I've just had a chance to see a hands-off demo of Assassin's Creed: Liberation, the new Assassin's Creed game exclusive to Sony's handheld Vita. I've complained in the past that Assassin's Creed combat is way too easy, and yet this newest iteration in the franchise manages to make combat even easier.

Though well, it also makes combat harder. Let me explain.

In broad strokes, the game plays similarly to other Assassin's Creed games. As I watched, the protagonist, a Creole woman named Aveline, crept along a rooftop above some Spanish guards—in the game's setting of New Orleans, the Spanish and French are fighting, and the Spanish are the Templar bad guys. In true Assassin's Creed fashion, Aveline took a couple of them down in one flying leap.

What happened next was a surprise, though. The action paused, the color faded, and icons lit up over the remaining soldiers. My demonstrator then tagged the soldiers using the Vita's touch screen, and Aveline automatically wiped them out, one at a time.

This power, called a "chain kill," isn't some one-time-only superpower; it's something players can do whenever they want, and is designed to let players who don't want to deal with long swordfights bypass them.

Of course, it's optional, so if you want a more challenging experience, you can forgo the chain kills. Interestingly enough, the chain kills seem to have been added because the core combat has (actually!) been made more difficult. Ubisoft giveth, and Ubisoft taketh away.

The added difficulty comes because there's no longer a perpetual block button—players can't just hold down the button and then mash the "counter" button to do an instakill. Instead, you have to feint and draw opponents out, then perform counters while remaining vulnerable to attack. I didn't have a chance to play the game, but as I watched my demonstrator get his ass kicked by some spanish guards, it became clear that he was unable to do the old Assassin's Creed block-parry two-step.

A few other things I noticed about the game:

  • Liberation has a dedicated jump button, the X button. The right trigger runs, but doesn't automatically jump at ledges—instead, you have to press X to jump. That's a big change from a series that typically hasn't had a real jump button.
  • I watched a sequence similar to more recent console games' horse and buggy chase sequences; the demonstrator tapped the touch screen to increase the horses' speed and held his finger down to make them slow down. I'm unsold on how fun this would be, but then, I didn't like those sequences in the console games either.
  • The game will have an economy like in the console games, though it will be different and "exclusive to the Vita," whatever that means.
  • We have confirmation on the alligators in the bayou sections. There will be alligators. Alligators!
  • The top devs did the requisite fact-finding trip to New Orleans, and a lot of the city's famous buildings are looking mighty nice.
  • Aveline's animations are totally new, and use the same animation tools as Assassin's Creed III; Aveline has a lot of Connor's moves, including pulling up an enemy as a human shield when faced with gunmen.
  • Aveline has a machete, which I didn't see used, and a blow-gun, which I did. While she was in one of the series' ubiquitous haystacks, she fired off a dart that poisoned one guard, luring another over to his location for a good neck-stabbing.
  • The characters in the game are all based on real historical figures, with the exception of Aveline herself; she's an amalgamation. If a character in the game dies, they died in real life at the same time.

  • And here's a cool "360 video" of Aveline's various gear, including her new weaponry.