The adaptation of a triple-A console franchise into portable form is often a thankless undertaking. Typically, primary development studios are able to articulate original ambitions through the capabilities of home systems. For the portable edition, a secondary team is often brought in, tasked with mirroring core mechanics on inferior hardware. While the PS Vita is undoubtedly a formidable handheld powerhouse, efforts to recreate popular franchises such as Uncharted, Resistance, and Call of Duty have delivered decided mixed results.
Although Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation can’t match the sumptuousness and depth of its console-based brethren, it’s an admirable and absorbing effort which ranks as one of the portable’s best adaptations. Much of the title’s potency lies in the articulation of the title’s lead protagonist; Liberation might be the Vita’s first title with a character capable of cultivating genuine sentiment. Credit is also due for the creation of a strong female lead who shuns the trappings of oversexualization.
Wisely evading the Desmond-driven storyline of previous series entries, Liberation introduces players to Aveline de Grandpré, the daughter of an affluent French shipping merchant and African placée. The narrative is framed as a propaganda piece from Abstergo Industries- the contemporary corporation designed to advance the objectives of the Templars. While Aveline’s impetus to eradicate slavery is undoubtedly more engaging that the goal of most games, Liberation often shirks the exploration of racial politics or the contentious nature of history. When an interloper eventually upsets Abstergo’s plans, the brief cutscenes feel a bit empty and arrive much too late.
Similarly, the developers at Ubisoft Sofia ambiguously explore the notion of ‘passing’ and W.E.B. Du Bois’ double consciousness through Aveline’s ability to adopt identities through a change in attire. When the protagonist is using her Slave persona, she has the ability to blend in crowds easier, while retaining the ability to scale walls and towers. When outfitted with the Lady’s bustled dress, Aveline relinquishes her ability to skulk about, but is able to gain entry to areas restricted to the very rich. While in Lady form, Miss de Grandpré is capable of charming guards, even persuading sentries to follow her and form an entourage, inverting Assassin’s Creed II’s courtesan mechanic.
Lastly, players can assume the guise of Assassin, which trades inconspicuousness for the ability to command a full armory of weapons. Naturally, this is the game’s most pleasing variant. Although Aveline doesn’t engage in direct combat as often as Altaïr, Ezio or Connor, there are still plenty of up-close and personal engagements to complement the stealthy takedowns. The one downside is the game determines when and where players can change personas, with preset changing stations and requirements of specific identities for missions. Ideally, Aveline would have been given Agent 47- like versatility to slink through the game’s varied environments. Instead, the game’s opening hours obliges a well-heeled sashay over a surreptitiously slay a bit too often.
However, during those moments when Liberation hits a groove, it’s easy to forgive the game’s missteps. Scampering across the colonial foundations of the French Quarter and Place d’Armes is undeniably exhilarating as is the game’s navigational freedom. Much like the console-based Assassin titles, plotting an undetected path to your prey before dispatching your mark inaudibly is quite a rush. Fortunately, the game’s control scheme provides a solid foundation for your actions, only stumbling when the game attempts to use the PS Vita’s touch and camera functions to perform sporadic, medial tasks.
Beyond the game’s protracted procession of ten memory sequences, there are a number of supplemental sidequests and post-game undertakings awaiting the protagonist. From gathering collectibles to emancipating slaves, the requisite side missions flank Aveline’s central storyline. Recalling the management of compatriots in Asssassin’s Creed, players may also develop a fleet of merchant vessels that can provide a healthy influx of currency. With the ability to upgrade weapons and tailor shops, these monies prove useful in assisting the player’s murderous endeavors.
Eighteenth Century New Orleans is a rich setting for a game, allowing developers to plump the fluctuation between French and Spanish rule, class disparity, and unique ethnic make-up. Largely, Ubisoft Sofia displays a commendable effort, rendering swanky streets as well as pastoral plantations adeptly. Regretfully, the game’s posh architectural details come at a cost. Even with the Liberation’s latest post-release patch, the game’s framerate can sputter when Aveline reaches top speed or becomes surrounded by a more than a few foes. One missed opportunity can be found in the game’s bayous. Although these locales allow for invigorating navigation are certainly attractive, they feel devoid of activity, save for some antagonistic alligators.
Likewise Liberation’s multiplayer component feels a bit underdeveloped. Shunning Creed’s conventional methodical hunts, the asynchronous mode tasks players with advancing the efforts of either the Assassins or Templars. By tapping nodes on the screen, players assign faction members to defend or attack scattered zones, as others do the same, providing a giant global tug-of war. Woefully, the diversion’s weak tutorial, and lack of balance (Assassins are the widely favored faction) soil a potentially promising concept.
While Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation’s handful of blemishes prohibit the title from reaching full synchronization, the game’s attempt to recreate the mechanics of its console counterparts are noble. Invigorated by a fascinating lead character, characteristic bits of blissful bloodshed, and a beguiling context, Liberation’s ambitions are enough to recommend a purchase.