On the surface, it really doesn’t appear possible for any portable device to capture the expansive grandeur and fantastic scope of an Assassin’s Creed installment. But the PlayStation Vita is a highly capable unit and if nothing else, it has proven that it can handle ambitious projects like Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation . The only problem is that despite the quality of the presentation, this iteration still feels strangely empty when in direct comparison to its bigger console brothers.
The graphics really are quite special when you examine them from a portable standpoint. You won’t find this level of detail and clarity on any other handheld device and this alone is part of the game’s appeal. The character design is excellent, the large and meticulously designed landscape is engaging and immersive, and the effects are solid. I think there are a few missed opportunities, though, as more of this unique world could’ve been placed before our eyes. Like much of the gameplay and story, the visuals merely fall a tad shy of realizing their full potential.
The sound is top-notch in some places but only average in others. The voice performances are fine (for the most part) and the soundtrack and audio effects are good, but none of it is quite pronounced enough to grab our attention at any given time. It all sort of fits together, though, and there’s nothing technically out of whack. The balance is actually excellent and one has to appreciate the amount of effort on display, as this is a full, meaty adventure with little in the way of graphical or sound repetition. There’s just so much to see and hear and considering the daunting task the developers faced, they should be commended.
For the first time in the franchise’s history, we have a female protagonist. Her name is Aveline de Grandpre, the daughter of a wealthy father and a mother in slavery. There is no Desmond Miles and as a direct result, Liberation immediately feels fresh and interesting. After all, in comparison to ACIII, we’re in a very different part of the country (although the time setting is about the same) and the plot is also very much its own story with plenty of intriguing characters. There were many chances for the writers to develop this into a complex and memorable tale.
But it doesn’t really happen. You’ve got all sorts of significant historical subjects, ranging from civil strife to cultural differences to slavery, and while all of them are touched upon, none are really given their due credit. For the most part, Aveline just sort of goes about her business; an assassin is supposed to be an outsider, but her actions always feel oddly lacking in importance. We also never seem to learn enough about the main character. I guess we’re just supposed to accept that she is the way she is because of her past, and that’s that. It’s simply underwhelming.
That all being said, as I’ve stated many times before, gameplay is by far the most important part of any Assassin’s Creed adventure. The stories are typically interesting but really, we all play these games for the sake of playing . And when it comes to that, Liberation does well in presenting fans with a recognizable iteration that doesn’t always feel watered down. I say “always” because even with the Vita’s obvious power, it can’t quite keep up all the time, so the frame rate can drop during certain sequences. Furthermore, there isn’t quite the amount of gameplay diversity found in console-based entries.
However, this is definitely Assassin’s Creed . The control is solid and reliable and Aveline is agile and effective. You can explore the large and beautifully constructed city of New Orleans, accept your missions with a nod and a smile (knowing you’re just too good to fail), and execute your game plan as you see fit. There is that same ol’ appreciated flair for choice and freedom, and you won’t soon get tired of taking down targets. To me, stalking these streets didn’t feel that much different than roving the Italian environment with Ezio and that is a definite accomplishment.
You can do just about everything you would normally do, and even a dash extra. You’re free to explore to your heart’s content and you can zip up a tree just as easily as you can the side of a building. Nothing is really off limits and with the fantastic attention paid to detail, in that this is indeed a living, breathing world worth scouting, you’ll always want to cast a wandering eye on your surroundings. I’m actually a little surprised at the occasionally drab, darker-than-expected scenery, but we are talking about a city at war. And besides, this is an involving, interesting departure from the dense metropolis settings in the previous three AC installments.
Again, though, it just feels like I’m going from one mission to the next, and there’s not enough to really anchor me in the world. There is extra stuff to do, but not nearly as much as I would like; when you’re in the bayou, for instance, you can feel very alone. Obviously, the more populated areas of New Orleans are bound to offer more, which is great, but there’s no great wealth of variety that we see in the game’s counterpart, Assassin’s Creed III . Connor’s story is just that much bigger, that much more vast and diverse, and that much more intriguing the whole way ‘round.
As for the online multiplayer, it’s not what you’re expecting. It’s actually like a card game of sorts where the Assassins go up against the Templars on a map seen from afar. You gather various assassins, each of which have their own special skills, and spread them around in an attempt to capture towns. It’s definitely original and offers a nice change of pace; an appreciated twist and spin on the standard AC gameplay. I’m just not sure it’s what the fans want… Maybe they’ll appreciate the idea – and I hope they do – but there’s no guarantee they won’t be disappointed.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation isn’t the stellar, revolutionary experience I had counted on. They just don’t do enough with the story or protagonist, the experience feels somewhat dull and lifeless at times, and the game can chug significantly. Still, I think it’s critical to point out that in relation to other portable adventures, this is really very impressive. It very often looks and feels like the award-winning franchise in question, the control is great, the freedom and choice is there, the satisfaction level is high, and the environment is (usually) highly immersive. For these reasons, it’s definitely recommended for most Vita owners.
The Good: Wonderfully designed world. Good music and voice acting. Solid, reliable control. Fresh setting and character is a plus. Aveline is an interesting character. Feels very much like Assassin’s Creed.
The Bad: Frame rate can stutter. Not enough done with the story or protagonist. Can feel a little empty and aimless.
The Ugly: “Missed opportunities tend to bug me…”