Review: Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is a satisfying side story, with some minor hiccups
So many of you will be buried for hours on end in Assassin's Creed III on consoles that you might not even notice the side chapter Ubisoft delivered for the PlayStation Vita this week. Assassin's Creed III: Liberation tells an interesting story in itself, not only taking place in the same American Revolution-inspired storyline that Connor is dwelling through on consoles, but also introducing a female lead for the first time in the series – a deadly beauty by the name of Aveline.
Though I won't spoil too much of her story here, she's got her own agenda to fill, trying to lead the lifestyle of a well-dressed lady by day, then by night, fighting against slave traders and red coats in either her traditional assassin outfit or an alternate slave costume, allowing her to sneak into government installations as a server. It's hardly as satisfying a tale as, say, Connor's blood thirst for revenge, but it's interesting all the same.
Like its console brethren, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation gives you plenty of tools for the trade when it comes to getting around and hunting down targets. Free running feels great on the handheld system, though there are times you'll run into foliage that, oddly enough, you can't get through. But climbing trees and running across branches more than makes up for it, as does leaping off rooftops and conveniently planting your handblade into someone's skull.
That said, the combat is also quite smooth. You'll have no problem fending off a group of enemies and putting together some brutal kills, while occasionally blocking an incoming attack and using it to your advantage. The only downside is that some bosses, like a one-armed thug who leads his followers against you, cheat like crazy, rolling over your back and striking before you have a chance to react. The key is catching him off guard, which is easier said than done.
Finally, there's a word to be said about personas. Aveline can change between three over the course of the game – lady, slave and assassin – and each one has benefits to the cause. Slave is probably one of the best, not only because you possess a mean hatchet, but also because you can maintain your physicality as you dwell through the village (mostly) unnoticed. The assassin outfit is good for night missions, though.
Not every aspect of the gameplay works, though. Ubisoft's attempt to integrate Vita capabilities into the adventure fall completely flat. Trying to row a boat with back touch-screen controls and the analog stick is hideous – you're really better off swimming. Other functions like changing into outfits and aiming your device around for a light source could've been left on the cutting room floor, instead making room for using new weapons – like the awesome blow gun.
Liberation will take you quite a few hours to finish, and there are various side tasks to complete, along with a shipping business that'll earn you enough revenue to buy up new land and take care of sick folks. However, the game's multiplayer mode is quite shallow, especially compared to the new Wolfpack and Domination modes in the console games. You'll play it a couple of times, then brush it off for good.
As far as presentation is concerned, Liberation isn't bad. It has a bunch of glitches, and a problem with draw-in distance in some situations. You can also get stuck behind buildings (and the plants) rather easily, and the camera can be your worst enemy. That aside, the bayou has been luxuriously recreated, and it's fun roaming through forests and towns alike, killing off enemies and making good on your assassination promises. The cut scenes aren't bad either, especially when Aveline is decked out in a killer dress.
Likewise, the audio does its part. The voice actress behind Aveline does a fitting job, as does the rest of the crew, and the music is superb, fitting in with the tones of the 1700's era.
Not every part of Liberation works in the game's favor, as we could've easily done away with the Vita features (ugh, tilt functionality sucks) and lame multiplayer in favor of more single player stuff. But it's a game still worth checking out, one that not only validates the Vita as a likable platform, but gives Ubisoft room to grow with what will no doubt be a more polished sequel. Here's hoping that Aveline definitely makes her return along those lines.