While we wait for 2014’s major releases, the HD remakes are helping us to pass the time. First Halo: Spartan Assault. Tomb Raider is coming in two weeks.

And right now, we have Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD.

Originally starting life as a Vita exclusive, the game released at the same time as Assassin’s Creed 3 and is set during the same time-period and area. This is the first ever Assassin’s Creed title to put a female in the leading role and it introduces a few new ideas and mechanics not previously used in the series.

Still, this was a handheld exclusive and aside from an overhauled engine, has remained largely unchanged in its transition to home consoles. Which begs the burning question: Should it have stayed on handhelds?

Another one already??

I’ve just come off spending a solid month playing Black Flag. Without question, Black Flag is my favourite Creed title. Over one hundred hours have been spent trying to accomplish everything and I’ve had an amazing time doing it. Experiencing the piratey adventures in full 1080p on Playstation 4 has totally brought me back onboard with the series.

However, after synchronising over 80 viewpoints, tailing dozens of enemies for secret information, collecting sunken treasures and upgrading my warship by grinding out sea battles, it’s safe to say I could do with a bit of a break. At least until the end of the year where we might expect to see a follow-up.

In many respects, the release of Liberation is poor timing. Many people are either still wading through the high seas with Kenway, or others, like me, have had their fill of the series for the time being and are willing to wait. In other ways, its genius timing as there is absolutely no other competition on any other format right now and people are desperate for a new game after the Christmas break.

Still, the risk of Assassin’s Creed fatigue is already a very real threat in 2014.

Yes, this is Assassin’s Creed on a budget. Liberation can be a nice entry point for people wanting to experience newer forms of Assassin’s Creed but don’t want to pay full retail whack for it. It’s also a nice side story for fans as it neatly ties into some events in both Assassin’s Creed 3 and 4.

It’s also very refreshing to have a female lead steering the narrative ship. Aveline De Grandpre is an interesting character and does help to orchestrate a compelling game.

But with two Assassin’s Creed games rumoured for release this year on top of Liberation, are Ubisoft pushing their luck?

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But I just did this… 

Unfortunately, Liberation doesn’t have Black Flag’s charm and elegance, nor is Aveline anywhere near as charismatic or engaging as Kenway, and despite the game actually releasing before Kenway’s piratey exploits, playing it post-Jackdaw is a real slog. The problem here is that the mission structure in Liberation is bland and you quickly notice the repetition in synchronisation activities due to frustrating to reach viewpoints and poor variety in things to do. This is purposefully condensed to cater to a handheld audience, but that structure just doesn’t feel appropriate on my Xbox 360.

But that’s not the major problem with this HD remake. Graphically, Liberation is utterly sluggish. When moving a fully formed 3D game from a small, 7.2” screen to a 42” TV with differing processors powering the product, I’m sure you can imagine the issues. As a result, everything looks stretched, from character models to buildings. The draw-distance is noticeably poor compared to Vita. Because you have a bigger field of vision, small, escapable details on a handheld are brought into the limelight. Long-range, it works quite well and covers a large scope, but is short-sighted and graphics up close are difficult to digest. Buildings are only several houses deep and you’ll find the environment is constantly having to keep up with you and never quite managing it.

Therein lies another problem. Vita’s slower pace has also been ported across, ensuring the entire experience is clunky. The camera leaps and skips, struggling to keep up with a straight pan-around (this is especially noticeable during viewpoint synchronisation). However, it really starts to chug when there’s a lot of action on-screen. Fight sequences, for instance, can be a complete chore.

When up-close, the graphics are a real eye-sore. Whereas Black Flag proudly showed off the ripples and flexing in the water, you’re noticing bits, pixels and odd colouring in haystacks after close-ups from a Leap of Faith. It quickly becomes clear where the game originated from. In addition, the lighting and shading in some areas of the environment just seems out of place, overly vibrant or too dull.

And while this is nitpicking, the menu screens are jagged and ugly, and the transition between map and main game lacks the seamlessness of console Creed releases.

I understand this is a lesser-made release and should be considered as such, but when coming off such a series high, both mechanically and visually, Liberation can be a real bitter pill to swallow.

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So, it’s a total washout 

No, not at all. There’s actually some fun to be found. Liberation just feels like a series of missed opportunities. For instance, unique to Liberation is the ability to change Aveline’s clothes and for those changes to have actual effects on the environment. Aveline can be her standard, assassin self, drawing a considerable amount of attention to her. She can also dress up as a Slave girl, making it much easier for her to blend in with crowds and keep out of sight. She can also attire herself as a lady willing to show off a bit of bewb. As a lady, Aveline can charm guards, placing them in a trance and easily moving them away from their posts.

But outside of their initial introduction, the necessity of changing costumes quickly loses muster. A shame, as the idea could have been expanded quite considerably, providing a differing experience from its bigger siblings.

And then there’s the narrative twists and turns befitting a female protagonist. During cutscenes and story-based sections, there’s a very different feel and the team have clearly enjoyed exploring the dynamics of having a female protagonist. The voice-overs are brilliantly remastered and the interactions work wonderfully. Unfortunately once you’re into the game and in the middle of the action, you’ll forget Aveline is a woman. She just becomes another Assassin with a hood and its business as normal. And the rest of the sound is badly muffled and lacking any kind of emphasis or improved definition. It just falls flat.

Still, the core of the experience is entertaining enough. The area diversity is nice to see and there’s an interesting cast of characters outside of our protagonist. Although Missions are over fairly quickly and Sequences change within the blink of an eye. If you’re just wanting story, Liberation will fly by. Spend a bit of time hunting for extras, however, and the hours will keep piling up.

Areas for Improvement

I’m not sure a lot can be done or patched out/fixed up, though areas that could be improved are as follows…

  • Improve frame rate and speed of overall product
  • Enhance textures and resolution even further to make the game more visually appealing
  • Improve overall menu navigation
  • Enhance the sound effects

Final Analysis

I’m convinced my Black Flag experience has clouded some of my judgement, but having played the game on my Vita prior to Black Flag and coming into Liberation post Black Flag makes me realise this  – It’s not an altogether memorable game and this is not a particularly good port. While the game has benefitted from some HD polish, textures are far too stretched, animations are clunky, the transition to a 42” screen does not do Liberation any justice whatsoever and the experience is quite bland as a whole.

Still, if you’re desperate for more Creed, want further narrative emphasis or are just intrigued how a female Assassin does the bidness, Liberation is well worth it at the £15 budget price. There’s a lot of content to get out of this release and it will tide you over until more releases hit in early February.

Just don’t expect to remember anything about it come December 2014.