Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD – Final Review

            Releasing the same year as Assassin’s Creed III, many comparisons must be made between that title and its companion piece, Assassin’s Creed Liberation. Originally a Vita exclusive, this latter game could never hope to outperform technically its stronger console brethren. The only way this game could hope to surpass that title is through a display of great creativity and originality. Sadly, the game never achieves either of these things. True, there are some creative environments, but it seems overall lackluster and uninspired – it seems almost formulaic. Still, as a fan of the formula as it then stood, I was willing to endure a bizarre, pointless narrative; the gameplay systems are spot on, mimicking almost exactly the systems of Assassin’s Creed III. Indeed, it is too much of a mimic, bringing relatively few new ideas to the table. What is original here is executed poorly, the new persona mechanic existing solely as a novelty. I can imagine upon release this title was given somewhat of a pass – the notion of a full-fledged portal series in the franchise must have been exciting, its limitations accepted. But here, there has been somewhat of a graphical overhaul. Now on par with its sister game in terms of fidelity, these missteps are not quite as easy to ignore.

The gameplay on offer here is, admittedly, very satisfying. The parkour is very fluid, nearly all environments in the game world scalable. The grace in the sense of movement is furthered by the expectantly beautiful animation, seeing Aveline lithely leap from branch to branch, or climb with ease even the tallest of buildings. The series trademark sense of verticality is still present, even as the height of the buildings is comparatively low. Movement is a massive part of the game, and so entranced with I was these systems, I found enjoyment merely by crossing the map, highlighting some trivial collectible on the opposite side of the gameworld, then promptly proceeding to collect it. There are instances where the movement is unresponsive or unintentional mistakes are made, but overall, these systems are usually stable and are very intuitive. While the climbing is done well here, the stealth systems on offer are quite weak and very simplistic. The greatest determiner of successful evasion largely and almost exclusively hinges upon line of sight. No auditory components are present, and there isn’t even a crouch button, to further the chances of anonymity. Here, the buildings again come into play – taking a position upon the rooftops permits a view of the landscape below. It can be exciting to survey an area, then promptly descend below and eliminate all of the threats, though this strategy is often compromised due to these shotty stealth systems. Beyond the verticality as tool of stealth, there are also sparsely spread out bunches of foliage, which exist as a sort of cover. Sadly, their presence in the gameworld is rather low. More often than not, it is far easier to engage in direct combat. Stealth can be rewarding, but it feels that way because it is largely the triumph over flawed, underdeveloped, simplistic game design.

            Luckily, the mentioned combat does fare better. The animations are smooth here, too, and are particularly visceral. Aveline does not have access to some game-changing melee weapons, largely falling back upon the trusty sword, but I never felt as though the combat grew stale, or that it was lacking in variety. This could be do to the plethora of different animations, and while the combat is never overly difficult, a sense of tension is maintained throughout; the emergence of especially powerful enemy types actually made me somewhat nervous; they are more enjoyable to fight because success hinges somewhat upon strategy, which is in no ways required in the encounters with the more basic enemies. There are only a pair of unique weapons that introduced in this game – a blowgun, which can fire different poisonous projectiles on distant enemies, all the while maintaining anonymity; and a whip, which is extremely situational, mostly used only in scripted sections, though there are spread throughout the gameworld certain whip targets which launch the player through the air, furthering the sense of locomotion. Still, these are very slight, forgettable additions.

            While combat, movement, and stealth are the three pillars of these earlier Assassin’s games, here the developers tried their hand at constructing a fourth pillar, unique to this title. Spread across the map are certain dressing chambers, which allow Aveline to change between three different personas – the lady, the slave, and the assassin. They each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, the lady easily capable of avoiding detection, free to roam the environment without immediate fear of reprisal by the large quantity of hostile guards. This is interesting in theory, though this persona is accompanied with overwhelming, exceedingly frustrating limitations; the mentioned glorious sense of movement is completely prohibited. Aveline cannot leave the ground. This fully takes away one of the game’s greatest assets, though luckily this persona is not overused, at least not in the late game, being optional far more often than required. Being used so often in the opening sequences of the game, I can understand a lot of gamers quitting in frustration. It does get better, though, once the Assassin persona is more readily available. How limiting the player’s options could ever be perceived as a good thing is totally beyond me. I get they were trying to strike some sense of balance between action and tranquility – which isn’t always a bad thing – but it just seems like a really strange, failed decision. Beyond the lady, the Assassin persona is just as expected, permitting the glorious free-running and providing access to all available weapons. The third persona – the slave – exists as a fusion between the two, capable of eluding detection in many situations, whilst also capable of movement and a somewhat restricted roster of weapons. The slave persona is, like the lady persona, only really used in scripted sections. If they had increased flexibility, allowing multiple avenues towards completion based upon any given persona, the game might have benefited immensely; this the game’s greatest novelty has potential, though it never takes full advantage of it; it is a great misstep.

