Platforms: PSN (reviewed) | XBLA
Developers: Ubisoft Sofia
Releasing at the busiest time of year, Liberation went largely unnoticed when it released towards the back end of 2012 on the PS Vita. So when Ubisoft announced they would be polishing it up for a downloadable release on PSN and XBLA it was collective high fives all-round. Sorry Vita, but the big TV wins again.
So often, I cringe when I see the prices of digital games or HD remakes, but Liberation’s £15.99 asking price is very reasonable. Mainly because the original Vita version costs more and the visual upgrade is huge. Some of you may be disappointed to hear that the multiplayer options have been ditched, but this makes sense really. Why would Ubisoft want to dedicate resources to keeping more servers alive when they know most fans will be enjoying the superior multiplayer offerings of Assassin’s Creed IV?
You’d be forgiven for losing track of the plotlines in recent games, as ACIII had you playing as the grandson of the protagonist in ACIV, and now Liberation HD takes you back to the same timeline as ACIII in America. On the plus side, Liberation is only loosely connected with the main events of the series and doesn’t punish newcomers or anyone without an eidetic memory.
Beginning in 1765’s New Orleans, you play as Aveline de Grandpré, an African-French woman caught between a world or slaves and high society. It’s good to see Ubisoft Sofia attempt to tackle issues like slavery as gaming usually shies away from humanities’ ugly history.
Aveline is born from a slave mother and her rich French merchant white owner. But despite society’s judgment, she is raised with love by her father and entrusted with helping him run his business. All the while though, Aveline has a secret life helping the Assassin’s Order and helping to free slaves where she can.
Her multifaceted lifestyle is explored in-game via three different outfits for taking on missions. The assassin’s outfit is the best for combat and allows her to use a chain kill attack to pause the game and select three targets to dispatch in one combo. A slave outfit allows her to blend in with the slaves by pretending to work in compounds. The dress outfit is for mingling at high society events, or using her charms to bribe/lure guards to get past or lead them to a secluded spot for a sneaky wrist-blading, but at the cost of not being able to climb.
Aveline’s notoriety (like a wanted meter) rises at different speeds for each outfit -fast for assassin, slow for the dress. Each rating can be lowered with outfit-specific bribes, payoffs or witness shivings, which all feel like unnecessary busywork if I’m honest.
It’s all too easy to get on the naughty list really, as areas are packed with people, making it hard to conduct your stabby business without being seen. Thankfully, Aveline has a collection of terrifying machetes for hacking her way out of your stumbling mess.
Combat has the familiar counter-heavy approach, which for the most part works fine, but Aveline seems unable to link together many finishers like other series leads have done. Combos are easily interrupted by tougher foes who counter your counter with a rude jab to the jaw. As well as ruining your combo, this also craps all over many missions 100% sync rating as some of the side-objectives include taking no damage. In fact, this is the only real obstacle in collecting a shiny Platinum Trophy.
Pistols and blowpipes are horribly clunky use and are more likely to see you killed in the midst of a rumble. Some dress missions force you to use an umbrella equipped with blow darts, but the reload function is overlong and often broken. When you get over the hump that is the early insistence on dress usage, things get better. The introduction of the whip to make enemies stumble towards you also somewhat alleviates the aforementioned counter-counters. Although you usually have to make two attempts at triggering Aveline’s finishing move on downed enemies. Try to avoid fighting in narrower streets too as the camera likes to hide behind buildings.
Missions strictly follow the series’ formula involving stalking opponents and killing them on the quiet. There’s a huge insistence on stealth though, especially if you’re coming in from a long playthrough of ACIV. So much so, many missions are failed if you’re caught. It can be infuriating, but generally, you know it was your fault and it feels great when you nail a ghost-like kill. The overlong tailing missions make a reliably unwelcome appearance, but you’ll be back to the killing and climbing you know and love soon enough.
New Orleans is a built-up location with lots of roofs to scamper along, but the environment-traversal engine really shines when you take a visit to the swamps of the Bayou. When Aveline spots a line through the trees it’s an absolute joy to behold the way she runs along branches, skips past the trunk of a tree and hops between the ‘V’ branches. And yes, you still feel a bit redundant because you’re just pointing her in the right direction and holding R1. Come on Ubisoft, let us play it a bit more in ACV.
The upgraded visuals are possibly the biggest selling point of the game. The Vita version was a real looker, but Ubisoft have really pushed the boat out here. Facial textures are fantastically detailed and some of the environments -Chichen Itza particularly- took my breath away. This is even more impressive seeing as I’ve been glued to the gorgeous PS4 version of Black Flag since November.
Outfit specific collectibles, a navel trading system and side-missions mean that you’re never short of things to do inbetween story-driven missions. This isn’t the longest of games in the series, as I was able to finish the story and pick up all the collectibles in around 12 hours, with only a few missions left to re-attempt for 100 sync ratings. But for £16, I think that’s a great deal.
- A stunning visual upgrade
- Aveline has an actual personality
- Good value for money at £16
- Counter system not as reliable
- Dress outfit missions are dull
- Insta-fail missions may grate after the easy going Black Flag
The Short Version: Even in the shadow of the all-conquering Black Flag, Liberation HD makes a strong argument for an immediate purchase. The visual upgrade is fantastic and Aveline is a compelling addition to the series’ roster. The odd dull mission and combat grievance can be frustrating, but there’s plenty to love here for both for newcomers and regulars.