There’s a bit near the beginning of practically every Assassin’s Creed game that gets me the same way. You’ll enter a shop that shows on your map, and there are a whole slew of different costumes that you can purchase for your character. “Marvellous,” thinks I, without a trace of irony, “changing my character’s appearance will undoubtedly add immensely to my enjoyment of the game!”
And I’ll buy a few, switch between them a couple of times. But slowly, inexorably, the feeling sinks in: These different togs don’t really make much of a difference to the way I play the game, or even the way I feel while I play. In fact, most of them just seem to be slightly different colours, but otherwise completely identical.
So it is, in a nutshell, with Assassin’s Creed games in general. Once you’ve got the hang of them, you’re really just playing one long game, with a few cosmetic changes. You’ll run, clamber up things, thrust tiny spring-loaded wrist razors through the spines of unsuspecting soldiers, some of whom it’s difficult to say exactly why you have a problem with them. There will be boxes of money lying completely unguarded in the filth-strewn streets of the cities you explore, and a painfully-clunky trading subgame that’s never as fun as it should be.
And everything will be achingly gorgeous, painstakingly researched, and unarguably playable. Assassin’s Creed exemplifies taking a winning concept and riding it to exhaustion. But dear God, I just can’t help loving them. Granted, the starry-eyed wonder of being immersed into what feels like a living, breathing world is lessened with each passing game as the truly magical is slowly diluted to the workaday and mundane, and the underlying game starts to show through the cracks in the façade. But every game brings something to the table that is new, or at least a slightly different way of looking at the same thing.
Visually, Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD takes a page out of Assassin’s Creed III’s design ethos. The city of New Orleans bears much more than a passing resemblance to the cities of Boston and New York, although perhaps with slightly less colour. True, storefront signs are all written in French, as is the rebellious graffiti, but the ships lying at anchor along the docks and the marketplaces could be taken straight from ACIII. Later, the game takes the player into some interesting wilderness locations (complete with canoes to row around) but the spirit still remains very much like that of ACIII. Of course, Liberation is an HD PC port of a Vita game, and I felt that graphical optimization lagged a little behind ACIII, most notably in some stuttering in the sweeping vistas when synchronizing the map from a vantage point. The Assassin’s Creed Liberation system requirements are decidedly steep compared to Assassin’s Creed III, and while it is a good looking game, it’s difficult to see where the extra processing power is going.
But on to what sets Liberation apart from other AC games. Well, of course, this is the first female protagonist in the series, and as a character Aveline de Grandpré is fairly interesting, mostly because of her Hong Kong Phooey-style alter-egos. Remember I mentioned the costumes earlier? Aveline’s outfits allow her to identify herself as a slave, an assassin or a lady, and gameplay changes based on which disguise you choose. So, for example, the lady can charm gentlemen into following her around and gathers notoriety slowly, but is unable to free-run and is a target to muggers. The assassin persona, on the other hand, is always slightly suspicious to the law, but has access to the most weapons and tricks. Notoriety is tied to the persona – so, for example, if the heat is on your slave persona, you can change outfits into your fancy lady-dress, and wander around town completely innocently, tearing down wanted posters to lower the slave’s notoriety. While these persona changes give a real feeling of having a secret identity with various ways of doing things: a gaggle of guards stands between you and a particular chest of goodies you need to get to for a mission. You can change into the assassin’s outfit and scale the wall behind them, or just wander past them as the lady, perhaps accompanied by a charmed gentleman.
Oh, and it’s short. Shorter than a regular Assassin’s Creed game, for certain. There are not the usual slew of sub-quests to keep you invading fortresses or decapitating ocelots. There are a couple of mediocre fetch- quests to break up the missions and the obligatory treasure chests to loot, but that’s about it. Ubisoft are no fools though – the price tag reflects the shortened gameplay. For hardcore fans, it’s not going to knock the bottom out of your wallet to get your latest fix.
At the end of the day, Assassin’s Creed Liberation feels a little like filler. High-quality filler made from the same wonderful stuff from which all Assassin’s Creed games are made. It lacks much in the way of clever or engrossing storyline, but has enough interesting quirks and ideas to keep you playing. Liberation feels like a test bed for a couple of new ideas (most notably the alternate persona thing) that may make it into the next AC game.
Fun to play, certainly, but it’s the same fun you’d get from pretty much any game in the series.