Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review - Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation

It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and yet expecting a different result each time.  After playing and beating my fifth 'real' Assassin's Creed game (Bloodlines and the DS one don't count, yes I have them, yes I've played them) and finding myself with the exact same feelings as the last four (or the last three at least, there was a bit of a time gap, admittedly) I'm finding it fairly hard to disagree.  This isn't a wholly negative thing, of course, as there's not really an Assassin's Creed game that I actively dislike, save for 2, but that's mostly because I just really didn't like Ezio prior to Brotherhood, but the issue is that people are absolutely enthralled with these games.  I am not and even worse, I cannot imagine myself considering them the absolute gems that these folks praise them as.  While I may not disagree as vehemently as I do with, say, Final Fantasy XIII-2, because I don't think Assassin's Creed, as a franchise nor any individual game, is a bad thing like FFXIII-2, but I similarly just do not get it.

Perhaps it's the part of me that just really, really dislikes games that are released buggy and summarily never, ever fixed in a satisfactory manner.  If there was ever a complaint you could leverage at the series, that would certainly be it, though moreso in the later titles given their considerably shorter development times.  The idea that you actually cannot run into a gate for the little First-Person mini-games in Assassin's Creed:  Revelations without crashing the game, something that literally will never be fixed for the PS3 version at least, is a ridiculous one in all fashions, but it's a reality.  That's a rather egregious issue, granted, and one of the few larger ones, but its presence would indicate that several smaller problems are present and given the gripes folks had with Assassin's Creed 3 in that department, it's most definitely a thing for the series.  As expected, especially upon considering that AssLib is built on Ass3's engine, the Vita's AC game is rife with little bugs that are quite annoying to be sure.

Possibly the most annoying thing I encountered in the single-player mode was an instance in which I hopped off the roof and lodged my Sugarcane Machete into the chest of a guard, switched to a different weapon for the other one and, following the fight, I noticed that my Machete was gone.  Like, I had an empty inventory slot and everything.  It wasn't still in the guard since, as far as I can tell, your weapons do not leave your person ever (unfortunately, flinging a greataxe in AssBro and AssRev was so goddamn fun) and it wasn't on the ground.  It had just disappeared into the aether.  Or, I suppose, back in the weapon rack at the home base, which I went to to retrieve it from.  It was a little thing to be sure, but after a little googling, it's apparent that it's not an incident isolated to just me, nor just to the machete which is a bit of a problem to say the least.

It was also the stand-out in a sea of audio desynching from attacks (prime example is the "shik-shik-shik-shik-shik-shik from the multi-stab kill that would play....even if the attack wasn't triggered), the game constantly telling me my target was too far away when, in truth, I was not targeting anything, and things appearing on the map that I can only describe as ghost chests because they certainly are not where they're supposed to be, I can tell you that.  Plus, the game had an annoying little habit of putting down my manual checkpoint at a random location in the north after I'd used it to get to a chest and opened it.  Moving it rather know, just taking it off the map, the thing that makes sense to do.  Another issue right at the start of the game in one of the very first missions.  In teaching you how to use Eagle Vision, you're prompted to go to the top of a building and use Eagle Vision to locate your target building.  I'm told it will glow gold with Eagle Vision activated.  I say this because said building looked like every other building and it was only dumb luck that I stumbled onto it and triggered the next scene.  I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the point.

Also this happened.  A lot.
None of that is really indicative of what AssLib -is-, however, simply being something of an indication of what shape it was in.  (And this is after the patch that fixed the issue with Game Saves randomly erasing themselves as well as fixing some other bugs)  What Assassin's Creed 3:  Liberation -is- is a fully-realized Assasin's Creed title that fits in your hands rather comfortably on the Playstation Vita.  That in itself is rather high praise and bugs aside, I cannot think of a lot of negatives to say about it on the -game- side of things, aside from the normal complaints that I have about like all of the Assassin's Creed games.  When I say that it's an AC game, I'm not really making any caveats aside from that it's perhaps a bit short.  Still, I would assume that it had even less of a development time than any other Assassin's Creed game before it, so that's quite understandable.

