Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation Hands-on Preview -- Dressed to KillBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Aug 15, 2012
With every showing of Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation for the PlayStation Vita, it becomes increasingly apparent that the game is shaping up to be one of the strongest reasons for non-Vita owners to add Sony’s handheld to their libraries this holiday season. The reveal at E3 2012 not only impressed because it (finally!) gave us a female protagonist, but also because it clearly indicated that Ubisoft has made a concerted effort to make Liberation as fully realized an AC game as any full console release to date.
After getting some brief hands-on time with part of a bayou-based mission, and watching a demo for the game’s new “impersonation” mechanic, I can tell you that Ubisoft is more than on track to deliver on this mighty ambitious promise.
To quickly bring you up to speed, Liberation tells the tale of Aveline, an assassin taking the fight to the Templars in New Orleans. Ubisoft Sofia is keeping the meatier bits of the story close to the vest, but we do know that the story (and even the actual game itself) have a decidedly pro-Abstergo/anti-assassins angle to them. How this will play out in the actual game remains to be seen, but I love that Ubisoft continues to find ways to expand the narrative vision and execution with regards to the Templar/Assassin conflict.
After a brief overview of the Vita-specific controls, I took control of Aveline and followed the lead of a fellow assassin who is guiding Aveline through a sort of training mission, starting with canoe navigation. Like her Assassin’s Creed 3 counterpart Connor, Aveline can traverse various water areas via canoe, which makes sense considering a fair portion of Liberation is set in and around the bayou.
Controlling the canoe proved a bit more challenging than I was expecting, due in large part to the swipe-based controls. It’s just kind of awkward to flick with your middle fingers while trying to hold the Vita with your thumbs. Fortunately, you can just hit X and Aveline paddles accordingly. Tilting the Vita turns the canoe, which worked well enough, but there was an ever-so-slight delay, which led to a lot of over-correcting (I found this to be a problem during the combat as well, so I’m guessing it was a preview build issue).
Still, paddling through the dense bayou swamp, soaking up the atmosphere as we moved into position to attack our targets, it was easy to forget that I was playing a handheld AC game. A few seconds after returning to shore, I had a chance to test out the game’s counter system, thanks to a rather large alligator hanging out on the river bank. Just as the beast lunged at me, I managed to hit counter, causing Aveline to unleash a precision death blow to the gator’s noggin (Trophy suggestion: “Chomp vs. Chop”).
Up ahead, a group of soon-to-be dead men were milling around a campfire. Not wishing to break up their little get together just yet, I scurried up a nearby tree and proceeded to leap, swing, and shimmy my way across branch after branch just like you've seen Connor do in various AC3 gameplay videos. Aveline's movements are just as graceful and slick as you'd expect, and before I knew it, I was squatting on a branch with a patrolling guard in my sights.
Also like Connor's dart rope, Aveline has a whip that she can use to grab enemies or swing across gaps if there's a whip-friendly notch somewhere nearby; she'll automatically use her whip to clear big jumps if it's equipped as well. So I tapped the right half of the weapon circle located on the lower right of the screen. This brought up my inventory in a stylish arc across the right side of the screen. From here, you can select which two weapons you want to equip.
With the whip (and hatchet) selected, I took aim at the guard walking around on a tree perch up ahead, and with a snap of the wrist, the whip wrapped around his neck. A quick tap of the action button yanked him off his perch and sent him cascading to his death. Luckily, the other guards didn't notice their pal fall to his death, leaving me free to stalk my next victim.
Taking a page out of my maybe-relative Connor’s playbook, I catch the next guard with my whip and attempt to hoist him into the tree. Unfortunately, I hit the wrong button, and he fell to the ground unharmed but surprisingly eager to tell all of his buddies about what just happened to him. Cover blown, I kicked it old-school and lept from the tree and stabbed the nearly hung dude, using his dead body to brace my fall.
