perjantai 11. heinäkuuta 2014

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD | Xbox 360 | 2014

GENRE(S): Action / Stealth
RELEASED: January 14, 2014 (PS3)
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Eood

With a new Assassin's Creed game on the way - again - and perhaps even another one, it's only natural to get pumped up about the franchise again, even if it doesn't look that promising to me on a personal level. Instead of taking the earlier major installments to the umpteenth ride, I ducked the horrors of the first game, Assassin's Creed: Revelations and the only occasional, yet notable slumps of Assassin's Creed III by taking on Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD. What we have here was originally released as Assassin's Creed III: Liberation on the PlayStation Vita, parallel to the release of Assassin's Creed III on major platforms. Although the game had some unique ideas, such as the first female protagonist in the series and a Persona system that allowed switching between three different character types, and finally, although it was the first handheld Assassin's Creed game to be implemented with all of the series' most important gameplay features, it was pretty much destroyed by critics for lacking excitement, a decent story, or any ties to the modern day storyline of the franchise for that matter, among other things. Despite all the criticism, the game was brought to us major platform owners as a digital high-definition re-release in the beginning of the year. The little respect that critics had for the game got lost the minute the game went online. As a die-hard fan of the franchise, I had to check the game out sooner or later, and I've gotta say it's not as bad as you might think.

Lé Médiocre

Amber Goldfarb : Aveline de Grandpré
Tristan D. Lalla : Agate
Noah Watts : Ratonhnhaké:ton, "Connor"
Leni Parker : Madeleine de L'Isle
Olivier Lamarche : Gerald Blanc
Marcel Jeannin : Philippe Olivier de Grandpré / Carlos Dominguez
Conrad Pla : Diego Vasquez
Christian Paul : George Davidson
Kwasi Songui : Baptiste

New Orleans in 1763 has just been taken over by the Spanish government controlled by the Templar order. Abandoned by her real mother and adopted by a noble couple as a child, Aveline de Grandpré has spent her adult years training under the master Assassin Agate. Now it's time for her to put her skills to good use - but for which cause does she ultimately fight for?

Five years into Assassin's Creed II, I still get excited about a new Assassin's Creed game on any operating system, despite all the setbacks. Even Black Flag, as great as it was, couldn't hold a candle to Assassin's Creed II, the way the latter was at launch. Assassin's Creed II made me a fan of the franchise, and honestly, I don't think I could say no to a sandbox game nowadays, especially if one is presented to me at a relatively low price like this, and triple that if it's even slightly reminiscent of Assassin's Creed. And well, I read the reviews after I had already rushed in on a whim and downloaded the game. With the next new game on my list of pre-orders still a few months away, I started this project of deflowering the unplayed part of my collection alphabetically, and Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD was among the first games there - and the one game I've played enough thus far to write a review of. I didn't have a whole lot of expectations, it's a good thing I didn't too, but I've spent my time worse than this.

From afar, it looks like any old Assassin's
The first thing you need to do, especially if you're a fan, is switch off all expectations of a great story and characters. The story's disjointed all over the ether; a small part of it is kind of an Assassin's Creed III sidestory co-starring Ratonhnhaké:ton, obviously there just to promote the major installment that came out the same day as this one. The rest of it is just an incoherent collective of a few messes, somewhat saved by the fact that a female main character is a fresh idea and paves the way for a few more. I'm not a fan of her, though, or any of the shallow NPC's for that matter. The most major flaw with the story is that even though it's made clear that you're in the Animus, there's no modern-day sidestep whatsoever in the whole game - thus, Liberation has no place in the timeline of the franchise, and poor Aveline's just an unrelated stock character who's been graced with a few compensations. Let's get the audiovisuals out of the way before delving into those assets.

Whenever a game from a handheld system is "remade" in HD, you know exactly what it's going to look like. Some people have the misconception that it's a whole new developmental process with these games, but the only development that takes place is optimization for the target system and a large-scale high-definition display. I know most people think I'm pointing out the obvious here, but just to make sure. To not beat around the bush any longer, Assassin's Creed: Liberation is rough, blurry, and in a word, quite ugly. That's what happens with these games when they're scaled up. The map isn't as big as it seems, nor is it very interesting or distinctive. Surprisingly, it's a more vertical game than its major counterpart, though - you'll be doing a lot more climbing in urban environments. Like its counterpart, Liberation has its own scaled-down version of "the frontier", called "the bayou", which is basically a murky swamp with a few inhabited and fortified areas, and a few indoor levels accessible for one time only within the confines of the boring storyline.

