Assassin’s Creed III/Liberation Remastered Review – PC

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Remastering video games might seem like a cheap ploy for studios to cash in on existing franchises with minimal effort, but Ubisoft seems to have genuinely put in the effort when it comes to their Assassin’s Creed games. It was around this time last year when they delivered the outstanding remastered version of Assassin’s Creed Rogue and now, freshly updated for new consoles and high-end PC’s supporting new lighting, enhanced character models, high resolution textures, improved visual effects, and support for 4K and HDR, welcome back to Assassin’s Creed III.

This remaster goes beyond technical improvements. Ubisoft has packed in loads of bonus content including all the original DLC; Benedict Arnold Missions, Hidden Secrets Pack, and Tyranny of King Washington; all of which will add hours to your American Revolution experience. They even included Assassin’s Creed Liberation Remastered; the 4K remaster of the PC and console HD remake of the PlayStation Vita original. Bottom line; you are getting dozens of hours of gameplay with this latest remastered title.It’s been over six years since I’ve played Assassin’s Creed III, and while I had forgotten bits and pieces much of the story came back to me as it unfolded on the screen, only this time it was in glorious 4K with all sorts of improvements, and not just visually. Quality of life improvements to gameplay such as the ability to craft weapons you could once only purchase, and a revised mini-map that now shows enemy elevation and facing direction make stealth play more intuitive. You can now hide in bushes and whistle to lure enemies to their demise or sneak up and perform double assassinations with the hidden blade that now acts as the default stealth weapon.

Assassin’s Creed III certainly has a different look about it, mainly due to the new physically-based lighting and rendering that showcase the upgraded textures and improved special effects like bloom effects and screen-space reflections – mostly on the water. I will say the HDR lighting is completely broken on PC, and no matter what settings you dial in the result is a washed out mess. It’s a shame because other Ubisoft games like Far Cry New Dawn and The Division 2 look fantastic with HDR. Thankfully, with HDR turned off the game still looks remarkably improved and runs smoothly at 60fps.Even more remarkably is the inclusion of a fully remastered Assassin’s Creed Liberation, a game designed for the PS Vita and eventually upgraded to HD and now 4K. One might argue the redesign to support a second analog stick would be enough, but Ubisoft really crafted something special when they took this handheld game and somehow managed to update it with 4K visuals running at 60fps. Admittedly, Liberation might not showcase the same polish and refinement as Assassin’s Creed III, but it’s still impressive considering the base assets they had to work from.

So, with all the technical mumbo jumbo out of the way, just how good are these games?

I have to admit, it was pretty awesome playing as Desmond again. So many Assassin’s Creed games have released since 2012 I had nearly forgotten the roots of the franchise. As a lover of American history, the 18th century setting in and around Boston and New York, not to mention the frontier and the exploration of Native American culture plus epic naval missions combined to create a gameplay experience that makes it hard to tear yourself away. The story once again begins with Desmond and his crew seeking out a new base of operations in order to prevent the Templar from unleashing a devastating attack on the modern population using ancient technology.Once he starts DNA diving we assume the role of Haytham Kenway, an elite assassin with his sights set on a target inside a large London theater. After completing his assignment he jumps a ship and sets sail for Boston. Even the 30+ minutes on the ship offer up some great moments, both in sheer spectacle as well as a possible mutiny you’ll need to foil when are you below decks talking to the crew and playing challenging board games. Depending on your focus, it can be upwards of an hour or more before the clouds part and the title screen appears signaling your arrival at the New World.

The first few stages of the game are rather linear and serve to setup the backstory and key characters like Charles Lee. The main game that kicks off in Sequence 4 when we meet Connor, the half-breed offspring of Haytham and his Indian lover, Kaniehtí:io. We first meet Connor as a young boy playing hide and seek with his friends in the woods and then as a teenager teaching a friend how to hunt. These missions are narratively entertaining while simultaneously teaching you the basic mechanics of gameplay.

