I play all the Assassin’s Creeds and like them quite a lot, but should you play the newest one, Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD? Maybe.
Liberation is, in my book, the weakest or second-weakest Assassin’s Creed that you can play on a PC or console. It depends on how you feel about the very first spartan and somewhat repetitive Assassin’s Creed. I say this having played through Liberation HD over the past few days. I spent a little over nine hours to reach 85 per cent completion. I reached and played the game’s true ending.
My reaction is relative, of course. Assassin’s Creed is probably my favourite modern gaming series (wherefore art thou, Metroid?). These games are nearly perfect for me, mixing not terribly-difficult third-person platforming and combat with vivid historical tourism. They present the kind of convoluted secrets and pop culture conspiracies I enjoy, filling out the food group I used to happily chew on when ABC was still airing new episodes of Lost.
I am a maniac about playing a game’s good sidequests of which most AC games are abundant. My love of sidequests is probably both why The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is my favourite video game and why I maintain that Assassin’s Creed III is only properly appreciated if you’ve played through the underground missions, all of the naval locations and, most importantly, the lead-character-redeeming Homesteads acts.
I also part with the criticism that the series doesn’t change year to year, given that it both regularly has radical shifts in settings and lead characters and that its secondary systems often change a lot — from the addition of the brotherhood to tree-traversal to fort liberation to naval combat and so on. It’s only the core on-foot play that’s varied little and, yeah, they could really use a replacement for the need to climb church towers to unfog the map.
Anyway, as much as Assassin’s Creed is in my sweet spot, I can only recommend Liberation HD with caveats.
The game’s graphics, while improved from the 2012 Vita original are still vastly inferior to those of October 2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV. I played both on my PS3 and found Liberation tough to look at.
The setting is also used poorly. Liberation spends a large part of the player’s time outside of its main city, 18th century New Orleans, dragging players through a swamp that is less fun to leap through than ACIII‘s bland forest.
Worse, whether in the city, swamp or other locations of the game, players will discover that Liberation‘s missions are simple to the point of being dull. The side content does not redeem the main mission path. Those missions are weak, too, usually involving some basic platforming, some simple stabbing and moving on. While a game like Brotherhood used Rome’s signature architecture to make even mundane missions memorable, there is little that New Orleans or the swamp adds to Liberation‘s banal, repetitious tasks. There’s no Jesus-play-in-the-Colosseum mission in this game, series fans.
And yet Aveline, our protagonist, is a wonder. She is the reason to play Liberation.
She is no instant charmer like AC II‘s Ezio, but she is a more dynamic and interesting assassin than AC III‘s gruff Connor or AC IV‘s reluctant Edward. She is partially distinguished, as our own Evan Narcisse adroitly explained in his review of the original PlayStation Vita version of the game, by her gender and ethnicity. She is a woman uncomfortably of her time and place, a righteous if sometimes confused freedom fighter whose mother was a black slave and whose father was the white man who bought her mother. Liberation doesn’t play this down and challenges its players any time it shows a scene of Aveline and her father getting along just fine. Aveline’s life isn’t all sweetness, not by a long shot. She also isn’t oblivious to the plight of the enslaved people around her. Her difficulties with her upbringing and her place in the world give the game its energy and command the player’s attention.
Few games deal with issues of race this directly. Fewer still have used such issues to mould a compelling character. Aveline emerges as one of Assassin’s Creed‘s better protagonists and a heroine I’d enjoy playing as again in the future.
The big gameplay change in Liberation is that Aveline can pass. Dressed as a slave, she goes little noticed by New Orleans authorities. Dressed as a rich lady, she can infiltrate high society. Players can switch her outfits at changing stations, which is a little cumbersome. The outfit system is refreshing if of little consequence, as the game doesn’t play all that differently even after Aveline changes her clothes.
Liberation is presented as a piece of propaganda crafted by Abstergo Entertainment, the fictional company affiliated with the anti-Assassin Templars. As such, the game fits well with IV, the other major AC game to exclude the long-running and seemingly-concluded Desmond Miles modern-day storyline. The modern sections of IV also involve Abstergo, so it’s fun, post-IV, to play Abstergo’s first game. Not surprisingly, the Templars come off fairly well in Liberation, but (sorry, minor spoiler) a hacker infiltrates the code of the game to allow Liberation‘s players to see what really happened in Aveline’s New Orleans. This leads to one of the stronger endings to an AC game, one that will reward players who stick through Liberation‘s duller missions.
I noticed another reviewer complain of performance issues with Liberation HD — lots of pop-in, walls, falling out of the world and glitches. On the PS3, I saw little of this. The worst glitches involve alligators in the game’s swamp getting caught in hills. Nothing worse than that. The quality of the game’s missions is a brighter red flag.
If you can tolerate very basic Assassin’s Creed gameplay and a degradation from IV‘s visual excellence and cresting gameplay quality, I recommend Liberation. Aveline’s narrative journey is unusual and interesting to behold. She’s a better character than the game she is in. But the game she is in, at least, deserves high regard for being so bold. I can’t say you’ll have a lot of fun with Liberation, but you still may feel that Aveline’s adventures as an Assassin were worth playing.