AssLib begins by thrusting you directly into the role of Aveline de Grandpré, the Assassin for this go around.  And when I say it thrusts you into the role, I mean -you- as there is not exactly a person on the outside of the Animus.  Instead, the animus of this game is presented as something of a Mass-Market device released, of course, by Abstergo, with the end-goal being taking the Assassins down a peg in public opinion.  (Even though it would be a theoretical public opinion since Assassins and Templars both operate unknown)  I'm not going to tell you how it really attempts this, but that should be fairly obvious enough and regardless, it's a fairly neat touch doing it that way, rather than tying it to DNA memories and this and that.  I'm not really sure of the entire end-goal of this aside from, again, making it public opinion that Assassins kind of suck and the Templars who totally don't exist are righteous, but perhaps that is something for a future game.  Or maybe it was just a hook for AssLib.

Aveline is a pretty good protagonist to have for an Assassin's Creed game even though her backstory isn't nearly as fleshed out as Altair's or Ezio's, purely by nature of having only a single game and a shorter than normal one at that.  The important bits are explained as you go through it, of course and a nifty little feature is Citizen E or Erudito who is somebody that has managed to hack your Animus, showing you extra bits of story here and there when you find one of his marks.  This, of course, takes a little bit away from the Templar's aims, showing you the 'true' nature of things as they were, forgoing the careful editting that has clearly been done by Abstergo agents to control what the public sees.  And as a feature of story-telling, it's also pretty neat since you're generally seeing these bits after-the-fact so you can compare what 'really' happened to what you saw originally.

What seems to set Aveline apart from the other protagonists that we've had is one of the main gameplay mechanics in the Persona mechanic.  No, no, not that Persona, but a more tangible, more literal form of it in that you have three guises with which you can use to your advantage through the game.  As the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Aveline is fairly well-to-do and thus can walk about town in the Lady Persona which is for your more clandestine activities.  You cannot free run with it, but you can bribe and charm guards to get by and if you really -need- to, you've always got your Wrist blades and eventually a parasol gun.  Driven by a sense of righteousness, Aveline can also don a Slave's Persona, blending in with other indentured servants to get close to a particular Slave master or something of the sort and end his particular reign.  And of course, you have the Assassin Persona which we all know and love, with all of the normal trappings and such that you're used to.  All three different guises serve a purpose and all three have a nice effect of reflecting part of Aveline's personality, allowing us as the player to get insight into her that is otherwise unspoken.

I never, ever get tired of the death drop.

Because of the Persona mechanic and the new engine from AC3, gameplay mechanics have been changed in fairly noticeable ways, some of them for the better and some...perhaps not quite so much.  Something definitely high up on the awesome list is actually the free-running which saw a marked improvement from previous iterations in my eyes.  It's faster and more fluid, cutting off those moments of hesitation that Ezio seemed to have while climbing a goddamn Borgia Tower seriously just grab the fucking grip Ezio COME ON as well as just being, well, speedier all around.  Getting from the ground to a rooftop takes barely any time as Aveline grabs this and that, moving upwards all the while.  It's not perfect as there's instances, as with all AC games, where it just doesn't work properly, but this saw a pretty nice upgrade from AssBro/Rev which makes it much more useable.  And as we've learned previously, New Orleans is a rather Parkour-friendly place which is certainly just as true for AssLib as it's ever been.

On the flip-side, the combat mechanics have seen a drastic hit in terms of quality and, in a way, it kind of makes perfect sense.  What we're use to with the last three releases is Ezio as it becomes more and more of a honed, fine-tuned murder machine, spending more of his life training in the art of killing than not, he gets pretty goddamn good at it.  Aveline?  Not so much.  Even 'you' as the 'player', as the person who has purchased an Animus and are playing as Aveline to experience this game as it's presented in this weird meta-reality scenario do not have this experience.  So while you cannot kill folks with quite the ease as Ezio or Altair, it actually makes an annoyingly good amount of sense for the reason why, even though I really doubt Ubisoft considered that even a little at any single point in time.  So there you go, Ubisoft, that one is free.

