Assassin's Creed Liberation HD Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: January 28, 2014
Returning to the Animus once more with the release of Assassin's Creed Liberation HD. Originally an exclusive to the Playstation Vita, Liberation tells the story of Aveline, an Assassin from New Orleans during the same pre-Revolution time period as Assassin's Creed III. For one mission Aveline actually travels north to meet the other game's assassin, Connor. For the leap from handheld to console and PC, Ubisoft has upgraded the graphics and made other adjustments to the gameplay.
Unlike the earlier games in the franchise, where you played as Desmond in an Animus, Liberation has you playing an Abstergo Entertainment video game, powered by Animus technology. Abstergo Entertainment is the entertainment branch of the fictional Abstergo Industries, the modern-day Templars and enemy of the Assassins. Naturally the Templars involved with the game's production made sure to adjust and edit the memories of Aveline, spinning them to support the Templar Order. Do not worry though, as the original memories were hacked back in by the anti-Abstergo group Erudito. That will be covered more in the story section.
Is it worth revisiting the past to live Aveline's life, or is this story best forgotten to time? Let us find out.
The quick way to describe the graphics is that they are (likely) an upgrade from what the Vita handheld was delivering and not a remaster. (I say 'likely' because I do not own a Vita to compare the graphics with.) You will spot low-vertex polygons almost everywhere and low quality, repeated textures are also common. Aveline's model, however, looks very good and definitely comparable to characters of other console and PC games. Every other character model is less impressive. To be fair, remaking all of the original art assets would have taken a lot of resources, so you cannot hold this against the game or the developers.
For example, facial animations look like those of much older games, with the jaw just moving up and down, and not the smoother motion we have become accustomed to. There is nothing wrong with them though, so forgive them and move on.
Something harder to forgive are the eyes of every character model I have been able to see. They all appear to have a reflective layer on them, but the reflections can be so strong that they cloud the eye, like a translucent film. This makes the eyes look like glass and is just… weird enough (I am not sure if I want to say creepy) that I truly wish they had been worked on more than they apparently were.
Fire is not particularly present the game, so I am not going to talk about it. Large bodies of water can be found in the two primary settings of Liberation, so I must speak of it. Water is always flat, with things like boats seemingly just placed on top and not truly floating on it. You can see distorted reflections on it, but I cannot tell you if they are actually reflections of the world around you. In some places they do appear to be real reflections, but even then there are some issues. Moving through the water, either in a canoe or swimming, does not always disturb the water. Sometimes an effect is added to imitate churned water, but sometimes it is not. I cannot think of any explanation for this inconsistency.
Environments are not particularly complex or dense, which is likely a remnant of the game's handheld origin.
Time to talk performance, so here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
As you would hope and expect, I was able to run the game at maximum settings without issue from that. Sadly the game's performance was not always that good with almost common stuttering. My belief is that the stuttering is the result of less-than-great optimization and not my decision for graphics settings. If it were the settings I would expect the stuttering to be more consistent than it was and that the frame rate would be lower than it was when there was no stuttering.
At times I also experienced some curious bugs. At one point I spotted NPCs flying up and down in the background. Another time Aveline started swimming on land. I was trying to jump over a small ditch with water in it near where it connected to a larger body. Somehow the leap over the ditch triggered the game to think I had dived into the deeper water, causing Aveline to swim on land. Eventually this led to her getting stuck as though against an obstacle, forcing me to restart from a checkpoint.
Over all the graphics are more-or-less what one would expect from an HD remake of a handheld game. Not great, but not bad either. Sadly the same can be said of performance, despite the relative simplicity of the environment.
As I mentioned in the introduction, you are not playing as Desmond in this game. Exactly who you are playing as is never revealed either as everything takes place within the memories; there are no modern-day periods. As it is supposed to be a game made by Abstergo Entertainment, based on someone's genetic memories, it would appear we are to assume you are playing as just some gamer within the Assassin's Creed universe.
