Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD (PC)
Developer:Ubisoft Sofia / Ubisoft Milan
Released: October 2012 (PSVita) / January 2014 (HD)
Played: complete with extras in 13h:36min
It's 1765 in Louisiana, and assassin Aveline de Grandpré begins to uncover a plot to kidnap slaves for some nefarious purpose. The scheme has ties to the French and Spanish governors, and eventually leads to the Templar order. Aveline must balance her assassin, slave, and lady personas to gain allies in the bayou and uncover the truth behind the Templar plot.
This game originally released as Assassin's Creed Liberation on the Vita, which earned average review scores of 70%. Reviewers praised the main character Aveline and the New Orleans setting, but found the plot aimless and simplistic. The HD console and PC versions scored a few points lower for becoming directly comparable to the main series experiences.
The HD edition upgrades the visuals, audio, facial animation, and artificial intelligence to take advantage of the increased power of consoles and PCs over the Vita.
The Bonus Pack DLC adds two weapons and two pouch upgrades.
For the first few minutes I was a little let down by the lower-grade graphics and production quality. It wasn't entirely unexpected, given that it wasn't produced by the primary Assassin's Creed studio(s?) and that it was made for a handheld, but still - even though it's been HD-ified, frame rate isn't optimal and you can easily see reduced quality and lots of pop-in from the short range on LOD models and civilian presence. Cutscenes use static shots with slow, unimaginative cuts and transitions.
But then I was introduced to the notoriety system and immediately forgot about all that crap. Liberation does something new with notoriety and it's amazing. Instead of just having a notoriety bar that makes guards more vigilant and aggressive, you have three - one for each persona/outfit, along with different abilities and restrictions for each outfit. Notoriety for the inactive personas diminishes gradually, but the active one stays unless you actively make an effort to cut down.
The Lady persona can't free run and is the worst at combat, but gains notoriety much more slowly and can charm or bribe various characters. The Slave persona can free run and is much more flexible with stealth, but is still lightly armed and draws the wrong attention in certain areas. The Assassin persona has the full suite of combat abilities and weapons, but is always notorious. The notoriety of each persona is tracked and reduced separately, which allows for some really cool options - maybe you need to use the slave persona but its notoriety is high and easily recognized, so you switch to the lady and tear down some wanted posters until the slave's notoriety drops.
This makes Liberation seem like an actual stealthy investigative game. Multiple options with restrictions attached feels a lot more interesting than being able to do everything all the time. Plus the problem of the main character running around in a distinctive assassin outfit and not being noticed is finally dealt with, because the assassin persona is always at least a little notorious.
Unfortunately that feeling didn't last. Much of the time you're locked into one persona for several missions, and even some of the changes are forced. Like, you've been running around doing assassiny things, but now it's time to infiltrate a slave group so you'd better go dress as a slave before you can start the mission! There was only one mission in the entire game that gave me a choice of personas, and when I had that choice it was awesome. But then the choice was gone, which means go along with whatever the game forces on me and switch to assassin whenever possible. Sigh.
Once that initial excitement wore off I started to notice other problems again. The main one that really bugged me over the course of the game was how the screen fades to black for one second whenever you grab a collectible, and sometimes at random for no apparent reason. And there are so many little cutscenes and transitions that it sometimes feels like I can't actually play for more than a minute before being locked into something else.
But then a couple of sequences later I gradually got excited about personas again as the options finally opened up for real. There are still a few missions that force you into one persona or another, but there are different free-roaming objectives and side missions for each persona, so it's worth exploring the world under different guises. For example, only the Lady can charm wealthy men to earn jewelled brooches; collecting all ten unlocks an outfit. Though that said, the Lady's side mission chain in particular feels weirdly unfinished and rushed.
Another neat new feature in Liberation is Citizen E. When you launch the game, you get an Abstergo Entertainment logo, which I thought was just a touch of immersion. But it's more than that - in the fiction of the game universe, Abstergo has produced this video game based on the memories of an assassin, but they've deleted and edited certain portions to make the story favourable to the Templars and put down the assassins. A mysterious hacker organization has, however, found a way to show you the truth - finding and assassinating the Citizen E in certain acts will play an extended cutscene, showing you the true unedited version of a conversation.
I have mixed feelings on this. The last Citizen E is mandatory, but the others are hidden. I like the element of investigation and hidden truth, but I don't like that you have to go out of your way to find the real story when that's never been a feature of the Assassin's Creed games before. Not sure about it as a whole.
The game's setting was good, and despite being set at the same time and in the same country as Assassin's Creed III, New Orleans feels distinctly unique from the northeastern setting with its heavy French and Spanish influences. The bayou, however, suffers quite a bit from the lower-budget portable nature of the game - it's a very stripped-down version of ACIII's frontier with fewer animals, no hunting or skinning, no random events, lower-quality visuals, and fewer environment subtypes.
The story is similarly hit-or-miss. Some elements are strong - Aveline is a great character with solid motivations, and her interactions with Gérald pack some genuine emotion. Other bits aren't as good. The themes of slavery and racism feel like they're present out of grudging necessity due to the setting and are hardly addressed at all, despite Aveline's position as a free upper-class black woman - big missed opportunity, and something ACIII handled better despite having almost no black characters or slaves. And the core plot feels like it could have been a solid mystery, but it's missing motivation and explanation. What is the actual scheme? Why is it in motion? We don't really find out.
Assassin's Creed Liberation provides an interesting new angle on the AC universe, a strong lead in the series' first female assassin, and a great mechanic in the personas (which I would love to see explored further in a main-series game), but it squanders its opportunities and ends up sub-par in pretty much every other aspect. Even though I greatly enjoyed Aveline and her personas, Liberation is easily the worst Assassin's Creed I've played yet. Though to be fair, that doesn't make it a bad game by any means - just not up to series expectations.