would make for a fun addition to a game that is worth using over and over.
Liberation's other Vita-specific addition is the persona mechanic. Aveline can switch between three costumes. The Lady is less likely to be confronted by guards, and can even charm or bribe them, but can't climb buildings, and can only carry the hidden blade. The Slave can start riots, and blend in with other workers, but also has a limited weapon selection. The Assassin can carry the largest arsenal, but can't entirely remove her notoriety.
While this is neat in concept, the game almost always tells you which persona to use. In some rare and short lived cases, you can choose which disguise to put on and in turn, how to approach the situation. Perhaps you'll infiltrate a compound by charming or bribing the guards as the Lady, or instead you can climb your way in as the Slave. These moments should have played a larger role in the game's mission design.
Instead, Liberation borrows a lot of its mission design philosophies from Assassin's Creed III. That is to say, it sucks. There's nothing quite nearly as bad as the Thomas Hickey chase, but there's a lot of forced use of the franchise's under-developed stealth mechanics.There are, at times, glimpses of some of the more open ended missions and long platforming-centric tombs found in previous games, but these moments are rare.
Playing a full fledged Assassin's Creed on a handheld is impressive, and at times even surreal. I'm willing to agree to some concessions, like the scaled down visuals and small map to that end. But the slow chases, unresponsive combat and extremely prevalent technical problems are harder to excuse. It's one thing to forgo the bells and whistles and the scope of the console games, but Liberation makes sacrifices to basic functionality and to the core mechanics of the franchise. Whether this is the result of hardware limitations or development limitations, I couldn't tell you. I can only tell you that Liberation just isn't that fun to play as a result.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Assassin's Creed III: Liberation (US, 10/30/12)
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