Good ideas, poor follow-through – that's the defining characteristic of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation.
Liberation's story is framed as an actual video game made by Abstergo Industries, the series' evil corporation. Aveline isn't one of Desmond's ancestors, but a seemingly random assassin the player can use to run around 1760's New Orleans and experience a thrilling tail of dark secrets, betrayal and subterfuge. The story itself is quite shallow and never develops into anything more than your run-of-the-mill conspiracy plot. This seem to fit with the whole entertainment media angle the developers were going for, but robs the player of a deeper understanding of Aveline's motives and troubled background. And it is a shame Liberation never explores its female protagonist's history and issues. She is, after all, a woman of mixed-race in a time when slavery was both accepted and prevalent, a fact that raises some potentially interesting questions and possibilities the game doesn't seem to care about.
Liberation is also a propaganda tool used by the templars in Abstergo to justify their ways, and present the Brotherhood of Assassins in a negative light. As the plot unfolds, the player can uncover the truth about Aveline's story, and see behind the shroud of templar lies. It is a nice concept, but as with most ideas in the game it doesn't really amount to anything and boils down to some extra cut-scenes and one additional sequence towards the end. The whole thing just feels like a good idea wasted on a game that just doesn't try hard enough.
You'll spend most of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation sticking to the linear story missions, and almost completely ignoring the side missions; and rightly so. The side-missions are mostly just a series of boring objective chases, making you kill or protect a target somewhere on the map with little incentive to complete them all. The exception to this rule is the trading missions, allowing Aveline to expend her business empire to other countries, opening up more trading routes. These "missions" feel more like a management mini-game than anything else, and they are only good for hoarding more money (and satisfying your thirst for strategy), not for thrills.
If you feel like spicing things up occasionally, you can try Liberation's new multiple outfits system: Aveline can dress up as a slave woman, a lady of noble background or as an assassin. Each outfits has its own notoriety level and its advantages and disadvantages, like not being able to climb with dressed as a lady. Story missions will usually force you to use a certain outfit, but the side missions offer more options, and you can use different outfits for different tactic. It's a risk vs. reward kind of system that tries something new, but ultimately serves to limit and annoy the player, like so many other new ideas and mechanics the game introduces.
A place where Liberation treads familiar ground is the gameplay. On par with AC tradition, Aveline can climb up almost anything and free-run across the reconstructed New Orleans and surrounding bayou. The free-run ranges from completely fluent to mildly broken, harkening back to the days of the first Assassin's Creed; it can be annoying at times, especially when traveling the tangled tree tops of the bayou, since Aveline won't always go where you want her to go, resulting in some frustrating falls. The same goes for the close combat system; combat is much easier than in other games in the franchise, despite the fact that the counter button won't always respond if you hit it in the last moment. This makes the combat seem a little on the cheap side, since almost every hit to the player could have been avoided if the controls were tighter and more responsive. However, the additions of new weapons like pistols, axes and poison darts make up for it with sheer variety and great-looking takedown animations.
So when it comes to the core elements in the classic Assassin's Creed formula, Liberation fares pretty well (not great, but good enough). Most gameplay problems lie with its attempts at using the Vita's camera and touch controls: they just don't work most of the time. Using the back touchpad to row a canoe or to pickpocket NPCs is clumsy and unintuitive, and pointing the Vita's rear camera to a light source in order to decrypt hidden massages seems to work randomly and without any indication. It is understandable that the developers would want to utilize all the tools in their disposal, but it is better not to do something than have it diminish the overall experience. Most of the mechanics that use the PS Vita capabilities are just plain annoying and even frustrating. The only thing that seems to work properly is a new combat move that allows the player to tag several enemies using the touchscreen and then have Aveline dispose of them in an impressive ballet of blades and bullets.
With mostly smooth animations and big open environments, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation looks good for a PS Vita game. Good, but not great. The same can be said about the music and voice acting: the French and Spanish accents sound pretty authentic, but on the other hand the dialog sounds a little rehearsed and lacks credibility. The game offers nothing special in terms of graphics or sound design, but it gets the job done. Characters look decent, though they appear a little wooden at times; the dark and dank bayou may lack a bit of color, but the murky bogs and the fallen trees covered with lichen look fantastic and New Orleans itself is impressive both in scale and detail.
Good ideas, poor follow-through – that's the defining characteristic of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation. The story is straight-forward but never quite delves into the promise of its protagonist, the multiplayer is underwhelming and easily forgotten (did I mention the multiplayer? I guess I forgot) and every new concept and mechanic introduced is half-baked. Whenever Liberation chooses to follow the familiar AC formula, it does a good job with it, offering the fun free-running, combat and assassinations we've come to expect from the franchise. It may not be a well-rounded excursion into the Louisiana bayou, but it can be an enjoyable one for the eager assassin on the go.