STAFF REVIEW of Assassin's Creed Liberation HD (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Thursday, January 23, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Assassin's Creed Liberation HD Box art As the game’s title implies, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD is an improved version of the original from the PS Vita released back in 2012. Oddly enough, originally on the Vita it was titled Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, but now it’s completely dropped the ‘III’ from the title, possibly from the general poor reviews Assassin’s Creed III received. While the game looked decent for the portable Vita, this HD version has had the graphics improved, though not as much as I was hoping, especially for a game with HD in the title. Maybe I was simply spoiled from how fantastic Black Flag looked back in November, but Liberation HD really was tough to look at and seemed quite dated from its visuals alone. That’s not to say it looks terrible, but the “HD” in the title seems a little misleading when there are plenty of muddled and bland textures abound throughout the game.

A first for the Assassin’s Creed games, you play the first female protagonist, Aveline de Grandpre, whom is not only an assassin obviously, but grew up with a very unique childhood and background. Set around 1770, Aveline had a white father that was well off and a black slave mother that was taken from her mysteriously. I’d love to go more in depth about her history, but sadly you aren’t really told all that much, even major events like how she joined the Brotherhood are never fully fleshed out and leave you wondering. As there’s an overarching plot for Aveline and her reasoning for her actions, there’s a lot of gaps in the story that are simply filled with “2 years later” after some segments that leave a lot of narrative left out and you wondering. The story flow is confusing at best and unless you’re deeply paying attention and invested, there’s little here that keeps the narrative moving forward in a logical and interesting way, which is quite a shame, as the series has always been strong in its story telling.

Set around 1770 in New Orleans, you’ll spend time in the city as per the norm with an Assassin’s Creed game, but if you disliked the Frontier wilderness from Assassin’s Creed III, I’ve got bad news for you. Something similar is placed in Liberation, as a good chunk of the game you’ll be stuck within the confines of the Bayou swamplands. Liberation touches on a few focal points such as slavery and the American Revolution (as this takes place around the same time as Conor’s story happens as well). The problem was that for all the time you spend in the lively cities, you spend double that in the drab and lifeless Bayou. Given that there’s no fast travel system (the closest thing you have is a canoe that can be paddled), be prepared for a lengthy amount of running from point A to point B with many of the simplistic quests.

Any Assassin’s Creed game just wouldn’t be the same without that ‘real world’ element, as these games take place in the Animus which allow you to relive memories of your ancestors. If you’ve played Black Flag, it’s setup in a similar was, as Liberation is a game from the Abstergo Entertainment line, though there’s no leaving Aveline’s world this time to go into the ‘real world’. Given that Abstergo Entertainment is run by Templars, you are experiencing the events they want you to see, but there are ‘glitches’ in the system that present themselves that allow you to unlock small morsels of truth of what really happened and what the Templars don’t want you to find out if you’re diligent in Aveline’s world. Overall though the plot is very spotty and is completely rushed and not tied together very well. You can tell that Liberation was originally a mobile based game which resulted in shorter missions and an abundance of fast forwarding time rather than fleshing it out in a meaningful way.

As mentioned above, the setting is quite dull, as the bulk of your play is within the Bayou swamp instead of the more interesting and colorful New Orleans city. The same goes for Liberation’s mission structure as well. Being that the original release was for pick up and play on the go, missions have been incredibly stripped down and are quite short; nothing like we’re used to on a fully realized Assassin’s Creed game. Most of the missions are also quite dull and aren’t even that interesting since you’re usually running from point A to B, tailing a suspect, or doing the forced stealth missions that give you an instant fail if you’re detected. Basically, think of all of the missions you hated from the previous games, bundle them together, and that is the bulk of Liberation’s mission structure. Sure there is the odd few missions that differ and are slightly more interesting due to the persona mechanic (which I’ll go into shortly), but even then, there really wasn’t any memorable missions by the time I was finished with Aveline’s tale.

For all of these faults so far, it’s a shame to say, because Aveline is genuinely a very interesting and compelling character, even with all of the gaps in her background not being told fully. She won’t be anywhere near as memorable as Edward or Ezio, but she has her own charm and because of her personality, sometimes approaches and thinks of things quite differently than we’re used to with the previous protagonists. She’s an incredibly bright woman that knows when she needs to be ruthless and when she needs to use her charm to get what she wants. Being a black woman herself and seeing the slavery problem all around her, only makes her even more uneasy and motivated to fight the good fight. It’s interesting to see her character beginning to end, I just wish the writing and more through was put into it to make her a more compelling and memorable character in the grand scheme of things.