Since Aveline’s move set is comparable to Connor’s, she is more than capable of holding her own in a fight. The combat plays out in classic AC style, with enemies circling you while you either engage at will or wait to counter. I didn’t get a chance to try it out, but if standard countering/attacking isn’t your thing, Liberation includes a function that lets you tag and kill (think Splinter Cell’s “mark and execute” mechanic) groups of enemies by simple tapping on them and sitting back while Aveline unleashes her killer instincts.
I went the more traditional route and took out each guard one by one. The fighting looks fluid, but, like I said before, there was a slight delay in the action (and sound), which hurt some of the impact of the blows. Assuming this is fixable issue, there’s little doubt Aveline’s killing skills will bring many a smile to AC fans’ faces.
For the next part of the demo, the Liberation reps on hand showed off a New Orleans-based mission designed to show off the game’s impersonation mechanic. Basically, like in the Hitman games, Aveline has the option of dressing up in two alternate outfits--an aristocrat and a servant--to perform specific tasks. You can access these outfits in local dress shops that you can unlock in various districts just like buying property in previous AC games.
Each outfit grants you unique blending abilities at the price of weaker armor, so stealth is definitely the name of the game here. The three outfits (including standard assassin) also have specific notoriety levels assigned to them that increase/decrease depending on your actions, so expect to be tearing down many a “Wanted” poster as you navigate the streets of New Orleans.
The mission I saw required Aveline to locate a target, execute him, and retrieve a letter he was carrying. Climbing the surrounding buildings and tracking him using Eagle Vision is the classic AC way to approach the mission (and is just as fun as fans of the franchise would expect, as I witnessed in the demoer’s first run through). In the second scenario, however, the rep driving the demo donned the aristocrat disguise--a sharply tailored dress and matching hat.
Zeroing in on the main entrance, the driver decided to bribe his way past the collection of guards blocking the path into the district where our target was hiding. Bribing brings up a dice roll-ish menu of varying amounts of money and a corresponding percentage of success. Obviously, the higher the bribe, the more likely it is to succeed. We had money to burn, so we slipped by without a problem.
Once inside, Aveline approached a lone guard and used the outfit’s charm option to get the guard to follow her and basically provide her cover from potentially suspecting eyes; he didn’t last long as Aveline led the guard into an alley way and skewered him with her hidden blade. After a minute or so of wandering, we locate our target and dispatch him one of the new weapons being introduced in Liberation, the blow gun, which, when in the aristocrat outfit, is hidden inside her parasol; quite badass. This silent weapon fires two varieties of dart: lethal and poison. If you don’t want to kill someone, you can poison them, which, as in past AC games, causes them to flail wildly and attack any nearby guards.
On our final run through, Aveline selected the raggedy servant outfit. While not the prettiest to look at, it provides the perfect cover for, say, tricking guards into thinking you’re making a delivery by carrying a nearby crate. As a servant, Aveline can start mini riots by locating four NPCs in an area and convincing them to fight. They’ll automatically trust you, because your outfit gives you clout among the lower class. When enough guards were nearby to make it worth it, Aveline gave the signal, and the rioters sprang into action, buying Aveline just enough time to slip behind a row of houses.
As we rounded the corner, we spotted a guard not participating in the nearby fight. Thinking quickly, we moved into the center of a group of servants scrubbing the wooden walkway between a block of house, causing Aveline to instantly start sweeping (the broom magically appearing in her hands) to blend in. The guard continued on his way, unsuspectingly, which Aveline quickly made him pay for by breaking from her sweeping position and giving him the old knife in the back.
Just then, our target arrived on the scene. A few seconds later, a lethal dart sailed his way, and he was no more. Instead of sticking around to fight the descending throngs of guards (reduced armor remember?), Aveline snatched the letter off his corpse and sprinted for the nearest house, scrambled up its windows to the roof, and made a break for it, eventually losing her pursuers and bringing the second portion of the demo to an end.
I said it when it was first revealed but now after having played it, I can say it with even more certainty: Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation has system seller written all over it. Touch screen awkwardness aside, it appears to have all the elements AC fans have come to know and love, and the prospect of being able to take a console-caliber AC game with you on the go is damn appealing. This could change as we see more of the game between now and its October 30 release, but fingers crossed it won’t.