The HD scheme has been palpable in the last couple years, and the only game series to release a console version on current dedicated gaming hardware has been the God of War handheld series. The team at Ubisoft Montreal has its sights on reaching similar success with the formerly PlayStation Vita-exclusive Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. What I loved about the portable version was the sheer ability to do all the things native to the Assassin’s Creed series on a beautiful OLED screen wherever I went.
Briefly, Aveline’s de Grandpré’s story revolves around the cultural clashes between the French and the Spanish in New Orleans leading up to the Revolutionary War. Here, she seeks to find her mother as well as fight against the slavery movement that has begun to take over the area.
The visual overhaul isn’t quite as immediate as I had expected. With the story beginning with Aveline’s childhood, the first exposure to the world is very small time, making everything looks less impressive than it does later on; the camera’s zoomed in much more early on as well, which leaves the finer details overexposed. After that, the world becomes more detailed as textures vivify and effects expand the experience further than the portable version ever could. The sounds of the game also beg for a surround sound system in a way that the portable version demanded headphones. Nouvelle Orléans features airborne particles like cotton and dust, leaving the dirt-road city very immersive when compared to the source. Even the beautiful Bayou is enhanced in a big way as natural wood, foliage, and water textures take the foreground, and new animals even wander around.
One visual that was very off-putting was Aveline’s character model. Her attires all looked very detailed, but her face still looked rather un-enhanced, and it wouldn’t be so bad if some supporting characters didn’t have more accentuated facial animations. Not everything has been fixed, though. The whip is still overpowered in a way that’s much overlooked. In a few cases especially ones that required full synchronization, using only the whip to fling people around forces enemies to wait for the animation to finish. Climbing and traversing issues take place as well. At times, a knee-high ledge on rooftops, as well as various other places, had an invisible wall that would force Aveline to press up against air, forcing me to move her to the side and try traversing at different angles. Similarly while in the Bayou, certain trees keep Aveline from climbing up to synchronization points on the first try, and I had to back up a few times in order to progress.
The other prominent issue pertains to combat. When forced to fight multiple enemies that have multiple attack patterns, I often was forced to think too hard about enemies that I hadn’t seen for nearly four hours. The game is filled with basic enemies that take no effort to dispatch, but a few random fights on the tail end of the story feature combinations of enemies, which can only be defeated with specific counters. The problem is not having difficult enemies, but rather the lack of balance in enemy distribution as well as the user’s counter mechanic not working as loosely as other titles in the series made for a few overly frustrating moments in a game that had been well paced until that point.
Liberation doesn’t take much more than 12 hours to complete the main story and a decent chunk of the side quests, but the game features side quest chains that develop their own scenarios very well, which I feel should be a more routine occurrence in the series as a whole. One chain had me chasing after a murderer and finding clues, and once one perpetrator was found, the current quest would complete and the next would be available in the same spot. Most of the quests in Liberation are widespread, so this change of pace refreshes the game at just the right time: when the game opens up near the end and all side aspects of the game are accessible. This makes the HD version of Liberation relevant to consoles, since it provides something that other AC titles have not done before, and it does it well.
Considering that the online mode was officially condescending to the PS Vita, I could only imagine the uproar that would take place if that "mobile game" online mode had made an appearance on home consoles. Thankfully–even though there’s no online mode to be found–Liberation HD keeps away from what once was a hindrance to a very solid portable experience. Still, having a chance to play online in Nouvelle Orléans or the Bayou would have made even a bare bone online mode worth the time.
Kill animations are up in a big way, and the environmental visual enhancements refresh this former portable title into relevancy on home consoles. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation brought to the series a new way to look at the assassin order, but both Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV have taken similar routes. Still, Liberation does a few things all on its own, and those little things packed into this shorter AC experience make relevant the $20 price take to anyone looking to test the waters of the series or play a different AC title altogether. Seeing the PS Vita’s exclusivity to Liberation disappear is a little disheartening, but this allows more people to experience a few new ideas on an aging series.