Last week, Ubisoft graciously offered members of the gaming media the first opportunity to go hands-on with Assassin’s Creed III for PS3 and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, the upcoming PS Vita-bound chapter set against the backdrop of Spanish occupation in 18th century Louisiana.
Both games, of course, demonstrated plenty of promise: ACIII for its Revolutionary War-era pomp and Skyrim-rivalling scale, ACIII: Liberation for its sultry new setting and uncanny attention to detail. But in the five days since the hands-on session, I’ve unexpectedly found myself reflecting more on my experiences with Liberation. Seeing the series’ sprawling, hyper-detailed environments and fluid gameplay so faithfully recreated on PS Vita’s luminous 5’’ screen bordered on startling. Protagonist Aveline also struck me as an interesting character with unique motivations, and the game’s untapped 18th-century Louisiana setting seems like it could pay off in a big way.
Refined by leaps and bounds compared to its early E3 showing, the updated build of Liberation I played was fully able to strut its stuff on PS Vita — enough so that, at times, it seemed to come within throat-slitting distance of ACII or ACIII on PS3. Taking control of Aveline, I explored the teeming streets of New Orleans, admiring the details that swirled around me. The town looked alive. Pushing my way through the throngs of townspeople that clogged the thoroughfare, I spotted a local shopkeeper sweeping his stoop, a lazy dog slouched in the sun, and flies buzzing thickly in the oppressive heat. The technical details are all in place — the textures looked sharp, the lighting realistic, the draw distances expansive — but it’s the way Liberation weaves them all into a convincing illusion of 18-century New Orleans that left the most lasting impression.
Liberation also pleased in the gameplay department, borrowing the core control scheme and myriad refinements of ACIII while adding subtle yet profound PS Vita-specific niceties. Aveline climbed and tumbled every bit as gracefully as Ezio or Connor, and the familiar controls enabled me to clamber up walls, through balconies, and over rooftops without so much as a second thought. Combat also felt nimble and natural as I deflected incoming strikes using the Circle button only to lash out with Aveline’s brutal sugar cane machete (the kill animations for this weapon are wince-worthy). One mission tasked me with silently eliminating five guards in a crowded square, and here the poison blowgun came in handy. New Orlean’s scorching sunlight, I learned, creates plenty of dark shadows. I was able to slink through ivy-covered terraces and darkened porches in order to get the perfect vantage point on my prey.
I even fired off a few Chain Kills, which are touchscreen-directed cinematic slaughters that make Aveline slice, stab, blast, and eviscerate multiple enemies at all distances at the drop of a hat. But the touchscreen-based UI really started to feel indispensible when it came time to swap weapons and gear, a job that takes several button presses and a bit of practice to accomplish on PS3 but here is accomplished effortlessly. Outside of combat and navigation, much of the game’s is logically directed via the touchscreen, and results felt quick, responsive, and lightweight. The rear touchpad gets some time in the sun, too — you can swipe it to pickpocket nearby passersby, or use it to manage your rowing speed during bayou boating sequences.
Liberation’s October 30th release is weeks away, and yet tantalizing questions persist. Ubisoft has revealed some details about the bonus content that will be unlocked by owning both ACIII for PS3 and Liberation for PS Vita, but the PS Vita-unique multiplayer mode remains cloaked in mystery. No matter — we’ll be following up to learn more about on of this fall’s most intriguing action-adventure titles.