Review: Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD
Assassin’s Creed’s first playable female character has finally run, jumped and sliced her way on to consoles and the PC. But what do we make of this HD port which originated on the PS Vita? Stick with us for a quick overview of the best and worst bits of Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD.
Our story follows Aveline de Grandpré, a young African-French assassin living in New Orleans in the late 1700s. Aveline is effectively a superhero in that by day she lives a charmed life as a respectable lady of a wealthy household, and by night she’s all about cutting people to ribbons and leaping about on rooftops. Much like Catwoman, but the good Catwoman. Not Halle Berry!
Aveline has her own, self contained narrative that is in no way linked to the modern ancestor Desmond Miles, or even the faceless protagonist of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. This is largely avoided by the notion that anyone is now able to tap into the power of the Animus through Abstergo’s ability to turn history into a fun game.
This standalone narrative works well for Liberation, particularly if we bare in mind that the game was originally released for a portable console with many more limitations than it’s bulky console brethren. It also makes the game feel like it cuts right to the chase, with only a 2 minute tutorial before you’re into the action and doing all the things that we love about Assassin’s Creed games.
Throughout the story Aveline struggles with the oppression of the day as well as the mounting conflict between her faction and a particularly unsavory bunch of local Templars profiting from slavery and other corruptions.
All in all, Aveline’s story is very well told and as a character you’ll find her to be a lot more likeable than Assassin’s Creed III’s Conner. It’s also refreshing to see the assassin’s motivations from a female perspective, a first for the series. It’s in no way perfect, but shows us that Ubisoft no longer really need to rely on the modern day goings on of Abstergo and that a story about eliminating slavery and those who promote it can make you feel a lot more as an isolated experience.
The mechanics in Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD are pretty standard fare. There is very little that will astound you but that’s perfectly acceptable for a game that came out prior to Black Flag as it ticks all the boxes for the usual kind of fun that you’ll find from the series.
The main difference that stands out here is the introduction of the Persona system, which allows Aveline to deploy a number of different costumes with varying effects. There are three in total (the Assassin, the Lady and the Slave) and our heroine is able to deploy each of these to find alternate ways through a situation.
For instance, the Lady persona sees Aveline in her best gown and posing as a woman of high standing. In this getup she draws less negative attention from the guards and is able to charm and bribe her way into restricted areas. The downside is that she is unable to sprint, climb or free-run.
The Slave persona however can do the running and jumping and is able to blend in better with the crowds. She will find herself under more scrutiny than the Lady though and unable to talk her way out of trouble.
The Assassin is the standard that we’re all used to, able to use all the tools and gadgets at Aveline’s disposal, but her in Liberation the guards are in a constant state of alert which makes navigating the busy streets difficult in this persona.
Personas are an interesting concept for the series and is somewhat reminiscent of Hitman in that you are always looking out for the right costume to make your life that little bit easier.
Where it falls down is the Lady persona’s inability to do most of the things that make Assassin’s Creed unique. As I said before, in this persona Aveline is unable to run, climb or use anything other than the hidden blade really. This makes simple things like escaping a brawl and sneaking up on someone rather tricky. Although you do get a choice between personas for most of the missions, you will spend a significant period of time in this costume. I got used to the different feel, but if the concept seems too weird for you, the chances are it probably is. She does have an gun that looks like an umbrella though, if that sways you.
Personally I thought the personas served to add more depth to an already fascinating character and illustrate the inner conflicts of a lady who’s family is built on respect and tradition, but who’s daughter lives a double life as a hardened killer.
After a few hours into the game, you’ll get to explore a bit of the swampy bayou area that surrounds New Orleans. There are no hunting challenges or strongholds to raid here, just the new pursuits such as battling alligators in quick-time-events and rowing canoes down murky rivers which won’t keep you entertained for too long.
Building on the tree free-running (tree running?) of Assassin’s Creed III you’ll find yourself leaping from branch to branch and swinging from hanging vines which does give you a different experience from the city streets at least.
It also seemed that some of the better missions were hosted in the bayou. At one point you’ll need to do battle with a group of freed slaves out for the blood of their persecutors. With Aveline being the daughter of a slave, you are treated to a particularly heavy piece of moral conflict, as opposed to the usual “follow target and hear what he has to say” type missions.
With gameplay in mind though, the fact that we ultimately have to keep in mind is that this is a game that was developed and released prior to the latest offering. Many will complain that you don’t have as much freedom as you do with the open world of Black Flag but ultimately that’s not what Liberation is about, and in reality, how much more could you cram into an already impressively scaled PS Vita title?
The upscaled HD visuals on offer here make a big difference to the gameplay experience and the cut scenes that bookend it. In addition to this a great deal of the voice acting has been re-recorded or polished to get it up to console standard. None of this means that you won’t hear guards muttering the same lines of dialogue time and time again, or giggle as the characters lips seem just slightly out of sync as they chat, but the improvements here are massive as you can see from the image below.
To Sum Up
At the end of the day, Liberation was the first true portable entry into the Assassin’s Creed franchise and as a result, it’s HD port is a little bit rough around the edges.
As far as storytelling goes, this one is pitch perfect and will resonate with hardcore fans of the series as well as new recruits. It’s great to have the opportunity to play through Liberation, a chapter in the series that was previously reserved only for handheld gamers. Even though it doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into the Assassin’s Creed canon, it works extremely well as a standalone experience.
If you can tolerate the minor technical issues, £15 seems like money well spent to experience one of the brotherhood’s coolest assassin’s.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is available for digital download now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC for £15.99.