Last week at Ubisoft, in addition to playing through a big honking naval battle in the full console version of Assassin's Creed III, I also had a chance to get my hands on its portable Vita counterpart, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation.
In the portable game, players take on the role of Aveline de Grandpré, a female assassin in 1700's New Orleans, and the first female protagonist of an Assassin's Creed game. I played the game for the first time, during which time I navigated a bayou and killed some dudes, and I also watched a hands-off (no touching!) portion in which Aveline donned a number of costumes and infiltrated a Spanish base.
This one had enough going on that it'll probably be easiest to just bullet-point it. So, let's start with the hands-off infiltration section.
No Touching! Hands Off!
- Aveline has access to a number of dressing rooms scattered about the city—in them, she can change between costumes that hinder her abilities but make it easier for her to blend in.
- The outfits I saw were the "Lady" outfit and the "Slave" outfit, which my demonstrator referred to as the "Servant" outfit, but which the game called "Slave." Not a huge deal, but I'm still getting a sense of how direct the game will be with the realities of slavery in the south.
- The third outfit I saw was Aveline's regular assassin's garb—whens he's wearing that, she's somewhat suspicious-looking by default, and templars will be alerted to her if she acts too conspicuously.
- First, my demonstrator donned the "Lady" outfit, a posh green getup that has Aveline looking like a proper southern lady, complete with bustle and parasol.
- When dressed as a lady, Aveline arouses much less suspicion, but she she should be spotted in a restricted area, she's in trouble—it's very difficult to fight and impossible to climb walls while wearing the restrictive dress, and her health is far lower than when she's in her tough regular gear.
- Aveline does arouse some other things—she's able to charm single enemies and have them follow her around, granting access to restricted areas. In order to break into the fort we were tasked with infiltrating, my demonstrator did just this, getting a lovestruck guard to help Aveline make her way inside (before knocking him out cold.)
- Aveline won't be defenseless when she's dressed as a lady—she'll still have her trusty hidden blade, and her parasol is, awesomely, a blowgun that shoots darts with a variety of deadly and non-deadly poison.
- While infiltrating the fort, she used one of those darts to make an enemy go berserk and attack the guy next to him, buying herself time to enter the fort. It's much the same as the poison darts from the past couple Creed games, but still fun to see in action.
- A quick stab and a looting later, and Aveline had secured whatever macguffin it was we were supposed to be getting. My demonstrator was sure to point out that dressed as a lady, exfiltrations are much more difficult, as Aveline can't just climb a wall and leap to safety.
- One cool thing I saw during the infiltration was that Aveline has the ability to intelligently lean into the wall and peek around corners—it's not exactly a cover mechanic, but it's something I've missed in past Creed games and it made it much easier to play the game like a true old-school stealth game.
- After being spotted, Lady Aveline escaped her attackers in the easiest way possible—she dropped a smoke bomb and bailed.
- Our time was running out, so it was time to try out the slave/servent garb. This dress is much looser and more casual than the lady outfit, and so Aveline can climb and is able to use her bullwhip, but her health is still lower than when she's in her normal garb, and so combat is best avoided.
- This time, Aveline infiltrated the fort by picking up a delivery and pretending to work there—it was a different route, but just as effective as charming the guard and heading in.
- Had he wanted to, my demonstrator could have incited a riot with the other servants, using that as a distraction to make an entrance.
- In general, I got the sense that the outfits will add a lot of variety to the gameplay in Liberation, but that they'll only be necessary for a few specific story quests, sort of like the lute-player outfit in Assassin's Creed: Revelations.
- After the hands-off demonstration, I had a chance to try actually playing the game for the first time.
- Aveline was meeting a contact in the bayou, which will be one of the three main areas in the game—the other two are New Orleans and Mexico. The areas won't be seamlessly connected—players will spend time in one, the other, or the other.
- The very first thing I got to do in Assassin's Creed on the Vita was… row a canoe. Okay! Not that exciting, but I'll take it I guess?
- I rowed the canoe using the rear-touch pad on the vita. It, like many rear-touch things, was uncomfortable.
- (Go ahead. Make your jokes. Have your laughs.)
- After piloting my canoe through a bit of the bayou, I met up with a contact who, I was informed, doesn't much care for Aveline. I couldn't hear everything that was being said, as there were a lot of blabbing games journalists in the background.
- After disembarking, Aveline was attacked by an alligator; clearly there will be wildlife to contend with in Liberation just like there will be in ACIII proper.
- With a quick quicktime-event, I hopped onto the gator's head and broke his neck. Woah, go ahead Aveline.
- After that, my contact set me after a
SpanishTemplar encampment nearby.
- Once on foot, I got a sense of how Liberation controls. It feels good, more or less like a regular Assassin's Creed game—I wasn't quite used to the single shoulder-button method of control, but I adjusted quickly.
- Making my way into the enemy encampment, I quickly back-stabbed one guard and was set upon by all the others.
- Combat in Liberation is quite different than combat in previous Creed games, most crucially in that you can't just hold down "block" and block all incoming attacks. You'd be surprised at how much more difficult that makes things—a big improvement for a series that, as I've mentioned before, could do with a difficulty increase.
- On the flip side of the new difficulty is the quicktime event instakills—if you have a certain amount of energy stored up (I think that's how it works, anyway), you can trigger a slow-mo sequence where you tap the numbers over enemies' heads and kill them instantly. It's not something you can spam all the time (I don't think), but it's useful and makes the game easier for those who want that. It is, of course, optional.
- After clearing out the guards (by the skin of my teeth, it must be said), I was left with one more enemy perched high atop a lookout post. I climbed up the mast of a ship that had been grounded in the camp, leapt from branch to branch and up to his lookout post, where I chopped him in the back of the knees with my sword before… woah, before ramming my sword into the back of his skull. Yow. And so ended the hands-on section, not with a bang, but with a skull-sword.
The best thing I can say about Liberation is that it really does feel like Assassin's Creed on a mobile gaming device. (That may sound like faint praise, but it's not—given how disappointing the first footage of Call of Duty on Vita was, it's mighty impressive that Ubisoft's Vita foray is as good-looking as it is.) Liberation is very much its own game, and one with a few tricks up its sleeve to differentiate it from its console big brother.
And hey, not many games let you dress up as a high-class lady and wipe dudes out with a weaponized parasol.
Snapping teeth and waiting guards;
Bring your parasol!