Aveline is still quite proficient in her role, however, which is as welcome as you would assume.  The game does not waste a whole lot of time on tutorials for the series staple method of choice - Wristblades - and that's good because they have never ever been complicated to use and it's nice to know that we all acknowledge this now.  Something a little annoying about them, unfortunately, is that they're not quite the Combat God weapons as they were in Ezio's hands.  Again, it's understandable, but counter-killing with them is...well, we'll put it this way:  in my entire time with AssLib, I did not manage to counter-kill a single person.  As in the earlier days, hitting a blocking enemy meant that, eventually, their guard would drop and you would be able to finish them off, which is...fairly boring.  Of course, there were also foes in the game that seemed to ignore this and, indeed, every other rule of Assassin's Creed combat, requiring special methods to kill them.  (Read:  Shoot them or use the whip to pull them into an instant kill.....if that connects.)

I should touch on that point a little deeper if only because it's a really interesting bit about AssLib in that AssLib doesn't really seem to want you to think it's important.  During the course of the game, you add a whip (like, Indiana Jones whip) to your limited arsenal of ranged weapons and it is, honestly, pretty cool.  You are, however, likely to use it all of four times during the course of the game unless you really really try to work it into your playstyle because after the mission you get it in, and two or three jumps that you use it with, the game never mentions it with any significance.  In all reality, however, the Whip is goddamn broken as hell and you should use it always.  It is a hard weapon to use, however, because I'm pretty sure that the game doesn't even explain how to use it correctly, so I will do that for you now:  When it is blue (meaning you can use it)  hold triangle until something dies.  It is in fact that simple.  If you're on ground level with a foe, Aveline will drag him to her until she finishes him off with some sort of strike depending on her equipped weapon.  If you're on a building or similarly higher ground, she will tug until the enemy has effectively been hanged/strangled.  This latter part is specifically never told to you at all, yet there is a trophy for doing it ten times, so go figure on that.

Fun fact:  After taking this, I tried to Leap of Faith into the water.  It did not end well.

Harkening to the mainline Assassins Creed titles, there is more than one single area to play around in within AssLib's confines, which, after AssBro and AssRev, it is quite nice, even if Rev did kind of sort of offer another area as well.  Specifically, AssLib has three areas - New Orleans City proper, the swampy Bayou where you might just find yourself stabbing a crocodile (or is it an alligator?) to death, and, eventually, a location in Mexico, of which I will say nothing else.  Interestingly enough, the Bayou is -probably- as big as New Orleans' map, a fact made all the more apparent when you realize there is a lot of map that you will not get via the normal Synchronizing points and will have to simply trudge out into it to acquire.  I'm not at all sure why this is, other than the idea that, well, people don't generally chart out swamps, so Aveline couldn't exactly synchronize an entire swamp map to a map that doesn't otherwise exist.  It is, again, something that I'm probably thinking of more than Ubisoft, but it's interesting nonetheless in a kind of annoying "Where the hell is the border, urgh, I have to run all the way around this goddamn swamp, oh great now I have to swim, just wonderful" kind of way.

The Bayou is also where you'll likely run into the bulk of the game's collectibles - a move which also doesn't fail to confuse me, but isn't wholly bothersome in its own right.  Indeed, the Bayou is the only place where you will find Alligator (they're alligators, I checked) Eggs, Mushrooms for medicine (that you never ever make, it's just a collectible), and delirious folks that you have to punch to 'death' ('subdue them') so that you can heal them (seriously, it's kind of messed up - three different patients, I beat up and Aveline snapped their necks...yet they lived to get treated) as well as the bulk of the Diary pages scattered haphazardly around all three locales.  This, coupled with the above point about the lack of a good portion of Bayou mapping is a little distressing, but it's definitely not a big deal, especially now that you can look up things on the Vita's browser whilst playing a game instead of having to close it out.  Or you could just, you know, walk around with Eagle Vision on, which will make the icons display on your map when you come out of it.

If you were one of the folks that was just all about owning property in AssBro/Rev, then I have some rather unfortunate news for you - AssLib offers no such little pleasure.  Sure, you can still buy properties as it were, but you see absolutely nothing from doing so and that's reflected, I believe, in the 500 écu flat cost for every single building you could purchase.  These are Dressing Chambers (locations where the only point is to change your persona), Tailors and Weaponsmiths which operate as normal and, again, there's no cute little meta-game to it that gives you money for owning them or discounts or anything like that - you simply buy them and then you can use them.  It is that simple and indeed that unfortunate.  It is made slightly more interesting in that the Tailors and Weaponsmiths require you to do a "Business Rival" mission which generally involves you killing a corrupt business owner and stealing their deed (and then buying the properties anyway), but it's a band-aid, if anything, on the real problem.