The core mechanics of the series remains in place, as you’ll be traversing buildings (though moreso trees in the Bayou) with relative ease, and stabbing people and enemies without hesitation, but what Liberation does do is introduce a completely new mechanic unique to Aveline. Given her distinct background, Aveline has the ability to change her outfits from an assassin, to a slave, to even a posh lady. A certain dressing areas, you can change your outfit that gives you certain strengths and weaknesses, and will make you approach missions and combat quite differently based on which you’re wearing.

Wearing the aristocratic lady outfit allows you to blend in at certain high profile places, her slave uniform allows you to bypass most guards or blend in with other workers, and the assassin garbs grant you extra combative abilities. Many missions will force your hand in which role you must dress as and the missions will be built specifically for those roles, but given the abilities you gain or lose based on the clothes, I never wanted to be out of my assassin’s outfit if I didn’t need to be. There are a few reasons for this; dressing as a lady means you are completely unable to traverse the environment vertically and your abilities in combat are extremely limited (though I don’t really understand why, as you still have your secret blades). The slave outfit allows you to traverse and go unnoticed by guards, but your combat is still not as powerful as the assassin’s outfit given you only have access to crude weapons. The downfall to dressing as the assassin though is that you can never completely remove your wanted level, so you must either embrace your constant notorious setting with the guards, or avoid them completely. The missions you must play as either the lady or slave are generally quite boring given you’re supposed to generally avoid combat in these roles. I get the idea behind the mechanic, and I like the idea, but it needs to be fleshed out better if this is going to stick around in the following games.

Combat is what you’ve come to expect in the series over the years. You’ll become surrounded by enemies and one or two of them will attack you in succession as you parry and counter-kill them, that is, when it works. For some reason I would constantly get the attack indicators not to show or my counter button didn’t consistently do what I wanted it to do. This becomes incredibly annoying when you know what you’re doing, especially being a veteran of the series, but it’s not reacting properly and leaving you open to numerous attacks. Aveline does have an awesome chain-kill ability when dressed as the assassin though that makes up for these shortcoming when pulled off correctly and makes you feel very proficient in combat when it does work.

While the soundtrack was fitting, nothing really felt memorable, maybe because of the short mission structure, or the annoying of having to run back across the Bayou for the fiftieth time, but I wouldn’t be able to pick out a song from the game if you tested me on it. The voicing for the game is a complete other story though and something I will remember, though not for the right reasons. While the actress that voices Aveline and the main characters do a fine job, some of the supporting cast is outright atrocious. There’s one mission in particular that stands out with two of the natives threatening people and one of them sounds so odd that it stands out to the point of being terrible. The fake Spanish and French accents all around the city areas as well also stick out as poor performances and really pull you out of the whole experience sadly. The same can be said for the graphics as well. Yea it’s an “HD” version that’s been polished up from its original release, but that’s exactly all that’s been done: some polish. Main characters and events look passable, though even some parts look quite dated, even for an Xbox 360 game. IT’s the background textures and non-focal things that are an eye sore though, especially the simply ugly building textures and laughable flora within the swamp.

It doesn’t help that you’re constantly distracted by bugs riddled within as well. Lots of texture pop-in and weird glitches that catch your eye. The biggest offender though has to be the free running and climbing that seems to never want to work just right. As you’re spending the majority of your time in the swamp area, you need to learn to figure out what trees and ledges can and can’t be climbed. But even when you do so and know a certain branch is traversable, you will sometimes have to fight against the game to let you make the leap you know you can make. Many times I’ve had Aveline fall off a ledge I didn’t tell her to or refuse to simply pull herself up on a ledge that she could do any other time without issue.

If you’ve played Black Flag, it’s neat to see an Abstergo game, but I really wish there was more tie-in with the series as a whole. I believe the biggest issue I had with Liberation though was the fact that I spoiled with Black Flag such a short time ago. Liberation definitely feels like a substantial leap backwards if you’ve just played the latest of the series with its bland environment and frazzled plot and mission structure. Liberation is a very basic Assassin’s Creed core experience without many of the bells and whistles we’ve become accustomed to in a full yearly release. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one of my favorites, I even liked III (for what it was), but Liberation is truly the first in the series that I didn’t really enjoy at all for so many reasons and I don’t know if I would have finished it if it wasn’t for the review. Unless you’re a massive fan of the series and needs to play and have every game with the Assassin’s title in its name, I really do find it hard to recommend, even more so if you’ve played the past few in the series, as they are simply better games by leaps and bounds.

Overall: 5.2 / 10
Gameplay: 5.5 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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