The prospect of an HD remake of a handheld Assassin’s Creed game that received middling reviews isn’t likely to light a fire under any but the most hardcore of Assassin’s Creed fans. As it turns out, though, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD is a pleasant surprise and one that has something to offer, even for those who’ve found themselves growing fatigued with the Assassin’s Creed series.
Liberation’s half-African, half French protagonist, Aveline, leads something of a double life as both a respectable high-class lady and, naturally, a deadly assassin. Her mixed heritage allows her to move in different circles and that narrative device not only lends a bit of intrigue to an intensely likable character, but is used as a gameplay mechanic that serves to freshen up the familiar Assassin’s Creed formula a little.
As Aveline, players can change into three personas, that of the Assassin, the Lady and the Slave. Each of these personas has unique abilities and has enemy characters react to them in slightly different ways. The Assassin is the most competent in combat and, unsurprisingly, will be spotted by suspicious guards far quicker than the other two personas. When playing as the Lady, on the other hand, players can pretty much pass unnoticed, but have to rely on bribes and charm to achieve their goals, being as they are unable to freerun in this guise.
It’s disappointing that Ubisoft Sofia didn’t do a little more with this mechanic by designing missions that are open to be approached in different ways, depending on which persona the player wants to use. As it is, players are more often forced to use a particular persona for a particular mission. However, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that using the different tactics that each persona supports adds a welcome bit of a variety to a series that’s become repetitive and stolid for some of its detractors. At times, Assassin’s Creed games forget the appeal of making the player feel like, well, an Assassin. Using Aveline’s various guises to fade into the background and walk by unnoticed, deceive your enemies with a veneer of respectability or outright destroy them, as the situation requires, makes you feel like a master assassin with a variety of tools and techniques at their disposable.
Before we go too far in praising Liberation, let’s remember that this is an Assassin’s Creed game and as such, it brings with it a whole host of problems that have blighted the series since its inception. Yes, that means plenty of boring tailing missions, coming out of a cutscene, being told to open a door, only to be dropped back into another cutscene, and those lovely insta-fail sections. Then, of course, there is the bloated mini-map, full of activities and collectibles that feel as if they are there to provide the player with more “stuff”, regardless of whether any of it as actually fun or engaging. Liberation also has a few unique problems of its own, most notably a slow motion combat mechanic reminiscent of the mark and execute system from the Splinter Cell games. This is clearly a hangover from Liberation’s handheld roots, built for a touchscreen. On a controller, it doesn’t feel quite right.
Having bashed some of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD’s more tedious and frustrating missions, it must also be said that the game has its fair share of well-designed missions too. Whether a concession made out of necessity when Liberation was built for handheld or not, the game’s missions often feel more focused than those in the mainline Assassin’s Creed games. That focus helps to foster the feeling of being a badass assassin, allowing as it does the player to focus on doing the few things they are asked to do correctly, rather than having themselves funnelled into setpiece after setpiece.
While Liberation’s clear origins as a handheld game might be a boon when it comes to mission design, that’s unfortunately not really the case when it comes to the game’s technical chops. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation looks pretty decent on the whole, but when you run off into a town being told you’re going to encounter some crowd trouble only to find three mildly disgruntled citizens mouthing off to a couple of guards, you can’t help but be reminded that this game just isn’t on the same scale as the others in the Assassin’s Creed series. Also disappointing, bearing in mind that this HD version of Liberation is presumably intended to be definitive, is the fact that you’ll commonly encounter minor technical issues, from pop-in and frame rate stutters, to the odd disappearing NPC.
Despite those minor technical problems and the unwelcome return of some Assassin’s Creed idiosyncrasies, Liberation is a worthy entry in the Assassin’s Creed series. This game isn’t one to turn Assassin’s Creed haters into converts, but it does have enough original ideas to surprise those who may have expected Liberation to be disappointingly by the book.