Assassin's Creed stumbles on Vita
There's never been a video game heroine quite like Aveline de Grandpre.
The daughter of an African slave and a French shipping magnate in New Orleans at the end of French and Indian War, Aveline is the deadly but charming protagonist of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation (Ubisoft, for the PlayStation Vita, NZ$89.99). She seeks to fight injustice in and around the Big Easy as a member of the series' secret order of assassins.
The hallmarks of the Assassin's Creed franchise are all gloriously present here in hand-held form: traipsing across a jagged cityscape, dispatching foes with stealthy prowess and plotting against the clandestine group known as the Templars. Liberation doesn't feel like a typical PlayStation Vita game - and that's both its biggest strength and weakness.
Despite its name, there's only a tenuous connection to Assassin's Creed III, its sweeping console counterpart. That shouldn't deter die-hard Assassin's Creed fans from embodying Aveline, who's armed with iconic hidden blades just like forerunners Altair and Ezio, as well as her own original weapons, such as a blowgun and a parasol loaded with poison darts.
Unlike her male predecessors, Aveline assumes different personas to achieve her aims. As an assassin, she can use all weapons and scale buildings; disguised as a slave, she can blend in with crowds and incite riots; and when dressed as a noble lady, she can awkwardly woo men. It's an inventive touch, but one that frustratingly makes Aveline always feel handicapped.
Most of Liberation takes place in New Orleans, beginning in 1768 as a French colony through the American Revolution. For the most part, the game's story, setting, combat and characters all work remarkably well given the constraints of the platform, and there's a plethora of side quests, business pursuits and a multiplayer mode to keep things interesting.
With missions focusing on freeing slaves and rioting against Spanish soldiers, Liberation doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of American history in the South. It's refreshing to see a video game deal with such serious issues while maintaining a sense of adventure. That alone should be enough for Vita owners to give this historical action title a try.
Unfortunately, Liberation is too big for its britches. It's difficult not to wonder how more effective the game could have been if the developers didn't bend over backward in an effort to replicate the console experience, especially after playing through a smaller section of Liberation that's set outside Louisiana and ultimately proved to be more fun.
The lamest part of Liberation is definitely the most unnecessary, namely, using the Vita's unique control scheme for actions like opening letters by swiping both touchscreens or revealing secret maps by pointing the rear camera toward a bright light. Such novel gimmicks wouldn't be so disastrous if they consistently worked and weren't repeated several times.
There are other glitches, too. Some wobbly graphics, disappearing characters, audio dropouts and other assorted bugs mark Liberation as a less polished Assassin's Creed experience. Despite the game's very daring ambitions, Aveline - and Assassin's Creed fans - deserve more than Liberation is able to truly deliver on the Vita. Two stars out of four.