At its core, the gameplay is much like all the previous games where you’ll start to stack up primary and secondary missions along with the random fetch-quests; the first from none other than Ben Franklin who has lost some pages from his Farmers’ Almanac. The game does a good job of propelling you through the main story-driven events while providing you with ample free time to check off these side objectives, and you are always free to exit the Animus and return to the present to catch up with Desmond, read some emails, and explore the temple.Game mechanics are consistent with the 2012 version even if the world around you is much more vertically challenged this time around. There are no more instances of climbing for several minutes to the top of dizzying tower heights before swan diving into a haystack. Most buildings are only 2-3 stories when in town and your traipsing through the treetops is not much higher. The whole parkour element has been automated to the point where you merely need to keep the trigger held down and the stick pushed forward to have Conner navigate the levels with acrobatic ease.

Combat is also fluid, at least for melee and stealth kills, but the controls will be quite a shock for anyone who has only ever played using the revised controls of Origins and Odyssey. Ranged weapons are entirely another matter, and you will quickly learn that muzzle-loaders suck in battle, especially when you realize you can’t reload while running. The good news is that it takes just as long for the enemy to reload, so if you can dodge their bullets you can easily kill them with a sword or knife during their reload animation, assuming they aren’t sniping from a rooftop.Conner will find himself exploring the great outdoors much more than cities in this game, which offers plenty of opportunities for hunting, trapping, and other frontier activities. Also lurking beneath the surface is a fairly important economic system that ties into Conner’s homestead; something you are continually working to improve upon, so you can bring new workers to your base of operations. These workers fuel the trade system which in turn allows Conner to upgrade his various weapons and armor.

And if there wasn’t enough to do on land, just wait until you climb aboard your own majestic sailing vessel and take the adventure to the high seas. Not only are these missions gorgeous to watch, the gameplay mechanics of commanding a ship, piloting, attacking, and boarding other vessels will have you singing, “It’s a pirate’s life for me…” And again, there is a whole economy and ship upgrade system in place to keep you coming back for more.Assassin’s Creed III does an amazing job of not only recreating a visually stunning 18th century frontier; it sets up incredibly rich characters and stories you care about. Following Conner through his adolescence only gives you deeper insight into that character as an adult. I was also surprised with the insightful use of historical figures and the way they were portrayed in the various events without all of the editorial cleansing of our public school history books. After the initial encounter with Ben Franklin I was expecting a bunch of Forest Gump style brushes with notoriety, but every encounter was integrated perfectly to fuel the Templar backstory and blend it with our own understanding of history.

I’m not sure how many people were still playing Assassin’s Creed III’s multiplayer modes six years after release. I’m not even sure if servers were still running, but all of the multiplayer has been stripped from this remastered version, and since this version has replaced the original game on digital stores there is currently no way to play Assassin’s Creed III online anymore.

While I’ve already covered the visual enhancements earlier I would still like to mention composer, Lorne Balfe who has created a soundtrack that is as sweepingly grand and majestic as the visuals, with moments of suspense, action, drama, and adventure that all cue perfectly to the onscreen events. This flawless score blends with realistic sound effects, both manmade and natural environmental noises, and the script and professionally voiced dialogue is a real treat and helps to keep you interested in the story. And for those who may not have played the first two games, there is a brilliantly designed and narrated opening recap of the previous games courtesy of John de Lancie.

But the fun doesn’t stop with just the adventures taking place up north during the 18th century. Assassin’s Creed Liberation Remastered is part of this remastered bundle and delivers its own unique style and presentation. Rather than continuing the saga of the war between Assassin’s and Templars, Liberation is presented as an entertainment product being developed by Abstergo – a concept reinforced numerous times in Black Flag. In this particular story you will be playing as Aveline de Grandpré, the multiracial daughter of a wealthy white merchant and one of his slaves. This allows Aveline a unique position within her 18th century New Orleans surroundings.Using the new Persona System, Aveline has the ability to disguise herself in any of three costume types. As a Lady, Aveline can choose from a variety of stylish dresses that allows her to wander the city with relative ease. She can bribe guards to access secured areas or even charm certain individuals, relieving them of valuable jewelry or luring them to a dark corner for a covert kill. Of course, such a wardrobe restricts her movements disabling her ability to jump or climb and restricts her combat to simple melee and a dart launcher hidden in her parasol.

