Platforms: PS Vita
Developers: Ubisoft Sofia
Is Aveline de Grandpré the most diverse protagonist in gaming history? It's certainly possible. A female assassin of French and African descent, she's a New Orleans native, a dab hand at disguises, sports a jaunty cap and may or may not have been the inspiration for Indiana Jones...well, she has a whip.
Ubisoft are saving everyone's butts this year. Not content with providing the Wii U with a killer platformer for the winter months, the French outfit are also looking to bolster Sony's Playstation Vita as well. As Jon mentioned earlier this week, the swathe of PSOne titles now available on the expensive little portable hae meant that we're playing the damn thing again, but there are still calls for more killer apps - more titles for which you'd actually cosider buying the console in the first place.
Enter Assassin's Creed III: Liberation. It's name might suggest a relatively rushed portable release, to be dropped alongside the main console game later this year at the end of October, but nothing could be further from the truth. There have been three previous handheld outings for this series, and none of them have really clicked. But with time, money, and the power of the Vita behind it, Liberation might just change all of that.
Set just before the events of the Revolutionary War, we find ourselves in the murky swamps of Louisiana Bayou, an area occupied by the Spanish rather than the redcoats of Britain. A demo on the show floor gave us immediate insight into how the dense enivornment will play into the open gameplay that takes plenty of cues from the larger console game. Scurrying up trees, dashing across the branches, hiding in the undergrowth, all are fantastically intuitive, fundamental parts of this new Assassin's Creed III experience, and they all feel incredibly natural on the Vita. Using the rear trackpad to steer a little boat through the swamps, the AnvilNext engine looking dazzling on the Vita's screen, we set about killing a few alligators and bumping off several soldiers. Just like it's big brother, Liberation feels smoother than previous titles, though Aveline is a more lithe protagonist than Connor, with feline agility and no small amount of grace.
In fact, the differences between her and the rather more rugged, baseborn Mohawk Brit are further emphasised when Aveline reaches an urban setting later on. There are three distinct parts to this particular demo, each related to a different disguise. In her pirate-esque assassin's getup, Aveline is able to make use of all of the usual abilities and weaponised trinkets that you'd expect. She now has a whip, of course, which proves useful in stunning foes at range and for navigation, but the blow darts are even better; quietly taking out rooftp guards while pursuing a Spanish commander in traditional fashion.
The mission bloodily completed, with a swathe of corpses left in her wake, Aveline's mission is restarted. This time, she pops into a boutique and affects a character of high society, turning heads in a handsome dress indeed, and completing the look with a parasol that doubles as a spring-loaded device for firing your assorted collection of darts at unsuspecting guards. If you want to mix things up a little bit and cause a spot of anarchy, you can always deploy a few Berseker darts rather than poison ones, and watch as the guards go utterly bonkers and start fighting on another as you slip on through. If anyone does get too close, a spot of bribery here and a charming word there are all that's needed to allay the suspicious minds of particularly curious parties. Aveline can't free run whilst in this outfit, but since she has the run of the barracks anyway and can lure fools away from their posts with a flutter of the eyelashes, murdering the commander out of sight and slipping back out is a cinch.
The final run through displayed an unassuming costume change as Aveline became a simple servant girl. Picking up a crate was all that was required to blend in with the fellow downtrodden, and with Aveline now able to rouse the proles against their European oppressors, it wasn't long before she had a handy little distraction on her hands. A shiv and a sprint later and she was free, mission completed, and no one was any the wiser as to the culprit.
It's difficult to say just how effective this will prove in the long run, and how much freedom the player will have to execute their....erm...executions based on these two rather short demos, but it's encouraging that Ubisoft are pulling out all of the stops for this title. The game really pops visually, more so than Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Louisiana is distinct enough from the frontier territories that Connor will be exploring to warrant exploration. We'e told that the missions in Liberation will be slightly shorter than those found in the console games to account for the portable nature of the game, but even so there may be concerns about the game's suitability for bus journeys and the like. That said, Liberation is shaping up to be an utterly fantastic addition to the Assassin's Creed lineup, and if you're going on holiday this winter, it might be the desert island title you need on your Vita.