Aveline is the daughter of an African slave and French merchant. As a young child she was separated from her mother, and so ends up being raised by her father and step mother. Though not shown within the game, as she grows she becomes a capable business woman, so it is not surprising when she takes at least some control of her father's business. Also not shown in the game is her becoming an Assassin. The memory of her losing her mother is actually presented to us as a dream she occasionally suffers as an adult, so all of the time between is skipped.
With Abstergo being the modern-day form of the Templars, it is not surprising that they scrubbed parts of the story to be more favorable to their cause. As you play, you will receive messages from Erudito, a group of hackers that want to expose Abstergo's lies. It is not clear if they have any direct association with the Assassins, but at least for now their interests are aligned. Anyway, Erudito has placed Citizen E characters in the game, and by killing them the original memories will be shown to you, revealing what actually happened.
Sadly these correct memories I found to often be confusing, adding information that does not seem to relate to anything and being of little importance, if any. Perhaps I somehow missed some of the Citizen E's, and thus parts of the puzzle, but then a better job should have been done directing the player to them. Of course the story itself is confusing and/or lacking in focus, so really those memories are just icing on the cake.
As I stated above, the game skips over Aveline becoming an Assassin, which I believe has hurt the story. I say that not because we need to see that, but because without it, we do not have an understanding of the dynamic between her and her mentor, Agate. This becomes a problem when she eventually defies his orders, because his reaction seems to be greater than that incident deserves. Something else is fueling his emotions, such as a difficult past training her, but we are never told. In fact it is not until the end of the game that it is even revealed how he came to recruit her.
Related to this is that we do not know his character very well either, and the person we do get to know is, well, an asshole. Honestly, when he eventually dies, I did not care because he was such an asshole and really not a good Assassin Mentor, based on what we see in the other games.
Speaking of the end of the game, it left me rather confused, though that may not be the best word for it. During the course of the game you recover pieces of an artifact related to the First Civilization. Considering the danger associated with obtaining them and the acts it took to find them, what you are ultimately presented with is underwhelming. People died for this and you nearly died multiple times, yet that is all you get? It does not even seem significant enough to be more than a footnote in the Assassin's Creed mythos. Ironically it would appear that Abstergo Entertainment recognized this as their ending for Liberation actually does not reveal the nature of the artifact. Of course that could be to protect themselves, but considering you are allowed to know the artifact exists that hardly makes sense. Besides, the fictional developers could have just changed the memories to something else that suits their purposes.
Altogether I found this to be a quite poor story. Many relationships are not established well enough to make reactions to events interesting and the motivations of many characters are also not clear. In some ways the clearest motivations are those of supporting characters that are not really influencing events, but are present.
One more thing worth mentioning is that through it all, I cannot recall, "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted," being said by anyone. There were decidedly appropriate moments for it, but somehow this Assassin's Creed game actually lacks the Assassin's Creed. Perhaps that is for the best.
The gameplay is what we have come to expect, love, and dislike of Assassin's Creed games. Free-run up and over obstacles to assassinate your targets, and when you are caught, kill your enemies using the appropriate combos. The free-running and camera are not perfect, so you may end up climbing up and leaping over things you do not want, which can be frustrating, but rarely ever hurt your ability to play the game.
The economy exists, but I am not completely clear on how it functions. You are able to purchase stores, but I am not sure what that accomplishes. Perhaps it grants a discount, but there is no direct influence to your income, as was the case in other Assassin's Creed games. The only way to grow your wallet, without completing missions or looting chests, is to send trade missions between different cities. Each city has certain supplies and demands, so you do need to pay attention to where your ships are located to make best use of them. This mechanic is functional, but I did not find it particularly satisfying. Perhaps that is also because you can only initiate trade missions from a single location, and returning to it can take more time than I was willing to take away from my mission.
Something else to note is that before you can purchase a store, you have to remove your competition. Now, I understand that you are an assassin, but it still felt wrong to me that you must kill your competitors. I mean beating them up should suffice, or sabotaging their goods to drive them out of business. Cold steel to the chest just for a storefront seems unnecessary. Besides, how does nobody notice that a woman matching Aveline's description kills the competitors of Aveline's business, before Aveline purchases their stores?
Two new mechanics introduced in Liberation are chain kills and personas. Chain kills are a combat ability that allow you to select targets and have Aveline proceed to execute them most efficiently. I suspect this was added either because the normally high-speed combat of an Assassin's Creed game does not translate well to the Vita's control, or because such combat was not considered appropriate for the Vita-playing population, for one reason or another. Personally I never found myself using it and never felt the need for it. It works okay, but is somewhat forgettable, at least for someone who has played the rest of the franchise.
The personas mechanic is more intriguing and I could see it being used to interesting effect in the future. Aveline has the three personas she can take on, depending on the situation. Her Assassin persona is best suited for fighting, as it can carry larger weapons and actually has armor. She also has a Lady persona, which gets her into parties and can charm gentlemen. This is also the persona in which most people would recognize her as Aveline. The third persona is that of a Slave, which can get her by guards, as they do not wish to disturb her work. Like the Lady persona though, the Slave is limited in what weapons it can carry and has no armor. However the Slave is able to free-run, though it will increase her notoriety, while the Lady is limited to just running.
As the three personas give Aveline effectively three identities, they each have their own notoriety. If the Assassin persona is especially wanted by the guards, you can switch to the Slave or Lady persona and reduce it. How the three personas reduce their notoriety is different. You need to tear down posters for the Slave persona, bribe magistrates for the Assassin, and kill witnesses for the Lady. This last one is rather annoying, as murder increases the notoriety of whatever persona you are using at the time.
One more thing I want to mention before moving on is that at times the game really does not seem to like you much. In one area you must climb a steep incline, but it appears the incline was not given the appropriate properties for this as very often I found myself starting up and then sliding down. Considering the sequence has you running for your life, this is most frustrating. It is also inconsistent with the visual, as there are timbers in the ground, specifically for people to step on and grab, in order to ascend the incline.
During the same sequence you must also jump between blanks and vines to cross an open pit. At the end you also need to use a recently acquired whip to swing across the final gap. To initiate the swing you have to be pressing the buttons to run forward and jump. For whatever reason though, the whip swing does not appear to be tied to that key combination because I found myself jumping to my death repeatedly, despite pressing the appropriate keys. It was only when I stopped and waited for the keys to appear hovering in the air that I was allowed to swing over the expanse. Remember, this is while a timer counts down to your death if you do not hurry.
One last example of this that I found particularly irritating was a race. Now, this is a side mission, but I want to share the experience anyway. The race has you climbing over rooftops to eleven checkpoints. Some of these checkpoints, however, are not visible to you from the previous one, forcing you to look to the map to have any idea of where to go next. Personally, I find this to be inexcusably poor design. During such a race the player should be neatly directed forward without having to turn to a resource, like the minimap. The addition of a single checkpoint would have addressed this, and yet it was not there. Yes it is part of an unnecessary side mission, but it no less makes me wonder about the design of other parts of the game.
Over all, the gameplay of Liberation is not that bad. It does have its bad moments, but largely the game is enjoyable as a game. It is a little short though, taking me just over eight hours to complete the campaign and achieve 89% completion. For a PC or console game like the others in the franchise, it's pretty short, but perhaps that is in line with other Vita games. That is something I am not able to comment on, not owning a Vita.
Additional Gameplay Images:
Shall we visit New Orleans and Aveline, or let her past remain in the past? My recommendation is to let it stay in the past. The primary reason for that is the story I found to be of low quality. The graphics are not great, but they work for an upgraded handheld game. The gameplay is more-or-less consistent with the franchise. The story is just confusing, inconsistent, or lacking in good storytelling to the point that it does not immerse you and does not drive the interest really needed to continue playing.
If you must know the story of the Assassin's Creed Liberation, I believe you would be better served by simply reading the plot somewhere online. The dry words of a webpage may not convey the emotions of being betrayed, but then the game does not really seem to prime you to feel them either. Truly an experience you can pass by, unless you are dedicated to the action-adventure gameplay of the Assassin's Creed franchise.