            If the gameplay is solid yet flawed, the narrative can be perceived as a complete disaster. Rather than telling some cohesive narrative, all of the varied objectives in the game seem carelessly stitched together – because of this disjointed nature, it is very difficult to follow. There is an abundance of side plots, and a rather large cast of characters, almost all of which are underdeveloped. The pacing is illogical; the opening section sees the protagonist, Aveline, roaming around the streets of New Orleans as a child, with her mother. Suddenly, they are separated, Aveline falls to the ground, then the game jumps forward to her adulthood. There is no sense of context, and it is a very radical shift. Why did they even include this? I’m not sure. There is some intrigue regarding the fate of the mother, and that mystery is perhaps the game’s greatest strength narratively, though this intrigue is soon tempered by overwhelming mundanity. Aveline has been supposedly been raised by a caring Frenchman, who is actually her biological father, he copulating with Jeanne, Aveline’s mentioned mother. As a character, he is entertaining, and seems genuinely concerned for Aveline, but he is underused. His wife, Aveline’s stepmother, plays a cliched role, feigning interest in her daughter, whilst showing affection for her husband. She is a very minor character, which makes the ending (which I shan’t discuss here) all the more puzzling. There is a kind, spirited Frenchman called Gerald, who acts as friend and companion to Aveline, assisting her in her Assassin’s affairs. The remaining characters are forgettable. The voice-acting is surprisingly abysmal, too, which lends an unintended humor to the varied exchanges, especially when Creole is being spoken. Again, the narrative is flawed. Aveline is an Assassin. We know that. But we know nothing of her past or her position in the Brotherhood. She has a mentor who serves as guide, and there is some Templar presence in New Orleans, but these components – the war between Assassin and Templar – are never developed. The posh, boring encounters of New Orleans refinement take up too much of the time in the narrative, detracting from the actually intriguing Assassin plots.

            Touching briefly on these sub-plots and the main objectives in the game. I spent about eleven hours in completing the campaign – rather short for an Assassin’s game – and yet I really can’t remember any particular mission as truly standing out; the majority of them are extremely forgettable. There is a captain to be charmed and cheated, business rivals to be thwarted, enemy soldiers to be intimidated, and so many other things which only further the confusing component to the story line. There was a fun mission to the bayou, which sees Aveline climbing through the trees, frightening enemies, and convincing them of the horrifying powers of voodoo. Also, there are some linear segments which really stand out. In one such instance, a canoe must be piloted down a violent, fast-moving stream, Aveline controlling the boat to avoid rocks and other obstacles. Later in the game, a frozen waterfall must be climbed, while in another instance, underwater caverns must be explored, Aveline swimming through water and scaling stalactites. There is almost a cinematic quality on offer here, and I enjoyed these missions greatly. Sadly, they are by far in the minority, drowned out in a sea of forgettable, uninspired missions, which do nothing to propel the plot forward or elicit any real sense of engagement or even entertainment.

            If these main missions are uninspired, and the gameplay systems are in no ways unique, what is the game’s greatest strength? I would have to say its world-building. New Orleans as a place is rather interesting. There is a decent number of character models, while a surprising amount of them congregate on the street. While the graphics can appear murky, distant objects being especially impacted, there is something charming about the setting. Revelations Constantinople served as a combination of both European and Asian culture, and this was reflected strongly in the architecture of the city, in addition to its inhabitants. Here, I think New Orleans was met to fulfill a similar role, serving as the conflux of three nations: the English, French, and Spanish. Given this ethnic diversity, the developers had much material to work with. Sadly, the city reminded me too much of III’s Boston or New York, minus the snows. There is much New England style architecture, though there is some diversity in the city, with the inclusion of Spanish-themed churches, and larger plantations and manors in the city proper. They didn’t go far enough in developing this diversity. Still, I love the city, with its beautiful day/night cycle, and the beautiful fireflies which populate many of the areas. There is beautiful lattice present on some of the buildings, and I had a great deal of fun exploring the city.

            Beyond New Orleans, there is the explorable bayou area, which represents by far my favorite thing in the game. It is very atmospheric, the air foggy and steamy with heat. Alligators patrol the area, while hidden collectible mushrooms litter the landscape. It is very creatively designed, with winding, crooked tree branches, the majority of which are climbable. Falling into a rhythm and leaping from branch to branch – there is a sense of fluidity and grace to Aveline’s movements. It is beautifully designed, though again it can be compared to Assassin’s Creed III. That game of course had the sprawling frontier to explore, with mountains and trees, many scalable. Beautiful graphically – and creatively designed – somehow, I still think it was outdone by Liberation’s bayou. The frontier did have the advantage of changeability, the environments morphing in response to the season’s, the trees barren in the winter, with thick snows on the ground, for instance. The frontier did objectively have more depth to it, with a plethora of animals to hunt, with a great diversity of tools to aid in the act of hunting. And yet, despite its simplicity the bayou really blew me away; I think it is one of the most compelling regions to be found in the entire series. Some may view this as hyperbole, but it really resonated with me; it played to the game’s strengths, particularly the solid gameplay and movement systems. While wonderful creatively and design wise, this one environment cannot save a game plagued by design flaws.

            Making one final comparison to III. That title was a very ambitious game, attempting to tell the tale of a reluctant, troubled Assassin, born of an English father who serves as a protagonist of sorts for a rather protracted opening section. There are Indian tribes being displaced and destroyed, while unrest in the colonies is growing. The Assassin’s Brotherhood is greatly developed, while the character arc of Desmond reaches its conclusion. There is a lot going on. Critically, despite its flaws, I think that title was largely successful in delivering on its ambitions. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation Remastered, though, is a decidedly unambitious game. It brings no new ideas to the table, being an imitation of something far better. It has an interesting gameworld, with the occasional charming character, tempered by a plethora of boring, even annoying other characters. Its plot is a total mess, confusing and uninspired. This game, even without loftier aims, focusing instead on the simplistic, is a total failure. It should not be considered a bad game, I think. It is just a boring game, a game with good systems which might have become great if a more intense focus was sought after and achieved. Touching briefly on slavery, abuse, and tensions in the colonies, none of these issues are presented in an interesting, compelling light. Still, as a fan of these early titles before the gradual shift towards role-playing, I was able to find some enjoyment here. I can understand, though, that many others do not hold similar views, could understandably be repulsed by this title. But even with its flaws – and there are many – I found some enjoyment here.

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