Available on PlayStation Vita
The promise of full-scale console games on a handheld system is the Sony PS Vita’s biggest strength and biggest weakness. When it works out, we get games of the quality of Uncharted: The Golden Abyss, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and LittleBigPlanet PSVita. When it doesn’t, we get something more like Resistance: Burning Skies. To be honest, we didn’t hold out much hope for Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation. Not only is it a side-story to Ubisoft’s 2012 historical blockbuster, but early preview sequences we’d seen were beset by technical issues, as well as appearing dull and unimpressive. It’s a surprise, then, to report that Liberation is mostly very good – and in some ways more enjoyable than its big-screen console sibling.
While set in the same era as Connor Kenway’s War of Independence adventure, Liberation swaps Boston, New York and the Northern frontier for New Orleans, the Bayou, and some other settings we wouldn’t want to divulge. The whole Desmond framing story goes out of the window – you’re simply playing a simulation powered by the latest Animus technology – and you have a new heroine, Aveline, a young mixed-race New Orleans 'it' girl who moonlights as an assassin. Where Assassin's Creed 3 is the story of Connor’s involvement in the American revolution, Liberation tells a slightly smaller scale story of one young woman’s battle against slavery, and against the Templar forces profiting from it. The shocking thing is that – for a long time – it’s none the worse for it. Not only is Aveline a more sympathetic protagonist than Connor, but her more stripped-back and streamlined narrative is also more immediately engaging.
Here’s another turn up for the books: Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation both looks and plays very well. There’s inevitably less detail to the characters, the scenery and the architecture than in the home console based Assassin’s Creed 3, but a lot of the visual appeal has made the transition intact. And while some earlier reviews have complained of choppy frame rates, we’ve found the game very smooth for most of our playing time, with the frame rate only dropping occasionally during particularly hectic bouts of combat. It’s not that the game is free of glitches – guards and passers-by getting stuck in the scenery are a regular occurrence – but we’ve yet to see anything that really spoils the action.
Meanwhile, Aveline can be controlled with the same kind of grace as Ezio or Connor, racing up buildings, clambering up trees and speeding from rooftop to rooftop with ease. At times the context-sensitive controls still send you entirely in the wrong direction, or leave you clinging to a ledge when you were really planning to keep moving forwards, but there’s nothing there that fans of the series won’t find familiar. New Orleans proves to be more Parkour friendly than Boston, and while the Bayou doesn’t present the same breadth of scenery as Connor’s Frontier wilderness, there’s still plenty of opportunity to climb trees, leap from branch to branch and wrestle alligators.
Combat is broadly similar to Assassin’s Creed 3, with an emphasis on blocks and counters over hack-and-slash swordplay. The timing isn’t quite as tight as in the console title, making it hard to counter and kill multiple foes in the heat of battle, but to compensate it’s slightly easier to tackle some enemies using standard attacks.
The real surprise, though, is that Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation does, to some extent, see the series return to its more stealthy roots. You’re not just encouraged but occasionally restricted to using silent, ranged attacks, attacking from cover and tackling enemies before they are alerted, with some missions featuring instant-fail conditions if you don’t.