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Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation preview

by Kat Bailey, shacknews.com, Aug 16, 2012 8:00AM PDT

You could say that history is against Assassin's Creed III: Liberation. There have been a million handheld spinoffs of major franchises, and almost none of them have stood out in any substantive way. Ubisoft, of course, hopes to change all that.

To do that, Liberation needs is to be able to stand on its own as a substantive effort in the series. It needs to push the limits of the Vita, but also care to work within them. Think God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PSP, for instance, which was a visually impressive effort that neatly managed the platform's lack of a second analog stick. It's an uphill climb, to be sure, but Liberation seems to be on the right track.

One positive sign is that, while it is set in the same era as the forthcoming Assassin's Creed III, it's a long way from the Revolutionary War. Liberation is set among the swamps of French Louisiana--property of the Spanish in 1765--which will make it harder to recycle levels, enemies, and assets from the bigger game.

Script writer Richard Farrese explains that Ubisoft wants Liberation to have a strong link with Assassin's Creed III (the respective protagonists will actually meet at some point), but that Louisiana offers a lot of chances to stand apart. It's so "different and so foreign," he said, and the dichotomy of French colonists and Spanish occupation makes for a great backdrop for the war being fought between the Templar and the assassins.

"We could have set the game in so many places ... but why not? New Orleans was so unique. When you read history books, it's super interesting because the Spanish supplied the American Revolution," Farrese said. "There are just so many elements that go into it. When we started working on the story, we knew that we had picked the right setting."

The hero, too, is different. Aveline is a mixed-race assassin who looks a lot like a pirate. And, of course, you may have heard that she's a woman. According to Farrese, the team didn't set out to cast a female assassin, it just came together naturally: "There were lots of influential women at the time. They are little known today, but they were there, and they were really important."

Significant is the fact that Aveline isn't actually related to Desmond--the hapless 21st century nerd who carries the genetic memory of dozens of assassins. As such, Ubisoft appears to be leaving that element out of the story, and instead positioning Liberation as a kind of portable Animus--the machine that makes it possible to relive all of these stories. The implication, it would seem, is that the player is actually related somehow to Aveline. It may be a minor point, but it does suggest that Ubisoft thinks of the Vita as being much more than a tiny, underpowered PlayStation 3.

The game, it should be mentioned, looks pretty impressive. It's a mark step up from Uncharted, which itself was enough to turn heads back when the Vita was first announced. A trip through the swamp feels appropriately dank, smelly, and well, green--particularly when a handsomely animated crocodile wanders up to say hello. When it comes time to raid a camp full of soldiers, Aveline feels just as capable of slitting throats as her console counterpart. Walk up behind a foe, press the appropriate button, and watch Aveline go for the jugular. Simple.

Now, lest you think that Liberation is out to mimic the form and function of Assassin's Creed III, Ubisoft has had to make a few compromises to accommodate the fact that their game is more apt to be played on the subway at home. Farrese explains: "The missions are a little shorter, which is good if you're on the subway. It has fewer cinematics than Assassin's Creed II, but we do use cinematics, and some walk and talk moments to explain the story. I'd say the story is a little sharper because we have less time to tell it, so we needed to be maybe a little briefer with the dialogue."

He continues: "I don't think you really feel it when you actually play the game because the main path takes about 12 to 15 hours. We didn't want to compromise on storytelling or character development, so we had to find a good balance between the two, but I think it worked out well in the end."

Some time with the actual game is enough to set one's mind at ease about Liberation being a slapdash Assassin's Creed III knockoff--at least for the time being. It's an interesting opportunity for both Ubisoft and Sony. For Ubisoft, Liberation has the potential to be a unique offshoot of a huge franchise. For Sony, it's a chance to show that Vita is capable of supporting the types of experiences that justify the heavy price tags attached to the games.

It's still a tricky proposition though. It's a big, complicated game--certainly not the kind of pick up-and-play experience that works well on portable system. Will the cutscenes feel tiresome when riding the bus? Will the action translate? Assassin's Creed III: Liberation offers some positive signs that those elements will in fact hold up on the Vita, but we still have a way to go before the final release.

Farrese, for his part, is willing to admit that he was worried at first: "I have to tell you that I was skeptical before I saw what the game looked like. I was really worried that the team wouldn't be able to deliver the quality that we wanted. But I have to say that they did an amazing job."

He finishes confidently: "I wish they could do more games like that on the Vita. I think we should push this further."

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