By Chris Matulich, October 15, 2012
Assassin's Creed has become a strange entity in its own right, releasing yearly games that are generally unique and are high quality experiences, proving to be the exception to the yearly release rule (ahem, sports games). Though their handheld experiences have been somewhat lackluster, with the power of the PS Vita, Ubisoft can bring the same high quality that the series is known for on the home consoles with Assassins Creed: Liberation.
There were two playable missions on the show floor, one showcasing the expansive wilderness of Louisiana with an emphasis on combat, the other set in old New Orleans which focused on stealth. Both showcased the same vivid level of detail at AC has become renowned for, the bayou populated by alligators lying in ambush, thick swamps and dilapidated shipwrecks that are fully explorable and scalable (and wrestle-able), and New Orleans holds the beautifully rendered French influenced city. Aveline moves with the fluid grace that Altair, Ezio and Desmond have demonstrated in the past, though some points during her scaling saw Aveline falling a bit into the wall or ledge, though it happened moreso in New Orleans than the bayou. While visually impressive, sound work, particularly voice acting, is rather poor in quality. Not that the actors themselves are bad, but the sound itself is tinny, even when coming through a pair of high quality headphones.
Like the visuals (and unlike the sound work), the same attention that the gameplay receives on the consoles has been transferred to the Vita, with all the series main stays, from dual blades to hidden guns to smoke bombs, making an appearance. Running and scaling buildings and trees plays fluidly, with no hiccups other than the occasional clipping. Aveline has a couple of new tricks added to the already robust Assassin gear, with a whip that can be used both in combat and while traversing the open world. The whip adds a great new spin on taking out guards, as it's essentially a long ranged assassin blade. Also getting some long-overdue tweaks is the countering system. Though it's not exactly groundbreaking, countering now requires two button presses; timing is everything (as usual) and even when performed correctly countering leaves you a little bit more open for attacks. It's much more difficult taking on throngs of enemies than in previous entries, which in turn makes for a more exciting and challenging experience.
While traversing the bayou, Aveline will come across lakes and other bodies of water that are too dangerous to be swimming in, so she'll have to make use of her budding canoe skills. Since we are on the Vita, however, paddling is done through the rear touchpad, and feels every bit as awkward as it sounds. Responsiveness is a bit of an issue, where swiping doesn't always send you forward or backwards or even paddling on the side of the boat that was intended, and the speed is rather slow (it feels more like a mundane task than playing a video game). Aveline can be ambushed by alligators, and rather than just shooting the beast, the choice to wrestle them can be made. Wrestling breaks down to a series of button presses, but is an entertaining alternative to wasting bullets, and how many games allow you to wrestle animals, let alone alligators?
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation achieves its goal - bringing a console styled AC to the handheld market, and it accomplishes it with gusto. While some little bugs and gimmicky touchpad controls may cause some small issues, Liberation is primed for a big release at the end of the month.