Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Assassin's Creed Liberation HD (PlayStation 3)

Aveline Assassin's CreedReview by Matt S.

It's a shame that Ubisoft decided to Assassin's Creed Liberation's hero, Aveline, on a portable game. While the original Vita release was a fine game in its own way, it was clear that this game didn't have the production budget of the "real" Assassin's Creed games.

And so Aveline, despite having the potential to be one of the most compelling female characters ever  designed, is relegated to a B-grade personality within an AAA-grade franchise. It's very much a metaphor for the games industry in general. Still, Aveline's game is on a popular console now at least, giving more people a chance to experience her adventure, and hopefully Liberation in HD proves popular to justify more games starting female assassins like this one in the future.



It's not the greatest game, though, so I suspect it will be fighting against the grain to achieve significant sales. The game's flaws, which were present on the Vita, are magnified in HD. Cut scenes and narrative development, which were kept deliberately brief to fit in with the handheld philosophy of short bursts of play, feel simply underdone on the big TV... especially in comparison to the luxurious and indulgent narratives of both Assassin's Creed 3 and 4.

Aveline Assassin's Creed 3The play itself is also paired down somewhat on the blockbuster experience of a "main" Assassin's Creed game. Environments are simply not as large, and there's not as much to do in them outside of the missions. It's a missed opportunity given that the environment design in this vision of New Orlenes provides a fascinating city with a great history that is then never fleshed out. At intervals players will also venture into a few other areas, most notably the swamp, which looks different but again doesn't offer a whole lot outside of the missions.

Aveline has all the skills available to her that her male counterparts have, and in the missions themselves Liberation feels very much like the classical Assassin's Creed experience. Aveline finds herself free running across buildings, sneaking by hordes of enemies, and working hard to avoid enemies as Connor and Ezio would do at the height of their powers. She has, in fact, a couple of extra weapons at her disposal, such as the ability to adopt three different guises. At will Aveline can become a high class lady, a slave girl, or a traditional assassin, and each guise grants her a different set of skills and abilities. The lady, for instance, can charm hapless men into doing her bidding.

Aveline is the best assassinIt's a little unfortunate that the developers didn't take full advantage of these guises to provide unique challenges to the players. It would have been incredible to have multi-layered missions that required players to swap in and out of costumes constantly to attack different problems, but that rarely happens. Equally rarely are missions where players are able to tackle the challenge from their choice of guise. Typically there's only one guise that can be used for a mission, and so the game's missions are more a case of compensating for whatever guise you're stuck with than taking advantage of the strengths of each costume.

For all those criticisms though, there is so much to love about Liberation, and in fact it's one of my favourite Assassin's Creed games ever. Aveline is underdeveloped as a character, but what glimpses we get of her character are enough to know that she's a honourable and likable hero, with a genuine streak of personal strength and a righteousness that makes her far more attractive than Black Flag's self-serving Edward Kenway.

Ubisoft Assassin's CreedHer characterisation alone makes it worth persevering with the game's simpler core, by Assassin's Creed standards. Black Flag and AC3 may have boasted exotic, unique settings but the characters themselves conform to very safe "hero" templates. Perhaps because it is a lower budget game, Ubisoft felt it could take a risk with Liberation and provide us with a different lead character, and that's compelling. I found myself enjoying this game far more than my recent experience with Black Flag, not because it's the better game, but because it's risky and different.

Because Liberation doesn't outstay its welcome (it's over in a fraction of the time of a "full" Assassin's Creed game, and just long enough to justify its budget price on console), the game's flaws don't really have time to set in. So, while the experience doesn't feel like it cost $100 million to produce, it doesn't feel like a bad game by any means. And with a stable platform to play on, Aveline's character shines through as something special and unique to the franchise.

Assassin's Creed Liberation Vita to PS3The environment in which she operates has a fascinating political streak through it too, with tensions between the population of New Orlenes and the Spanish that slowly escalates through the course of the game even if it is never quite realised as well as it deserves to be. And when Aveline isn't off killing various targets, she is managing her family business, which is in trade, and as simple as the trading minigame is, it's a load of fun to manage a fleet of ships and the stock that they carry back and forth to ports based on the "buy low, sell high" principles of scarcity and economics.

Most importantly from my perspective, Aveline is the most worthwhile female lead character since Ubisoft's own Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. There's no sexualisation or exploitation in her character, and yet by the same token Aveline is very much a woman, not an gender-neutral character or a male-in-woman-form which many seem to mistake as "strong" female roles. Characters like Avaline are so uncommon in this industry that it truly amazes me that a B-grade Assassin's Creed game manages to do it where so many AAA-games have failed to come even close.


- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld



Our Scoring Policy
Reactions: