Foil a Templar plot and learn crucial secrets from the past.
PC Release: January 15, 2014
By Ian Coppock
Gamer convention says that mobile ports to PC are very hit-and-miss, and it wouldn’t be convention without a few kernels of truth. Deus Ex: The Fall was a piece of garbage. There’s just no way to get around it. I got all of ten minutes into that game before the bugs and the nonexistent hit boxes had me screaming obscenities at my monitor. My trepidation with Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD, an “HD” port of a PlayStation Vita game from years ago, was thus high. Despite its repetitive storytelling and penchant for bugs, I enjoy the Assassin’s Creed series, and was willing to take a hit if it meant finding some more stories within the mythos. Let’s see if my gambit paid off.
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD was originally a tie-in to Assassin’s Creed III, released on the PlayStation Vita as a companion to the mainline game. The events of Liberation run parallel to the story of AC III, but features New Orleans as its setting instead of the Thirteen Colonies, and a black woman as a protagonist instead of Connor.
Holy shit, for real? Someone who’s black, and someone who’s a woman, and someone who’s both of those things at the same time, is actually a strong character and the PROTAGONIST of a video game? Someone pinch me, because this is only the second time I’ve ever run across a black female protagonist in over a decade of video gaming.
And that’s sad.
While Connor is busy fighting redcoats in the Revolutionary War, Aveline spends her days running her wealthy father’s shipping business… and her nights killing Templars. My typical repertoire of activities as Aveline included gutting French guards with the hidden blade, and freeing slaves from the plantations around New Orleans. This simple routine is upset when the French are forced to give New Orleans to the Spanish, ushering in some chaos that those dastardly Templars happily take advantage of.
As with all Assassin’s Creed games thus far, the story does have a modern-day component, but it’s so minimal as to be barely worth noting. Basically, you’re some anonymous dude playing an Aveline video game put out by Abstergo Industries. A group of hackers who’ve cut into your game chime in every so often with what really happened at pivotal moments in the story. They unmask censors that Abstergo has put in, but these have little bearing on the main plot of the game.
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD introduces a new costume game mechanic that, while unbalanced, is rather entertaining. Aveline is a master of disguise, and can move about New Orleans in various garbs. The noble lady disguise grants her access to restricted areas and the ability to flirt with guards (rolls eyeballs), while the slave costume makes you unnoticeable, though vulnerable. You also have your assassin robes, but some genius at Ubisoft FINALLY figured out that outfit is attention-grabbing, and so you’ll always arouse suspicion if you go too close to guards. You have all your weapons on hand, though.
The mechanic is an interesting take on undercover work, but I spent almost all of the game in the slave garb. It’s incredibly easy to move about the city and even assassinate people as the slave without arousing suspicion. Because Assassin’s Creed‘s combat is incredibly easy, all you’ll ever really need in order to be dangerous are your hidden blades. The game told me “oh Ian, if you dress as a slave, you’ll have no sword!”
My response? “Okay.” And then I proceeded to slaughter the shit out of anything that moved, because again, combat in this series is easy as pie.
When I reviewed Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood a few years ago, I noted that the introduction of the crossbow broke the game’s difficulty. It was fast, it was quiet, and you could slaughter crowds of guards without anyone being the wiser. Ubisoft decided to break Liberation in the exact same way with the blowpipe. It is fast. It is quiet. And you can slaughter even more guards than with the crossbow! Okay, I kid on that last part, but Ubisoft’s incentivizes you to avoid combat by giving a higher score for being stealthy. If the higher score had any kind of tangible payoff, I might’ve been so inclined to not just kill everything with a few buttons, but the whole “full sync” bullshit either had no reward or one that was so bland I’ve forgotten what it was. Seriously, Ubisoft, get your shit together on combat mechanics.
The funny thing about Liberation’s combat problems is how the game prompts you to buy better weaponry whenever you get the chance. New Orleans is scattered with treasure chests and you can use Aveline’s shipping company to make money by trading with other cities. But you don’t ever really need better weapons, all you have to do is wait for the guards to attack you, initiate a fatal counter-attack, and then chain-kill all of his buddies in one-hit wonders of swordplay. To be fair, this is a problem endemic to all Assassin’s Creed games that I’ve played thus far, even the infinitely superior Black Flag.
Alright, so the combat is broken and the costume mechanic is unbalanced. What, pray tell, is the plot of this port-to-PC magnum opus? Well, to be honest, I can’t really remember, or at least I had to check the Assassin’s Creed wiki for details before remembering. And I only played this, what, two weeks ago?
Yeah, you’re probably going to have a hard time if you expect a thrilling tale from a mobile game. Some, like Infinity Blade, have great stories, but they’re all designed to be easily jumped in and out of. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD. is no exception. You do what you’ve always done in Assassin’s Creed games: follow a trail of blood and conspiracy to a group of fat old Templars. There are some interesting bits, like getting a Spanish captain drunk and taking a trip to Mexico, but it’s the same old hat otherwise. Steal letters, follow people (though there are fewer tailing missions, thank Christ, than in Black Flag), and then kill their bosses.
The saving grace of Liberation is Aveline herself. Out of all the assassins we’ve played as so far, she was the funniest and most personable since Ezio Auditore. Definitely leaps and bounds ahead of Connor in terms of likability. She’s a strong, intelligent person with a dry sense of humor and a penchant for sarcastic remarks. I don’t remember the other characters in this tale, but Aveline I will remember for a while. The voice acting in Liberation is mediocre, but Aveline’s character deserves some notability for being a strong female protagonist in a medium full of anything but.
But, none of this saves Liberation from being rote, and the payoff is minimal. Spoiler ahead, skip to the bottom if you don’t want to see it, but you spend the entire damn game chasing a medallion, only to see a hologram of three random people talking at the very end of the game. It’s tied up in the series’ “precursor” lore. The game also features some laughable plot holes, like when Aveline catches up with a murderer she’s been chasing for six years, and finds that person’s clothing still smells of the poison they’d used six years ago. How in the holy shit does that make sense? Is that Ubisoft’s idea of realistic forensics?
The most pressing problem with Liberation is that it’s simply not a good port. The framerate is locked at 30 FPS, and can be counted upon to dip well below that during combat and cutscenes. For all of Ubisoft’s assurance that this is an HD port, I can assure you that such a claim is bullshit. An up-close examination of any object in the game will reveal muddy textures that look awful. The game crashed once during a routine mission for no apparent reason. And the graphics options are… we’ll say primitive. You’re not left with a lot of recourse for fixing these issues up.
I can only recommend Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD to you if you’re willing to put up with a boring story, routine game design, and a plethora of bugs and graphical issues. In other words, I can only recommend this game if you love Assassin’s Creed more than you love yourself.
If what I just wrote is music to your eyes, you can find this game for $20 on Steam, you sad fuck.
You can buy Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.