The Vita is a powerful little handheld, but not a particularly popular one. It can deliver gameplay experiences comparable to the PlayStation 3, but doesn’t have anywhere near as big of an install base. That’s why many companies are porting their Vita games to the PS3 at later dates. Ubisoft is the latest company to showcase a PS3 Vita port in the recently released Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD.
Unlike Sony’s previous attempts with God of War’s PSP games which looked primitive and out of place on PS3 architecture regardless of their HD overhaul, Assassin’s Creed Liberation redoes its graphics from square one. This isn’t just an upres, it’s one of the best looking HD remakes we have seen yet.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way -- Liberation HD isn’t a “remix.” It doesn’t have oodles of extra content or side missions. There is some extra content, but it is short, fleeting and easily missed if you aren’t fresh off a replay of the Vita version. What you see is what you get, and you are basically getting the same Assassin’s Creed Liberation experience… although it is a whole lot nicer to see.
The graphical overhaul of Liberation HD is astounding. Of course, you can expect higher resolution textures, further draw distances, a more responsive camera, and all those other neat little upgrades that we have come to expect from HD remakes, but Liberation HD goes one step further. It actually features redone models for pretty much every character. This, coupled with a more complex lighting system, really does make Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD look like it was designed for the PlayStation 3 platform. You can see sweat glistening on character's faces and watch the light reflect off the waves in the ocean.
Even environments and levels have been redone so as to be mechanically identical, but vastly improved. Rooms that were barren before now hold objects that make them feel more complete, like paintings. Trees and bushes feel fuller, responding as you move through them.
Then there are the animations, which also have gotten a complete overhaul. Facial animations in particular look far better than they did on the Vita. Character interactions look a little bit less stiff and a little bit more organic. On the whole, there was something that felt almost puppet like about character movements and appearance in the Vita version, but in the PS3 version that uncanny valley effect is nowhere to be seen. Ubisoft didn’t just do a quick find/replace on textures here, they really dug in deep and added a ton of detail.
The PS3 is also just a better platform for Assassin’s Creed Liberation. One of the most common complaints about the original were the unresponsive controls. The Vita buttons were dodgy and would produce dropped inputs at times. Whether that’s a software or hardware problem we don’t know, but we do know that the problem is nowhere to be found when playing on a standard PS3 controller.
The Vita version’s touch screen puzzles have also been taken out, which will be a hit or miss decision for some Assassin’s Creed fans out there. Arguably, these puzzles gave the Vita version its own identity, but it’s hard to deny that the touch controls were spotty at best and frustrating at worst. In our opinion, the PS3 version is simply better off without them.
Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is a perfect game for anyone who was frustrated with Assassin’s Creed IV. It feels more like Assassin’s Creed II and III than IV. It’s very straight forward and focuses on the assassination and stealth missions that the franchise is known for. If Assassin’s Creed IV felt too big, then Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD will be a worthy replacement.
Unfortunately, this is a double edged assassin sword. While Liberation focuses on the Assassin’s Creed gameplay that we have come to know and love, it does so with tunnel vision. A lot of the missions feel very similar, and the gameplay gets repetitive about halfway through. Combat is, unfortunately, shallow, and feels like a stripped down version of the main series’ combat engine. You’ll eventually find yourself putting it down for long periods of time, or gritting your teeth and pushing through the final chapters like it’s some sort of chore.
Liberation tries to mix things up by introducing a new system where Aveline, the main character, can change her outfit in order to blend in (a lot like the Hitman series). Unfortunately, there are only three outfits to choose from and two of them don’t give you access to all your weapons and abilities. Because of this, you’ll basically ignore the outfit system for all but a few very specific missions. There’s also a trade able strategy game that acts as a diversion, but while this might have been a great idea on the Vita when you could play a few rounds on the bus, on a console it just feels like a waste of time.
Despite these negatives, Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD is fun. Aveline is still a fantastic character, with an incredible personality that is just saturated with wit. She’s incredibly progressive as far as female characters go, and her story deserves to be played by any fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Despite its phenomenal graphical upgrades, it still feels like a portable title. It’s very much better than its Vita counterpart, but mechanically it feels like it was meant for play in short bursts rather than long console gaming binges. If you already played the original Liberation, you can probably look this one over, but if you haven’t, then by all means pick it up. Heck, if you have the Assassin’s Creed IV Season Pass, you can pick up this game at a discount, and at only $15, it’s one of the best values you’ll get out of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
This review was based on a retail version of Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD for the PS3.