Review: Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

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It’s been some time since I’ve found myself so conflicted. I’ve never been known as a fence sitter and have even been called “two speeds” by many of my peers. I usually love a game or hate it and rarely hover in the middle, but there are always exceptions to the rule.

Mind if I drop in?

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation brims with immense potential seemingly achieved at a cursory glance, but delving beneath the surface reveals its less than polished underbelly.

One of the most appealing components of the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been freedom. Freedom to tackle assassinations, gameplay and the semi-open world as you see fit. You can go it all stealth-like sticking to the rooftops and shadows or mix it up and get your hands dirty face to face. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation moves in a different direction by not only showcasing the first female protagonist of the series, Aveline de Grandpré – an assassin of mixed French and African heritage, but offers three distinct personas for her to inhabit each with specific abilities and characteristics.

Considering the lengthy introduction and opening to its counterpart Assassin’s Creed III, it’s diminutive PS Vita sister is absolutely Spartan in comparison. As a child, Aveline loses her way from her mother in a crowded marketplace in New Orleans and is left to fend for herself. Adopted by a wealthy family, Aveline uses her inherited power and standing to help those less fortunate than herself, with the plight of those sold into slavery a major concern made more powerful by her ethnicity. This set-up takes place over the course of minutes, not hours.

Aveline is recruited into The Brotherhood by an escaped slave Agate, who operates from a secret location deep within the Bayou. The foundations are laid for an interesting triumvirate of personas. Aveline can use her charm, wealth and influence under the ‘Lady’ guise though she is unable to climb anything at all. The ‘Slave’ persona is able to incite riots and blend in with crowds and in the more familiar garb of the ‘Assassin’ she is instantly recognisable but far more deadly.

Each has their own level of notoriety attributed to their actions, accruing at different speeds, which can be negated by the following means. You tear down wanted posters to make life easier for the Slave, kill witnesses to your crimes thoughtfully detained by bandits as the Lady or bribe corrupt magistrates for your Assassin. There are also plenty of persona specific distractions to keep you entertained. Eliminating business rivals lowers all item purchase costs. You can help free those unfortunate souls sold into slavery or inflict grievous bodily harm to any who oppose the Brotherhood by taking on the bayou terror missions.

Different areas or situations require a quick clothing change, which you can don at any of the many of the dressing booths littered about as you use each guise’s unique abilities to help those less fortunate and combat those who would enslave their fellow man. It all sort of fits neatly together and makes sense to a point. The problem lies in the extremely linear execution of missions and numerous areas needing polish.

Come at me bro!

Rather than allowing you the freedom to choose how to tackle each scenario and add numerous replay options you are forced into certain personas (for the most part) and play as the game dictates. The structure is so painfully linear it almost goes against the main selling point of the franchise – playing it YOUR way. By severely limiting your choices what could have been an exercise in free flowing tactics and strategic character swapping becomes a little on the tedious side and destroys much of the impact.

With the mostly bland almost vanilla setting of New Orleans, I relished any opportunity I had to journey deep into the murky and mysterious Bayou. Awash with hints of voodoo mysticism my time smoothly ambling across tree branches to avoid hungry alligators in the swamps below provided some of the more memorable moments of the game and I never really wanted to leave.There were moments when the graphics were downright spectacular exhibiting stunning lighting effects especially around dusk on the rooftops of New Orleans. At other times it’s just plain ordinary as the framerate chugs along while textures render before your eyes,particularly noticeable while running.

It was such a stark contrast in tone, surroundings and even sound that it left far more of an impression than any other locales or sections of the campaign. It’s such a huge departure environmentally and fits in well with the ethnicity of the game’s lead.

I almost wish the entire campaign took place there. The concept of abandonment that Aveline deals with as she uncovers lost pages/letters from her mother is intriguing and these two elements kept me persevering while the rest of the story waned.

The plot never truly engages you. Maybe it’s the constant tonal shift between personas but I never had enough time with the parts I wanted to investigate and learn more about and had way too much of the elements I didn’t. Even with the persona specific side missions I just didn’t feel all that invested.

From a technical standpoint Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation felt positively bi-polar, trying to do too much with the end result muddled and lacking polish. My first hour with the game involved numerous device resets with the retail copy glitching out three times, trapping my character inside a building, on the edge of a ledge and on a non-existent crack between two structures. Not the most enthusing of starts.

As is almost expected the touch screen use was gimmicky and felt more included for the sake of it as opposed to any real desire to evolve. Sliding your finger over the front and rear screen simultaneously to recreate opening a letter was hardly the best use of its functionality and running your finger along the back to pick pockets or help paddle your canoe felt laboured and didn’t particularly add to the immersion.

Whip it real good

The combat was also way too simple at some points, unwieldy at others. Countering is an imprecise instrument lacking any finesse or real responsiveness, inexcusable considering the limited attack combinations at your disposal. It is almost a desimplified version of the counter seen in Assassin’s Creed III. A counter-intuitive counter? What were they thinking?

In contrast, the blowgun and poison darts were a user friendly hoot, especially driving guards into a addled frenzy as they flailed about mowing down their brethren. Projectiles and the slow-motion air assassinations remained the sharpest tools in your arsenal. Chain kills offered another attack option using the d-pad and touch screen, with kills available dependant on the weapons equipped. It’s a solid idea, though in practice it felt a little clunky.

Chase scenarios were a frustrating exercise made harder by allowing a solitary rigid path to follow, with any deviation leading to an immediate checkpoint restart. I was often within arm’s length of a character I was trailing though because I was on the ground below it would register as a failure. Line of sight for your adversaries was another temperamental beast virtually non-existent in some instances and almost x-ray-like at others with guards almost able to see around corners, through walls and directly onto rooftops.

The entire experience, virtually across the board, screamed of cool ideas and massive potential but Ubisoft may have bitten off more than it could chew. The final product was equal parts sloppy and magnificent. For every moment I set the Vita down to applaud there were similar moments the air turned blue as I cursed in frustration.

At first glance Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation’s siren call beckons you to come hither with all the hint and promise of unspeakable gaming delights – but once snared you’ll quickly realise it’s not even close to the earth-shattering handheld experience you’d envisioned or hoped for.

5/10

(This entire review is courtesy of and was originally posted on GameArena and can be found here)

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Dave Kozicki

Shotgun Samurai
Video game reviewer, presenter and enthusiast. Film and TV-aholic. Pop culture geek. T-shirt and sneaker addict. All around nice guy and one hell of a sexy beast. Writer for Official PlayStation Magazine AU, AusGamers and Hyper Magazine.