It’s not every day that a multiplatform, blockbuster video game franchise, beloved for its story and sprawling mythology, receives an exclusive entry, but such was the case with Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation. Released only for the PlayStation Vita alongside Assassin’s Creed 3, those without the handheld were left out in the cold. Until now, that is.
Many months (and another proper Creed sequel) have passed since then, but fans of the series have been granted the chance to see the game’s story firsthand, appropriately tweaked and upgraded for home consoles. But does Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD still offer a worthwhile experience, or is it one Creed title fans don’t need to regret missing?
Unsurprisingly, the visual fidelity of Liberation HD handles the upscaling from handheld to console well. That might have been expected, of course, given Sony’s argument that the Vita and PS3 were capable of producing similar graphics. Nevertheless, while it’s clear that cutscenes and scripted in-game segments are utilizing lower-res assets than console gamers will be used to, a majority of the open world gameplay is comparable to that of AC3.
As we stated in our original review of Liberation, new protagonist Aveline de Grandpre is as interesting and compelling character as one would hope for from an installment in Ubisoft‘s flagship franchise – but not all aspects of game design were similarly inspired. The notion of disguising Aveline – the daughter of a French merchant and an African slave – as either the wealthy lady she was born to be, the slave she can pass as, or the Assassin she has trained to become is as compelling as ever, but still falls short.
The wealth of gameplay innovations that ultimately feel half-baked or underutilized is a feature Liberation still shares with the numbered entry it was released beside. With the upgrade to consoles, the similarities become even more pronounced – an intriguing hero who is sold short by the story they star in, and a large ‘nature’ environment to navigate that is a step between restricting and well-realized.
But even if AC3 offered enough spectacle and scale to keep players engaged, it’s impossible to ignore the telltale signs that while Liberation HD looks the part, it was not designed for a console experience. Shorter missions, frequent stops and starts, and occasional segments of tedious gameplay may have been appealing for gamers on-the-go or awaiting the next checkpoint, but simply break the experience for a gamer giving their full attention.
The same can be said for the Vita-specific controls, such as Chain Kills, which offered a tailored experience for the handheld by utilizing its touch controls for an added cinematic flourish. The chaining of kills is still as satisfying and entertaining on consoles, but by shifting the control to a separate button, the change feels arbitrary and off, not inspired.
That criticism was somewhat unavoidable given the adaptation, but most, if not all of our original criticisms of Liberation remain completely intact. While the mechanics, performances and writing are as sound as fans of the series have come to expect, it struggles in places that the best entries did not. Perhaps it’s a compliment to say that Liberation leaves players wanting more of a look into Aveline’s life, as the female Assassin is introduced as an adult, with little backstory to start with (a feat once again attempted with Black Flag, but executed far better).
Whether fair or not, it’s impossible not to evaluate Liberation with the game that followed it in mind. Put quite simply: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag corrected most of the design missteps and story shortcomings of its predecessor(s). So even if players are hungry for a previously-unexplored chapter of the Assassin’s Creed saga, jumping into Liberation means taking an indisputable step backward in polish and mission design.
Diehard fans of the franchise – or those who had few issues with AC3‘s campaign and mission structure – may find the experience worthwhile, as much for the chance to see Ubisoft’s take on 18th-century as a genuinely interesting lead character. The game’s treatment of the African slave trade is not as nuanced as AC4‘s ‘Freedom Cry’ DLC, but certainly shows why Ubisoft felt the issue was one worth exploring further.
It may be a reminder of the issues that the series has struggled with in the past, with a story that is interesting enough, a heroine captivating enough, and mission design that is sound enough, Liberation remains a worthwhile chapter of the Creed franchise.
Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is available for download for $19.99 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.