Originally released as Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation for the PS Vita in 2012, Ubisoft re-mastered it as Liberation HD for the Xbox 360 and PS3 in January of this year. Seeing as how only 13 people own a PS Vita, chances are that you missed out on the original release, but is Liberation HD worth your time and money two years later?
Liberation HD takes place between 1765 and 1777 toward the end of the French and Indian War, and you’ll spend most of your time in either the city of New Orleans or its bayou. France has just been defeated and the Spanish have gained control of the city, much to the dismay of its citizens, so there is more conflict afoot than the usual Assassin versus Templar focal point.
Liberation HD also takes a unique turn as there is no Abstergo interaction between levels. Even though it takes place during the same timeline as Assassin’s Creed III, there is no mention of Desmond Miles and the usual out-of-Animus experience levels are completely absent. This was a welcome change for me as I felt it gave the game a chance to play out a story without interruption, but Ubisoft actually surprised me with how clever they approached this.
Rather than featuring a modern day protagonist, you are the protagonist experiencing the memory. Even as the game boots up, it presents itself as Abstergo Entertainment and you’re fed story-related cutscenes that are edited in the way Abstergo wants you to view them. There is even a rogue subject in the game called Citizen E, and he wants to show you how things really went for Aveline. During certain key parts of the story, Citizen E will show up at a certain location and if you hunt him down and assassinate him, he’ll replay the unedited version of the cutscene to give you the full story. I really, really dug this.
As the series first female Assassin, Aveline de Grandpré, you’ll partake in standard Assassin’s Creed fare like tail-and-chase missions, assassination contracts and hunting down elusive collectibles while you uncover the secrets of her past, question the motives of the Assassin Order and fight off the Templar.
Unique to the series, Aveline’s persona system allows her to switch between three different variations of herself to assist in different ways. The Assassin is exactly what you’d expect, offering a wide array of weapons and gadgets to combat enemies, but guards are more observant of your actions. The Slave has limited access to weapons and can sneak in and out of hostile territory by carrying boxes and blending in with other slaves.
The Lady is the final persona, and allows Aveline to charm or bribe guards to avoid conflict. The downside to The Lady is that she’s limited in combat to only her hidden blades and a parasol gun, which is extremely slow to reload. Aveline is also hindered in that she cannot free-run while in The Lady persona.
Story missions usually require you to be in a certain persona, but you’re free to switch them out at your leisure while you’re out doing your own thing. Each persona offers its own set of side-quests and its own set of collectibles, so if you’re a completionist expect to spend half the game this way.
I generally enjoy hunting down collectibles in Assassin’s Creed, but Liberation HD made this pretty painful. None of the collectibles show up on your map until you’re close by, and if it’s something you can’t get to right away you basically have to put that spot to memory as it doesn’t stay on the map.
I became pretty frustrated toward the end of my playthrough as I was only missing one Assassin persona coin, and there was absolutely no way for me to find out which zone it was in. Passing up a brooch while I was in the Slave persona and only being able to obtain it in the lady persona also led to a pretty hefty amount of running back and forth. Completing the various collect-a-thons and sidequests open up new outfits and hats for Aveline to wear, but they’re purely aesthetic.
Since Liberation HD was originally a handheld title on the PS Vita, the overall size and scale of the game is noticeably smaller in comparison to Assassin’s Creed III or Black Flag, but it felt masked by the large amount of time I spent completing optional objectives and finding every collectible. I spent roughly 13 hours with the Xbox 360 version of the game and earned all but one achievement, but only 7 hours of that was spent doing story missions.
Some of the missions or segments featuring touch-screen functionality from the Vita were either changed or removed completely, which lead to some awkward skipping around during quests. I also noticed that the map for De Bayou was slightly altered for Liberation HD, as were a few of the collectible locations.
Graphically, Liberation HD obviously looks better than the PS Vita counterpart. The city of New Orleans and De Bayou were a lot of fun to explore and felt completely different from one another, but smaller one-off areas like Chichén Itzá and New York seemed half-assed and looked pretty terrible.
Liberation HD features higher resolution textures, improved facial features and better audio, but some of the character models ended up looking pretty questionable and featured terrible lip synching or a zombie-like appearance. I also couldn’t help but notice how there were only 3 or 4 different character models for the NPCs, which became even more apparent as I was attacked by a group of guards or ran in to a swarm of ladies who all looked exactly the same.
The gameplay is relatively smooth and the openness of New Orleans made it a lot easier to navigate than the cluttered towns found in Black Flag or its DLC. Of all the Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played in the past, I found myself less annoyed by Liberation HD‘s free-run system and didn’t run in to many issues where I’d run up every corner, light post or ladder by mistake.
Combat in Liberation HD is pretty fluid and relies heavily on counterattacking your enemy in the correct way. Most weaker enemies can be counter-killed instantly, but certain variety require you to counter a specific swing or take out with your pistol and whip instead.
Aveline also has the ability to unlock chain kills, which allow you to pause the game and select which enemies to dispatch in a quick cinematic. The amount of enemies that can be killed in this way depends on which weapon you have equipped, so picking between your tomahawk with more damage and less chain kill targets or your sabre with an opposite effect lets you manage your play-style accordingly.
Ubisoft has been pushing their Uplay feature a lot lately, so I was surprised to find out that Liberation HD doesn’t have any sort of Uplay support. It does, however, feature all of the original PS Vita Uplay content packed in to the download. To my knowledge the PS3 version does contain the extras you received when you connected Liberation on the Vita to Assassin’s Creed III on the PS3, but the Xbox 360 version that I played for this review did not include these features.
Overall, Liberation HD is a welcome addition to the Assassin’s Creed universe, albeit feeling slightly watered down in terms of size and presentation. Taking in to account that it was originally a handheld title on a console that many people still don’t own, I’m glad Ubisoft took the time to remaster Liberation and give us all a chance to experience it for ourselves, but the awful voice acting and “now is the time for jokes!” attitude of Aveline were sometimes hard to swallow.
It’s not the greatest HD remaster in the world, but if you’re a fan of the series and missed out on Liberation in 2012, I’d say it’s worth the $19.99 price tag. If you’re new to the series, this is also a good place to start as it’s not necessary to have experienced any of the previous titles, and it gives you a crash course in the game mechanics you can expect from the other entries. It’s typical Assassin’s Creed, just on a smaller scale.