While Assassin's Creed 3's Connor Kenway sparks revolution in 18th Century Boston, Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation's young female assassin rebels against Redcoats in New Orleans. It's all kicking off in a tumultuous era defined by war, riots, slavery and rather lavish fashion. In fact, just buying the game is an act of defiance.
"The product you have purchased allows you to access the memories of Aveline de Grandpré", says a cold female voice during an opening in which Ubisoft cleverly drapes the game in its own fiction. Across three decently sized hubs - New Orleans, Chichen Itza, and the Bayou - you'll kill corrupt officials, scale spires, upgrade weapons and leverage the power of the Brotherhood to ultimately drive occupying un-American forces from Louisiana. You're not led into the world through the mind of Desmond Miles but Abstergo's shady framework, the corporation letting participants explore the past through memories of their ancestors whilst reclining in the Animus.
Its fourth-wall-breaking mysteries recall Gamecube's seminal Eternal Darkness...
This is a crucial difference. You're not on the run from the system; you're in it. Throughout, a figure called Erudito launches hack attacks via DOS-style screens and issues fourth-wall-breaking warnings which recall GameCube's Eternal Darkness in all its mind-melting glory (and, more recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum). In fact, Erudito gives what could easily have been franchise-filler, real depth and mystery, playing on the revelation that there's someone on the inside.
"Abstergo thinks it can tack the word 'entertainment' on its name and hide the truth," he writes among dancing command prompts and initially confusing alien symbols. It's an intriguing, unexpected move, adding even more texture to the series' mythology - and one that will leave you wondering whether he's working for you or against you.
Conspiracy aside, this is the sort of condensed extension the PSP was famous for, in danger of diluting its brand by offering nothing more than the ability to play it during trips to the toilet. But perhaps that's no bad thing. While lacking the juice to render more than a dozen men on screen at once, and often suffering under the twin effects of rough edges and texture pop-in, Liberation is, it must be said, one of the biggest games ever committed to handheld.
In structure and content, it's a full-scale Assassin's Creed game, throwing in some Vita-exclusive features for good measure: pickpocketing with the touchscreen, paddling canoes with rhythmic swipes on the touchpad, and opening the odd letter by drawing thumb and forefinger along both sides of the Vita in a tearing motion.
While novel, their propensity to only occasionally work automatically relegates them to second fiddle compared to traditional alternatives which work one hundred percent of the time. The perspective may be cramped, but this is classic Creed, bypassing the decision to chop things into portable chunks like most handheld games, in favour of full-length missions that don't give a damn whether you're on the bus or not.
In an early one, you'll attempt to save a family business from a slanderous rival who alleges their coffee "makes fit men limp". First, you'll seek the owner with Eagle Vision, which highlights items of importance in glowing colours, then interrogate him and his crew using either fists or weapons - double wrist blades, poison blowpipe, pistol, sword or smoke bomb - then report back.
Later, you'll travel to a loamy wildlife-infested Bayou to protect settlers from escaped slaves, battle crocs in quick-time-events, and at one point crash a swamp party to kill smugglers in the midst of some voodoo ritual. There are often several ways to complete goals: you can pick off stragglers from the safety of tree tops, which can be traversed to save slow treads through boggy swamps, or you can use blowpipes whilst hiding in dead grass, or just wade in machete first.
Unladylike pursuits such as these depend on how you dress. Swapping your arsenal for a dainty pink parasol and bonnet lets you infiltrate high society whilst sacrificing freerunning; slave rags allow you to hide amongst farmhands, and traditional Assassin's Creed Brotherhood robes are key to better combat performance.
To unlock new attire, ammo and weapons large and small, you'll need money. Out goes shop investment, in comes international trade. You'll purchase ships and bulks of goods like sugar and cotton, then send them on money-making voyages that hopefully don't succumb to hurricanes or pirate raids. It's no more in-depth than navigating a series of menus, but it's an extra layer of strategy all the same.
Indeed, Liberation is a game requiring thought, whether that brainpower's put to work unravelling conspiracy theories, dismantling enemy outposts, picking routes through dense Bayou undergrowth or simply making money. So by all means, enjoy Abstergo's 'product', but watch out - they're watching you.
Some rough edges, but this is a quality game on a machine lacking in console-calibre blockbusters. Just remember, the score is relative to the platform.
- Structurally similar to its console brother
- Packed with mystery and conspiracy
- Zipping through the Bayou's treeline
- Looks rough compared to consoles - and it invites the comparison
- The three hubs aren't as big as Rome, Venice or Boston