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Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita, Switch, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Released Oct 2012 | Developed / Published: Ubisoft
Genre: Action-Adventure, Stealth | HLTB: 8 hours
The second game in Ubisoft’s dalliance with 18th-century America, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation was a simultaneous release alongside Assassin’s Creed III. Originally released solely on the PS Vita, it was no great surprise when less than 2 years later it came to consoles, and has since been reincluded in 2019’s Assassin’s Creed III Remastered. Liberation tells the story of Aveline de Grandpre; while Connor is busy dealing with Templar schemes amidst the American Revolution in the North, Aveline contends with another chapter of the series’ recurring baddies against the backdrop of the tumultuous colony of New Orleans.
Like Connor, Aveline occupies a difficult place in society. She is a woman, in a time when men dominated and suppressed the roles women could have, and she is of French-African descent, during a period when slavery was commonplace. The daughter of a business owner and member of the nouvelle riche, her father’s position gives her unique protection and status. Around her she sees other Africans enslaved and worked to death while behind her back high societies whisper and stare. Again like Connor, Aveline tries to balance her loyalties, using her skills as an Assassin to target the Templar conspiracy and free slaves, while her position of power, aided by her stepmother Madeleine de L’Isle, allows her to shuttle her charges North to new homes and freedom.
There’s some interesting social commentary that the game could do here and to its credit Liberation does try to address it in some ways. Aveline is painfully aware of her privilege, and her attempts to free other slaves are tinged with regret; a little scene in the middle of the game sees Aveline seething with rage at the injustice of it all, filled with self-loathing and despair at the pointlessness of freeing a handful of slaves here and there. Liberation never really commits fully to this though; it’s notable that these moments are buried beneath the usual Assassin’s Creed pomp and nonsense, but I appreciate the attempt nonetheless.
The other characters are a mixed bag, trending towards not all that interesting, unfortunately. It’s hard not to like Aveline’s father, Philippe, who comes across as one of the few honest and good-hearted people in the entire game. Aveline’s Assassin mentor, Agate, is however consumed with paranoia and bloodlust. It strikes me that the big theme of both this and III is the fallibility of the Assassins; between Agate and Achilles we are confronted with tired and broken old men, former leaders of the Brotherhood in the Americas who are both wracked with insecurity and guilt. Basically these games are about how the Colonial Assassins kind of suck.
One of Liberation’s primary gimmicks is that Aveline can change personas. Aveline might be an Assassin in all the usual jumpy, stabby glory, but because of her unique position in 18th-century New Orleans society she can pose as a slave; doing so limits her arsenal slightly but it does allow her to wander into plantations as guards turn a blind eye to the sight of just another slave. Equally, Aveline is a high-society lady and so can don her best dress and parasol and wander about the town, which allows her to charm her way past guards and stealthily assassinate her targets. It does however eliminate any freerunning ability as clambering about in an elaborate frock is a bit tricky. She of course can also run about in her Assassin garb, which gives her access to her entire range of abilities, but the sight of a woman, bristling with weapons and flinging herself across rooftops is a surefire way of causing a bit of a stir among New Orleans’ guards. As a result, using Aveline’s Assassin persona always comes with a quarter of the notoriety bar filled and it can’t be lowered any further. All the personas affect Aveline’s notoriety in some way. Aside from the assassin’s set minimum notoriety, when dressed as a slave and a lady Aveline can be entirely unnoticed by guards but in turn building notoriety is simple as any wild actions will result in unwanted attention.
Speaking of gimmicks, Liberation gives Aveline a way to automatically chain kills together in a sort of targeted instant-kill animation. It originally used the PS Vita touch screen but the console remasters just put it on a button; ultimately it’s a gimmick but absolutely nothing more, and other than the tutorial I genuinely never used it once in gameplay. Aveline also picks up a whip to add to her already bloated arsenal though in fairness the whip is at least a little bit useful. In combat it’s functionally identical to the rope darts of III, working as a deadly ranged weapon that can pull enemies in close for a finishing blow, but when freerunning the whip can be used to do long jumps across wide gaps which is used in some decent platforming sequences. Unfortunately, it’s also clunky as shit, typically requiring you to stop your freerunning and then activate it, which breaks up the flow.
Freerunning, particularly in the Lousiana Bayou, falls prey to all the typical flaws of the franchise, though the Bayou is especially irritating. Dropping from tree tops into water is a common problem and Aveline is not a quick swimmer; neither is she good at piloting a canoe, which are deposited about the Bayou ostensibly for ease of transport around the swamp but in reality act as mobile annoyance generators as they bump and catch on every possible obstacle.
Like III, Liberation features a trading system, which I’m sure everybody is extremely excited about. Aveline takes control of her father’s shipping business and so can buy goods, load them onto ships, and send them to ports afar to earn more money. Again like III there’s not really a great deal of reason to do this as the chests in the game world contain tonnes of cash. There’s more than enough money hanging around the map waiting for Aveline to nick in order to buy basically anything she needs in terms of new outfit colours and upgrades, and once they’re done there’s nothing else to spend your ballooning cash reserves on.
It wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed game without bugs, and Liberation sure does have a few. I’ve had missions end because allies completely bug out and freeze, and I’ve had objectives fail to update; also I’ve had it just straight up crash entirely. Funnily enough I don’t recall encountering problems like this in the HD release on previous consoles, and given the poor state of the Assassin’s Creed III remaster that this is bundled with, I wonder if it is simply a case of both ports being atrociously made. Regardless, if you are thinking of giving Liberation a go, do try and opt for the slightly older HD version rather than this newest one, unless it gets patched any time soon.
It also wouldn’t be an Assassin’s Creed entry without the obligatory modern-day bits. Interestingly, Liberation goes all meta on us – as you boot the game, you’re greeted by an Abstergo Entertainment splash screen, with a “powered by Animus” slogan. The idea here is that you are playing Assassin’s Creed Liberation in-universe, experiencing a product released by Abstergo to the public. What reasons the modern-day Templars have for releasing a game about their shadowy nemeses, and how the Assassins react to it are tied subtly and neatly into the plot so I shan’t spoil things. Like many things in Liberation, while Ubisoft don’t pull off their idea perfectly, it’s certainly an interesting concept and I do like the meta angle.
More than ever Liberation is very tightly scripted, which leads to so little happening in any of the 3 areas the game takes place in that there’s little reason to do anything but blast through the story. In that respect it is reminiscent of the first Assassin’s Creed, which is not exactly what I would call progression in game design. The problem is primarily that the missions in Liberation are quite boring; it’s the usual round of tailing, listening to elaborate and wholly dull plans, snoozing through the hamfisted dialogue, and eventually getting to play a game of hit-the-checkpoint with an occasional assassination thrown in for good measure. It’s not that it’s a bad game, but Liberation doesn’t excite; if you’re not invested or interested in the formula at this point, you’re unlikely to have a sudden change of heart thanks to this game. Trying it for the sake of completion with the franchise is about as far as I can recommend it.
3/7 – MEDIOCRE. A game that makes you go, “Well, it’s alright…” but it’s a kind of drawn-out, unsure, and reluctant decision? These are those games. Might just be worth playing if you can get it on the cheap.