The lost Assassin

Looking back on my original review for Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, now well over a year ago, I realize that I made a lot of excuses for the game because it was on the Vita. Expecting less of a game on a handheld system is understandable—especially when it’s a spin-off of a successful console series like Assassin’s Creed—since obvious technical shortcomings are par for the course.

Trying to cram an entire Assassin’s Creed game onto a portable is no small feat. But when a game developer ports a handheld experience and tries to make it a full-fledged console title, they’d better go all-out, or there are going to be problems. And, unfortunately for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD, let’s just say that Aveline doesn’t look nearly as good in high-def.

In Liberation, you play the role of a consumer who’s decided to purchase the first-ever product from Abstergo Entertainment. This new device allows you to relive the life of Aveline de Grandpré, the daughter of a wealthy Frenchman and an African slave woman in 18th-century New Orleans. On the surface, Aveline looks to lead the pampered life her father’s wealth would afford her, but the soul of a warrior burns within.

To the untrained eye, this looks like the beginning of a solid Assassin’s Creed tale, but the story’s still too short, and nothing’s added to lengthen it in the HD version. Aveline is still a poorly developed character, even though she has the makings of one of the most interesting Assassins yet. All we get are a handful of extra side missions that focus on her slave/high-society disguises, which are really quite throwaway. Despite the lack of additional content, though, players will still likely enjoy Aveline’s tale, even if it pales in comparison to the rest of the series’ protagonists.

The combat and movement remains largely the same as the other games in the series, with pickpocketing and the “chain kill” system (both of which were tied to the Vita’s touchscreen previously) mercifully assigned back to traditional buttons. Countless glitches and stiffness also remain, however, making this one of the worst-handling Assassin’s Creed titles.

The visuals don’t make a smooth transition, either. While the graphics have definitely been improved in this HD version, they’re nowhere near what we expect from a console game (these screens are not representative of the experience I had). And the contrast is only more vibrant if you’ve played Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag recently. It looks just like what it is: a handheld game cheaply upscaled to consoles.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD feels like a game that Ubisoft is trying to redeem so that Aveline’s story isn’t wasted. They’re clearly trying to get it into the hands of as many people as possible now because of the Vita’s limited install base. And her story is one worth telling, but it would’ve been so much better in a fully realized, fully fleshed-out Assassin’s Creed entry. Instead, we got this port of a portable. Because of the budget price of $19.99, I could see some misguided Assassin’s Creed diehards falling in love with Aveline’s story and not being terribly heartbroken after shelling out the cash, but to everyone else—especially if you already did play it on the Vita—you can steer clear.

Developer: Ubisoft Sofia • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 01.14.14
Easily the most disappointing Assassin’s Creed title ever. Aveline had the potential to be one of the best Assassins yet, but poor character development, simple mission design, and a far-too-short adventure left me wanting more in all the worst ways.
The Good Pickpocketing no longer has to be done via a touchscreen.
The Bad The main story’s lack of depth is only amplified on consoles.
The Ugly Instead of making everything prettier, HD only reveals all of Liberation’s blemishes.
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS3 (PSN).