The music, on the other hand, is... should I say legendary. I'm quite serious, Liberation might very well pack one of the greatest soundtracks in the whole series. Composer Winifred Phillips' resumé includes assistance on God of War, several contributions to the LittleBigPlanet series and dozens of radio plays. I was quite dumbfounded when I realized that I'm actually humming to the background music while doing some typical sandbox errands for hours, that rarely happens. The combat music is awesome and just gets better towards the end, as the boring story comes to its boring climax. After playing through the major counterpart just once, nothing about this game really surprises you anymore. But, like I said, at least you're seeing it through with some great tunes backing you up.

Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD is surprisingly unlimited. In terms of general gameplay, you can do almost anything you could in Assassin's Creed III. In addition to the story missions and their optional objectives, there are a few factions you can help on several side missions, which don't even repeat themselves all that much. They're just poetically uninteresting and it's the staleness of the environment itself which serves the final disappointment. What's completely new about the game, and probably a one-off deal until the next female Assassin comes along, is the Persona system. There are three different gameplay styles, and exclusive side missions and collectibles for each of them.

...That girl's so tiny, though!
As a default Assassin, Aveline has every skill in the book at her disposal, but always 25% notoriety, and tangling with the guards raises the bar fast. (The guards have crappy A.I. though, very easy to manipulate if you've played these games before.) By unlocking Dressing Chambers around the city - even around the bayou - you can choose from two other outfit options at most times. Wearing the Slave attire, you have slightly weaker combat skills and you gain notoriety the fastest, but only if you free-run or engage in combat; just walking around even on some restricted areas is OK, since everybody in this city has at least one pet slave and no guard is dumb enough to piss off your employers without good reason, no matter who your employers are. Last, the Lady. The Lady might seem the weakest Persona in the bunch, as you're utterly denied of any free-running and not only are your combat skills weak, your weaponry is also very limited, and limited to very close-range stealth combat, until you get the Lady's signature weapon, the umbrella. However, the Lady might very well be the way to solve half of the game's problems most efficiently, as you're able to tease singled-out guards to leave their posts and lure them to secluded corners where their high hopes of some high-class poontang end with a sharp blade stuck into their groin. Also, you can go almost anywhere by foot. Even if someone catches you red-handed while you're dressed as the Lady, your notoriety goes up very slow to compensate for the Lady's lack of free-run ability. This system isn't perfect, but it's fresh and it has potential, and I hope the franchise gets the chance to take full advantage of a more polished system in the future.

Since most of the story focuses on Aveline's uncertainty as to which side she's on throughout the game's second half, she never becomes a master of the Assassin order, so there's no training going to happen. A simple(-minded) and dull Trading system's - later done much better in Black Flag - been brought in for Aveline to spread around the world to collect money and assets. I feel no need to go into the details since I got bored of it after just a couple of rounds.

Enough with the French! Say it! Say it!
Requiescat in pace!
There are plenty of collectibles for each Persona and in general. Perhaps even too much, as there are only extra clothes and weapons to get for going for these, and you'll do fine right up 'til the end with minimal spunk. Of course the HD versions have Trophies and Achievements for some extra incentive; 35 to be exact, which is a rare and huge amount for a digital download, even if it is a part of a major franchise. The problem is that you will have enough of the game just by stomping through the storyline; after you're done with the usual viewpoint search and focus the game on the ground, the staleness of the environment gets on your nerves extremely fast, and getting to the end credits might very well be your one and only goal. It's quite rewarding, as you're treated to some of the best bits of the soundtrack there.

So, in a nutshell, Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD is a good play for the most undemanding Assassin's Creed fan. It's definitely Assassin's Creed, with more glitches, less diverse environment, less connection to the franchise timeline, uglier graphics, crappier story and crappier A.I. than usual. It has some fresh ideas and surprisingly diverse mission scripts to keep it afloat. The price is not too hot to handle, either - although I personally paid more for this game than I did for each of the first two games in the franchise. Recommendable for those most undemanding fans, everyone else will inevitably find the game mediocre.

+ The basic Assassin's Creed gameplay
+ The music is awesome
+ The mission outlines keep changing
+ The Persona system has a lot of potential - only works for a female protagonist, though

- Shoddy story and characters, they've no place in the timeline
- Boring level design
- Rough and blurry graphics
- Crappy enemy A.I.
- The Trading system
- Plus some random, yet notable glitches

< 6.5 >

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