Speaking on buying things, I should throw out a mention for the little 'mini-game' that was included in AssLib, presumably, in the stead of the Brotherhood missions.  Aveline's father is, as stated earlier, a wealthy merchant and, as his daughter, Aveline holds a little bit of power in that.  At least, enough power to have input on the actual importing and exporting of goods, as that is what the Mini-game entails.  You can purchase ships (up to 8) that have different designs, styles and stats and send them from port to port, buying goods where they're offered and selling them where they're demanded.  More ports unlock as the story proceeds, which means more and more goods become available for shipping, eventually becoming a balancing act of risk versus reward since there are dangers along every path and if you're not careful, your 8,000 or so écu ship could turn up missing which is a very bad thing indeed.  It's about as involved as your basic Brotherhood missions, which is to say not very, but it's a very profitable venture if you can handle the waiting that it requires.  It's not quite as engaging as, say, Grand Theft Auto:  Chinatown Wars drug trade, but it's along those lines in a sense and has a similar appeal.

Still, if you haven't noticed, there is quite a bit of game inside AssLib to be played and enjoyed, and I can say with some confidence that you will probably enjoy the bulk of it if you enjoyed the previous iterations of the franchise.  The collectibles will make up a good portion of it, but as I said earlier, you can sort of 'mark' them with eagle vision (just remember to turn it on every now and then and do a camera pan) and run around and get them later on.  Since the free-running has been improved so much even this task, tedious as it could be, isn't so bad.  For one mission, you also get to see a face that may or may not be familiar to you, depending on what other AC games you play, and that is, indeed, a rather cool moment.  (I'm also told that it's part of the whole tie-in with AC3, if that's not a big enough clue for you)  Really, the complaints with the single player portion of the game is solely that there could be more of it, which is fairly positive when you look at it.


The Multi-player portion of the game, on the other hand....

I'm going to be straight here:  Assassin's Creed 3:  Liberation's Multi-player is terrible.  I tried to like it, I really did, but there is just nothing redeeming, enjoyable or interesting about it at all.  It is different, is something I can say, and if nothing else, Ubisoft has always had a different approach to MP with the AC games, but in this case 'different' is bad.  'Different' in this case means 'Facebook game' and I don't mean the kitschy little -Ville games that are kind of fun if you literally have nothing else to do for like half an hour or something, I mean the harsh reality of what we generally see Facebook games as - exercises in clicking things that produce numbers with absolutely no reason or fanfare.  While also being on a time limit for some reason to force you to come back later on in the day to play it again to continue your 'progress' as it were, even though your 'progress' is simply a bar that fills up by an undetermined amount for every action you take.  

I am not oversimplifying what the MP mode of AC is because it is in fact the thing that has been oversimplified, unfortunately.  Using the above screenshot for reference, I will explain the process of 'playing' Assassin's Creed 3:  Liberation's multi-player because it is a fairly simple process to explain.  With every cycle of the game (this is important) you pick a faction, either the Assassins or the Templars.  And when I saw you pick a faction, I mean everybody picks Assassins like holy shit, so pick Assassins.  Then you pick a Home Node.  I assume if you're on a 3G model, it will use the GPS to select a node close to your location, but it really doesn't matter at all.  At your Home Node you can do three things - Attack (or defend, depending on the state of the node you're Attacking/Defending), set a beacon (which...makes the node shiny.  It's supposed to be used for coordinated attacks, but it is not necessary) or set your agents to guard which will exit the mode and give you some control points the next time you come back.

