Asssassin's Creed 3: Liberation a strong contender for PS Vita GOTY
As one of the few owners of Sony's PS Vita handheld console, I've been rather disappointed by the system's lack of solid original titles. Unfortunately the drought doesn't look like it'll be ending anytime soon, with the only PS Vita news coming out of the recent Tokyo Game Show being the lackluster announcement of two new console color schemes. Thankfully, Ubisoft is stepping up to the plate with Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, a title which looks like an obvious contender for a PS Vita game of the year (not that there's much competition for that title). Last week, I got the chance to go hands-on with this portable Assassin's Creed outing, and definitely came away wanting more.
Perhaps the most notable feature of Liberation (aside from its portability), is that it offers AC's first ever female protagonist, the dark-skinned Aveline. This character is especially noteworthy given that AC3's time period corresponds to that of slavery in Colonial America, and it's very interesting to see how the game attempts to implement the obvious racial issues of the period into the gameplay. Throughout the game's setting of New Orleans players can pay money to unlock dressing rooms, which allow Aveline to slip into one of her three different personas. As an assassin, Aveline has access to the full suite of assassination tools, though will find it harder to go incognito. Conversely, in her "lady" outfit, Aveline's maneuverability is severely limited, though she'll have little trouble slipping into high society and putting her hidden blade to use. Similarly, the "slave" outfit will make it easy for Aveline to blend in with the lower class and incite riots, though also features lower health and features than the full assassin mode.
Unfortunately, the portion of the demo I was given access to didn't make much of these various costumes, mostly showing how the game handles the standard AC stealth action we've seen before. Thankfully, my attention was held by the game's stunning graphics, which look fantastic on the PS Vita's notably gorgeous screen. To be sure, AC3: Liberation is one of the best looking Vita games to date, and definitely pushes the system to its limits.
To start, I was tasked with starting a riot, an admittedly boring mission which involved simply talking to the three people marked on the map. Afterwards however I was able to get into some combat, with five guards standing between Aveline and her target: a carriage filled with gunpowder. This introduced the game's new chain kill system, where following my first kill I was given the ability to tap multiple targets on the touchscreen, with Aveline proceeding to automatically take out these two nearby guards in swift procession. Also of note is the game's improved counter system, where the screen turns to black and white after a successful dodge, letting players take a second to decide on which deadly counter attack to use.
With two targets remaining I scaled a nearby rooftop, getting to see how deadly accurate Aveline's pistol can be. Thankfully, switching from hidden blade to cutlass to pistol (to blowdart, to smoke bomb...) is made simple by the touch screen controls. Simply tapping the weapon icon in the bottom right of the screen brings up the weapon wheel, while the bottom left contains the map, a perfect implementation of touch functionality. Though some later touch functionality seemed forced (swiping the front AND back screens to open a letter), I'm very much looking forward to seeing if the Vita's other various features (microphone, tilt sensor) are implemented as well.
Following the kills, Aveline and her coward friend Gerald stole the horse-drawn wagon, resulting in a minor minigame, tapping the screen to go faster or slower, while avoiding obstacles. Honestly, figuring this short sequence out was a bit of a frustration, though a few tries later, the carriage was safely away... and crashed into a now burning building. Inside more soldiers were swiftly dispatched, saving the occupants from a fiery doom. I'm still not entirely sure why those soldiers weren't also attempting to flee the burning building, but oh well...
From there a few more minor missions were attempted, all offering various secondary objectives for those completionists interested in "full synchronization." While swimming out to a boat I was unfortunately spotted by guards, though managed to take them out quickly enough to be rewarded following the ship's subsequent explosion. A later mission promised a reward if I finished it within three minutes while achieving kills with all three outfits, a task that was far beyond my beginner's skills. Still, it seems as though the game offers many of these additional goals to keep players hooked, for instance using Aveline's sexy lady costume to charm men out of expensive jewels.
Overall, my experience with Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, was largely positive. Some other journalists I talked with expressed concerns about the tight camera angle making it hard to judge surroundings, though I personally didn't find this to be a problem. I'm definitely excited to see how the different costumes and the Vita's unique functionality will impact gameplay, and I look forward to hooking up my Vita to the PS3 version of the game, which a member of the Ubisoft team told me will unlock Connor as a playable character in specific Liberation missions. Given what I've seen, AC3: Liberation is a must buy for PS Vita owners. Look for it in November.