As a former exclusive on the PlayStation Vita, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation arrived in time for the 2012 holidays as a promising system seller for Sony's fledgling handheld. While it fell short of its lofty goal, Liberation was nonetheless an impressive showcase of possibilities for open-world play on the portable platform. Now that it has been released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Assassin's Creed fans uninterested in the Vita can now experience all of the franchise's 18th-century storylines. Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD delivers what you would expect in upgraded visuals. And if you're hoping for the exact same gameplay that Vita owners experienced, you get that as well, even though it includes Liberation's original bugs.
Unlike other portable Assassin's Creed titles, Liberation continues the main narrative thrust of the major entries in the series. Aveline de Grandpre, the franchise's first playable female assassin, has intriguing ties to the protagonist of Assassin's Creed III, Connor Kenway, though it's a shame that Liberation doesn't feature more collaborative interplay between the two assassins. Liberation's framing premise also works as a prelude to the modern-day story portions of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, since these adventures are the first two "games" by Abstergo Industries' entertainment division.
Like Assassin's Creed III, Liberation is set in a time of upheaval, a common occurrence in the New World in the 1700s. The Spanish have taken control of New Orleans from the French, there's a defection among the Assassin ranks, and the governor of New Orleans is in cahoots with the Templars. And that's just the first couple of chapters in a story arc that spans 12 years. The supporting cast features some of the more colorful characters you'll find in an Assassin's Creed game, including a pair of enterprising smugglers and an unlikely mentor in the Louisiana bayou. Then there's Gerald Blanc, who supports Aveline in various capacities and represents the behind-the-scenes administrative side of the Assassin's Order (someone has to keep their books balanced). Think of him as Alfred to Aveline's Batman, except that Gerald also has a crush on Aveline. Gerald's bland personality puts the "mild" in mild-mannered, and his inability to organize his thoughts in front of Aveline makes him more of a frustrating character than an endearing one.
The supporting cast features some of the more colorful characters you'll find in an Assassin's Creed game.
The majority of Aveline's missions are fundamentally recognizable, right down to the tailing and escort missions. As an assassin's playground, New Orleans isn't particularly noteworthy; it's easy to get around, and you don't even need to rely on hopping fences or rushing down side alleys to evade pursers. The bayou is a fitting wilderness of surprises like alligator ambushes. With spotty pockets of settlements, the bayou can feel larger than it really is, even in spite of objective markers you can still get lost very easily. Aveline's objectives in the bayou mirror Connor's missions in the woods of Assassin's Creed III. She speedily navigates large tree branches while stalking hostiles on the ground.
When you have a game series that places such a huge emphasis on stealth, it's surprising that it wasn't until Liberation that a disguise system was introduced. The ability to don the persona of a socialite, a slave, and an assassin is reflective of Aveline's complicated background as the daughter of a French merchant and a slave, and the game forces you to use all three personas in equal measure, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. If you dress as a slave, you don't have to worry about sneaking around in a plantation, though you won't have your best killing tools available. Unsurprisingly, Aveline is most useful in her assassin garb, but she sticks out from the crowd. She is attractive no matter the outfit, though her socialite ensemble makes her the most welcome guest at parties. Not only does she come off as charming in conversation, but she even has a charm prompt whenever she's near guards and powerful men. It's an asset that other assassins lacked, though to be fair to the equally charming Ezio Auditore, he didn't have enough targets of the opposite sex to impress in his Assassin's Creed trilogy.
Liberation on consoles is best appreciated during combat. It's simply more comfortable to play on a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 controller versus the denser button layout of the Vita. This HD version made me feel more confident about using the series' defensive moves, not that I could have protected myself from every attack. The exploitable Assassin's Creed smoke bomb returns once again , allowing you to breeze through combat by killing up to four enemies without interruption. Luckily, the combat remains compelling; Aveline is both adept and brutal in her use of weapons, like the cleaver-shaped sugarcane machete.
Liberation's cinematics have been overhauled to the point that you don't need to hold up the Vita version to tell the differences in textures. In fact, the changes in skin tone, eyes, and other facial features are so significant that, depending on the lighting and camera angles, some characters don't even look like their Vita counterparts. Roaming New Orleans in higher resolution is impressive, even though it doesn't achieve the level of detail of Black Flag. By going from the 5-inch screen of the Vita to a 50-inch television, I had an easier time noticing lighting effects like the orange hue of candles illuminating windows at night or torches lit in the villages of the bayou.
If you're the type who expects HD remasters to be an opportunity for developers to fix the original version's bugs, expect some minor disappointments with Liberation HD. Don't be surprised if characters are positioned oddly during conversations, and don't expect rope swing functionality to work consistently. There are even issues that work to your benefit, such as when the game skips an entire combat sequence altogether. And while this game retains the series' notoriety system, it's easy to avoid confrontation. Guards are so slow to react to Aveline's presence that I didn't need to waste time tearing down wanted posters to decrease her notoriety.
Gerald's bland personality puts the "mild" in mild-mannered.
This ease of play speaks not only to Liberation HD's low difficulty level, but also to the lack of incentives to deviate from the storyline. The game isn't short on side missions, which include a foot race, the theft of a ship, and the freeing of slaves. Liberation HD does a poor job of letting you know that these missions exist, especially when the game doesn't raise financial hurdles that force you to raise funds and take a break from the story. Many missions in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag required money and resources, which was a minor problem that could be overcome by hijacking ships or taking on optional assassination assignments. Liberation rarely encourages you to pursue side tasks, even though it has an economy system where you can kill business rivals and take over their shops, thereby making goods cheaper for yourself. The problem is that you don't need to buy a lot of things, and the game's most useful items, like the poison and berserk darts, often auto-replenish as you progress through the story.
Attaching "HD" to a previously released game often means you're getting a high-definition remaster rather than a remake with visuals reconstructed from the ground up. Judging by the quality of the cutscenes, developer Ubisoft Sofia aspired to the latter but ended up with the former. The time and care it put into those cinematics is obvious, so it's disappointing that the gameplay and its bugs--issues that existed in the Vita version--didn't receive the same level of attention. I still recommend Assassin's Creed: Liberation for fans of the series, but it's hardly worth revisiting if you've completed the Vita version.