A look back at how far we’ve come.
The Assassin’s Creed series is difficult to measure. The yearly incremental improvements mean that the previous innovations are never more than a year away lending a feeling of familiarity to even to upgrades. Tiny decisions with significant improvements to gameplay are lost because they rarely substantially change the game and are soon absorbed into the collection of traits that are “Assassin’s Creed.” Fortunately, and sadly, the rerelease of the PS Vita exclusive Assassin’s Creed Liberation shows us the welcome changes the series has made in the past few years.
AC Liberation is stylistically and narratively an extension of Assassin’s Creed 3. It features a flatly heroic protagonist, running along the tree branches, and an 18th century time period. Furthermore, it contains the series staples of stabbing things, collecting things, and stabbing things so you can collect then collect them. AC is nothing if not consistent. What it doesn’t contain is the small innovations added in the fourth iteration of the main series. Edward Kenway benefits from fast travel, automatically revealed collectibles, and a refined economy feeding into useful upgrades. These may seem like small additions, but their non-appearance feels like something major is missing. The first time you have to run 300 meters over the territory you’ve just covered, you’ll wish the synchronization points contained the 18th century Caribbean’s teleportation devices. These tiny absences deny the game a sense of flow that comes naturally to its successor and would have been totally unnoticeable had I not played AC 4.
AC Liberation does introduce a few new ideas. Aveline dons different costumes giving her powers commiserate to the social role she inhabits. As an assassin, Aveline can run, jump, and brutally murder in line with her digital and historic predecessors. As a lady, Aveline loses the ability to run in favor of being able to access certain areas, experience reduced notoriety, and charm lovely gentlemen to fight for her. As a slave, Aveline blends in with a different crowd, can free run like the assassin, but collects notoriety much quicker for strange (assassin) behavior. The system is interesting, but largely pointless. The assassin guise gets the most use both throughout the story and when exploring the world. The other two costumes are largely foisted on the player without regard for their interest in actually using them. This feels like a missed opportunity where players could have planned assassinations using a combination of costumes rather than having Ubisoft pick out what pretty outfit you’ll wear to school. Given the lack of ambition that plagues this game, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Another series staple is the inclusion of a bland protagonist in the form of Aveline de Grandpre. Born of a slave mother and a merchant father, Aveline has the kind of mixed-race heritage that probably should matter in 18th century slave owning Louisiana, but doesn’t. Instead, she is surrounded by a bubble of tolerant folk all working to stop the slavers who hate puppies and sunshine. The story largely lacks tension or character worthy of the term resulting in no real sense of development or interest. Everyone is a flat, two-adjective shard of a character who’s every interaction could be predicted from their first cutscene. The only sense of greater character depth belongs to Agate, Aveline’s mentor, who goes emo and writes bad poetry somewhere in the third act. The game attempts to make this feel like a major plot point, but handles the transition so nonsensically that it falls completely flat.
So is AC Liberation worth buying? That depends. This is more Assassin’s Creed. There are tons of things to collect, a solid world to explore, and plenty of reasons to kill the badness. It’s all competently arranged and the Vita heritage doesn’t appear to have hurt the graphics overmuch. AC Liberation is capable of satisfying your Assassin’s Creed urge if you have one. If not, wait till next year.