Now, your 'agents', all named like previous AC MP characters (The Thief, The Gentleman, The Rogue, etc.) are unlocked as you progress through the ranks and everyone starts with three stats at 1s (Attack, Defend and Pilfer) and the last stat, Energy, at 5.  For every attack/defense you make with a character, they use one bit of energy (unless you're attacking stronger foes), but energy is fully replenished half an hour following the first expenditure.  You don't even need to have energy to use them, but the control points you gain for doing so will always be low, possibly always only a single point.  Still you level up their abilities doing so, so it's not a complete waste of time (well, the entire thing -is- a waste of time, I'll explain later, but you know what I mean, within the scope of itself) and when you level up an ability, they gain a bit of energy.  Ultimately the goal is to control all of the Victory Nodes on the map, which you do by first controlling surrounding nodes and then doing much the same to the Victory node of choice.  You click attack, you click a character and you click an enemy (the game always gives you three to select, most of the time they are somebody else's agents) and it does a three-frame animation that ends with you getting Control Points.

That is 95% of the entire Multi-player.  It is a never-ending quest to fill up your bars for no other reason than they are there to be filled and the process of doing so is simply clicking on things with no real feedback.  It's like there was no real effort or thought put into it, even though the base concept is -not- a bad one.  Properly thought out, it could've been something like Risk, but using Assassins and Templars and that?  That could have honestly been pretty neat.  But this is so barebones, by a literal definition, that I simply cannot accept it as a viable option of Multi-Player.  There's no strategy, no depth whatsoever and most importantly there's just no fun to be had.  There's no feedback in any way that would -make- it fun.  Worst of all, when somebody wins the Assassins win, it starts a new cycle which resets all your characters stats to 1s and the 5 energy so that the only reason, really the only reason to play it whatsoever is to get the few MP trophies that AssLib offers.

Still, even that isn't enough to make me consider AssLib a bad game by any means.  Of course, I don't generally care too much about the Multi-player portion of a game unless it's truly amazing, so I'm perhaps not the person to go to for that type of consideration.  The Single-Player portion of AssLib is fairly strong on its own merits and is certainly on par with the other AC titles, for better or worse in that regard.  It's sort of weird to say "Well, yeah, it's like the other games and flawed just like them" in a way that is actually praising the title, but that's pretty much what I'm saying.  For a portable iteration of the series that was likely not given a whole lot of time or resources to work with, that's certainly saying something, and I can only wonder at how much better the game could've been with a couple more months of dev time under its belt.  Still, as a first attempt at Vita AC title, AssLib does its job quite well, and that's nothing if not encouraging.

The Good
  • Fully Realized Assassin's Creed title that you can take with you wherever you go
  • Aveline is a fairly good character and handled rather well
  • The Persona Mechanic is pretty neat in concept at least and, for the most part, execution
  • Free-Running has been improved upon a lot and is really fun for it
  • The whip, once you realize its potential, is a fantastic weapon
  • The shipping Mini-game has a neat appeal to it and is quite profitable
  • The Bayou is a fairly interesting area to explore, which is a good thing since you're going to have to explore it
  • Really, the design of the game in general is pretty good
  • The idea of the game being an Abstergo tool in a sort of meta-reality scenario is honestly kind of cool and further enhanced by the Citizen E stuff
The Bad
  • The Multi-Player is an affront to fun and good things
  • The single player portion is, unfortunately, a bit short
  • The combat system saw a bit of a downgrade which is understandable, but disappointing nonetheless
  • By extension, some Full Synchronization tasks are stupidly hard, such as any that require you take no damage
  • There's no real ownership meta-game with the various business and such, simply places to buy to little effect
  • Even after the big patch, it's still fairly buggy, though the bugs that remain range from 'mildly annoying' to 'are these guards planking in mid-air, what is this even'
  • While not mentioned before this, pickpocketing is done entirely with the rear touch pad and is rather poorly thought-out, which bugs me
Mogs Says
Assassin's Creed 3:  Liberation is not a perfect game, much like no Assassin's Creed game is a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination.  The upside is that Liberation is just as flawed as the previous titles, not more, which means if you enjoyed them, you will probably have quite a bit of fun with this.  The story itself is fairly short and not terribly involved with the rest of the overarching story, but in many ways, that's probably a good thing all told.  The draw here is pretty simple - more Assassin's Creed, but wherever you could want to play it at, and that's a very good thing since it does work much the same as the previous titles.  If you're looking for something Action-y to throw into your Vita for a while, AssLib is a fine choice that likely won't leave you feeling disappointed.

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