Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD Review – PC

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I’m ashamed to admit that I still have a copy of Assassin’s Creed Liberation installed on my PS Vita, relatively untouched.  It was for personal play rather than review, which is probably why I couldn’t muster the stamina to plod my way through another lengthy Creed game on a handheld – especially when it was releasing during the busiest time of 2012.  By design, the Vita is for more sporadic bursts of impromptu gameplay; not the 16-20 hours it would take to wrap up the lengthy tale being told in Assassin’s Creed Liberation.   Still, it was a great boon for Vita owners to have their own exclusive Assassin’s Creed game to call their own…until now.

Thankfully, Ubisoft decided to release an updated version of the game for PC and consoles that included remastered HD graphics, improved sound design, and even a few tweaks to the gameplay, but sadly, the update may have come too late for those who have already had a taste of Black Flag on next-gen systems.   While Liberation HD is a marked improvement over the Vita version in almost every way, playing this game after sailing the high seas for upwards of 100 hours on the PlayStation 4 felt like a step back in time.

Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is rather Meta in its 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 type 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 these Batman Arkham moments in the game where you would use your Eagle Eye like detective 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 gets an interesting twist with a new Splinter Cell-style Mark & Execute 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 swing 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.

After spending more than 120 hours in Black Flag over the past month it was nice to play a different type of Assassin’s Creed game, but in doing so, Liberation HD is a bit more obvious in its shortcomings.  The HD remake is stunning in some instances with great character models, enhanced textures, and a livelier more populated city, but ship models were noticeable simpler, and the ocean texture sans waves was disappointing.   In addition to the updated visuals, the music and sound effects have definitely been given an overhaul since you are no longer listening through tiny Vita speakers or headphones.

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I really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD and I probably would have enjoyed it even more if I had played it before Black Flag.  A few Vita-specific elements and mini-games were obviously dropped like the whole marble-tilt puzzle, but the HD and audio improvement more than make up for those omissions.  Multiplayer modes were also stripped making this a solo, story-driven affair, but multiplayer has never been Assassin’s Creed’s claim to fame, and if you do want to play online then Black Flag is where you want to be.

If you just can’t get enough Assassin’s Creed (and who can) then Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is a great game at an affordable price ($20 for 20 hours).  I 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 HD is an easy recommendation, especially if you didn’t play it on the Vita.

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