Aveline can also wear Slave attire, which grants her access to a few more abilities like jumping and climbing, more weapons, and access to special areas where slaves are commonplace including a few levels set in a Mayan dig site in Chichen Itza. And finally you have the full-on Assassin’s outfits that come in a variety of styles and colors and allow for all the weapons and tools of the killing trade. Of course this outfit will attract the most attention from the numerous guards and soldiers patrolling nearly every inch of every map.   Notoriety is a major factor in the game, and each costume type has its own “Wanted Meter” that fills up the more you publicly misbehave – things like killing people and looting bodies.   You can lower these meters by changing clothes at any nearby changing station and tearing down wanted posters, bribing guards, or killing eyewitnesses.The whole Personae System is pretty clever, not only allowing you to bounce between various states of notoriety, but also in dictating the way you approach some missions. And while it is certainly more fun to romp around the rooftops of New Orleans as a dangerous assassin, it is much safer (albeit slower) to stroll through town all ladylike – just watch out for bandits who prey on wealthy women.

The 16-20 hour story is spread across New Orleans, the surrounding Bayou and a few remote missions down in Mexico. The various locations help to break up the mission types and the way you tackle them, with the city offering the more traditional Assassin’s Creed experience of the earlier games while the bayou missions create a more natural environment, not unlike what you saw with Conner in Assassin’s Creed III, as you parkour your way through treetops and canoe through treacherous swamps full of smugglers, savages, and gators.   Conner even makes a cameo appearance in one brief mission where you head to a wintery New York City.   Some of my favorite missions are in Mexico where you explore underground caves and even canoe down an underwater river.The game is a fairly linear experience with only a few diversionary activities, which include killing rival businessmen to take over clothing and weapons shops, purchasing more changing rooms, a few assassin contracts and of course a hefty assortment of collectibles including Chests, Diary Pages, Voodoo Dolls, Brooches, Alligator Eggs, Mayan Statues, and a collection of expensive Pocket Watches – the latter being purchased from roving smugglers, but in order to get enough cash to buy them all you will need to exploit the games Shipping Trade Empire mini-game.   For those who have played Black Flag, this is a watered down version of that shipping game where you purchase a fleet of ships then send them back and forth across the world map to various key cities buying and selling goods; hopefully for a profit. There are no ship battles to worry about; only the occasional storm or other random incident that can slow your ship or lose some of its cargo.   It’s a minor component of the game that you can otherwise ignore entirely unless you just need to grind cash to purchase every last store item.

There were also several moments in the game where you would use your Eagle Eye vision to spot and analyze clues to various events like tracking down a missing person or solving a mystery.   There are even two multi-part detective missions in the city, one of which includes Lady Aveline getting kidnapped. These were great breakaway moments from the main story.The combat in Liberation has an interesting twist with a new system that allows you to build up a special meter then pause the combat and mark up to three targets using a combination of melee and ranged attacks then killing those targets in a cool animation – a nice addition when you are outnumbered in fights near the end of the game. You also have a varied arsenal of swords, guns, and small weapons like hatchets, each with their own stats and varying degrees of effectiveness, and of course you still have poison and berserker darts for covert ranged kills. The addition of the whip was awesome, allowing you to grab and yank a guard toward you for that fatal stab or just swinging across chasms like Indiana Jones.

The story is pretty good with excellent voice acting and some good cutscenes, although you can’t seem to skip them. There are also these Citizen E missions that put the animus into some sort of recovery mode then asks you to find and kill a certain character in the simulation to reveal the “true story” and unaltered cutscene – it seems Abstergo is making their own “corrections” to historical events.I really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed Liberation Remastered as it offered a totally unique way to step outside the Templar vs. Assassins storyline and engage with the franchise as purely entertainment. I also enjoyed the whole female, ethnic lead character that offered a unique insight into how fashion and womanly charms can be effective tools in the assassination game, and with the mix of city, swamp, jungle, and underground maps, lots of exciting missions, compelling story, and plenty of things to collect, Liberation is certainly worth your time.

So there you have it; two great classics newly remastered for next-gen consoles and PC’s, ready for veteran gamers to relive their favorite moments from the 18th century, or newcomers to get a taste of classic Assassin’s Creed gameplay with a fresh coat of paint and some much-appreciated quality of life enhancements.   This is a great installment in gaming and American history.

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