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Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

15:1414/11/2012Posted by Simeon PaskellOne Comment

With heroes fluidly traversing sprawling urban environs in hawk-beaked hoods and a plot centred around a fight against homogeny and oppression, Assassin’s Creed is a series that can be typified by a sense of freedom. It is this that makes its PS Vita debut, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, such an interesting prospect; the host handheld is founded on the premise of breaking the shackles tying console-quality gaming to the living room and the game itself places the slave-trade – and the experience of slaves in the New World – at its thematic core. This tension between freedom and slavery is further emphasised by a structure that takes a far more controlled and linear direction than previous instalments. Where once there was boundless freedom, there is now a more controlled narrative path.

The PlayStation Vita is now well outside what anyone could conceivably define as ‘a launch window’, but a sense that it is still finding its feet remains. Pundits repeatedly posture that the only way it will succeed is to get a library of software to showcase its potential and, on paper, a fully-fledged Assassin’s Creed should be just the sort of title to assist in doing so. Now Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is here, the Vita is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief that Ubisoft has put in the time and money to create a stand-alone product rather than simply churn out a pocket-sized edition of the console version. The points of cross-over with Assassin’s Creed III also likely prove to be a draw for completionists looking not only for Assassin’s Creed-on-the-go but also an expansion to the series’ world and lore.

It’s a smart bit of positioning that is assisted by the fact that Liberation mostly looks the part; the detail put into its forests and bayous impresses, and its vision of 18th Century New Orleans – teeming with a population going about its business or engaged in a trade – matches the New York streets watched over by Connor Kenway. Holding this bustling little world in your hand is impressive and, aside from the occasional drop in frame-rate, the experience generally showcases the technical ability of Sony’s handheld.

At first glance only, the game appears to tick all the right boxes in both the graphical and gameplay departments. Tricorn-hatted heroine Aveline de Grandpré is every bit as nimble as her male Assassin brethren, and manoeuvring her around New Orleans initially delivers the sense of liberation promised by that subtitle. Anyone who has spent any time with an Assassin’s Creed title will feel at home flitting across rooftops, honing in on items and mission icons on the mini-map, hunting down lofty perches from which to sync and using the signature ‘Leap of Faith’ to transition from rooftop to haystack in a matter of seconds.

Sadly, once you start prodding at the edges of New Orleans the disappointments begin to surface. Most obviously, the various maps featured are far more condensed propositions, smaller than the cities featured in any of the previous instalments, with the game instead places more emphasis on the pull of its narrative. Sadly this is a gamble that doesn’t really pay off. Where Rocksteady Studio’s Batman: Arkham Asylum proved that an economy in square mileage doesn’t have to diminish a game’s metaphorical horizons, in the case of Liberation the small maps makes you realise just how dependent the series has been on the combination of its sprawling worlds and that wonderful parkour-based exploration. Sure, Arkham Asylum put Batman in a prison, but it never felt stifling. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, on the other hand, puts the series in a box.

The biggest problem is that Ubisoft Sofia fail to find enough interesting activities to make up for the reduction in real-estate, and the entertainment that can be had from throwing the pleasingly animated Aveline around rooftops can only go so far. Far too many missions ask that you traverse the city, the bayou or the forest to complete often stultifyingly dull tasks. An instruction to go and speak to a voodoo priest, a smuggler, a slave trader, should be the start of grand adventure and yet, the conversation is often the payoff itself. When you’re not just chatting, missions involving clumsy combat with a small gang of soldiers, lugging barrels of (curiously quiet) explosives from here to there or pulling a switch atop a lighthouse do not a thrilling time make.

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