A War for Independence
It seems that Ubisoft is striving to make their entire Assassin’s Creed catalog available for PS4 as they release a remaster of Assassin’s Creed 3 and Liberation. Some collections like to put the bigger game on the disc and provide a download code for the smaller game. This one, however, puts both games and all the DLC for Assassin’s Creed III in a single package.
In Assassin’s Creed III, Desmond Miles, and his fellow Assassins have found the Apple, a piece of Eden that is the key to saving humanity. There is a key to activating the Apple in an ancient yet technologically advanced temple, and Desmond must use the Animus to find out where the key is; reliving history through the eyes of his ancestor Connor: a half-English, half-Native American who lived during the Colonial era. Taking place in the 1700s in the Americas, players get to experience the events of the American Revolutionary War while hunting down the Templars and thwarting their plans.
Assassin’s Creed Liberation takes place entirely within the Animus, in the historical setting of New Orleans in the closing years of the French and Indian War, starring African-French Assassin Aveline de Grandpré. Separated from her mother at a young age, she is adopted by the benevolent Madeleine de L’Isle and works to sabotage the Templars’ plans and free the slaves in the region.
Players who enjoyed Assassin’s Creed III in 2012 should find this game’s controls fit like a broken-in glove. Assassin’s Creed III starts off with the familiar aspects that players may know from the earlier titles, and gradually introduces new elements, such as hunting animals, being able to perform assassinations while free running, and being able to free run through trees and climb mountains – a first for the franchise.
While the new mechanics are introduced seamlessly and organically, there are so many that it hurts the pacing of the story. Players are not fully-fledged assassins until the beginning of Sequence 6 (gameplay and plot are divided into “DNA Sequences”). By comparison, the first Assassin’s Creed Title started you off as a master assassin and in Assassin’s Creed II Ezio donned his Assassin Robes at the end of Sequence 1. Ostensibly, this doesn’t affect the mechanics of the game, but half of the basic movement options are locked away until Memory Sequence 5.
Assassin’s Creed III, like every game in the series after the first one, has a “home base” that the player builds up by doing side quests. Connor can get materials by sending a cart to town and perform side quests to recruit workers to refurbish parts of the manor.
By far the most fun to be found in Assassin’s Creed III is the naval combat. Anyone who has played Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will feel right at home with this game mode. Going ship-to-ship is fun, sinking opponents with cannon and collisions.
The combat in Assassin’s Creed III is clunky compared to some of the earlier titles. It seemed Ubisoft was intent on imitating the latest combat controls, and in this case it was the Batman Arkham titles. Combat has always had a counter button, but in Assassin’s Creed III, the counter button is prompted with a red triangle over enemies’ heads, and there are no invincibility frames when countering, so counter animations can be interrupted when an enemy attacks in the back, causing frustration getting ping-ponged between enemies.
Assassin’s Creed has long-since had a problem with free-running, to the point that the “developer’s notes” in the animus of Assassin’s Creed III state that there’s an upgrade to free-running to make sure the player is going where they want to go. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t work as advertised. Basic actions such as climbing viewpoints to synchronize them can lead to some awkward moments where the player doesn’t want to climb the top of a church, and instead runs up the side of it, and drops back down. In one situation, there was a viewpoint that didn’t have a properly-placed hay bale, and instead of performing the series-staple leap of faith, the character plummeted to their death.
Assassin’s Creed Liberation functions a lot better. Aveline has all the free-running abilities of Connor, but by virtue of the game being originally a Playstation Vita title, the game world is much smaller. This works in the game’s favor, as the missions tend to be shorter and more straight-forward. The bite-sized mission length makes you feel like you’re getting a lot done and fits better into the schedules of adult gamers who don’t have a lot of free time.
Aveline’s title is by no means a carbon copy of Connor’s. The big gameplay element in Liberation is that Aveline can change costumes, each with its own unique abilities, to fit the role of the mission she’s undertaking. By default, she is wearing her Assassin robes. She can change into a slave outfit in order to blend into her surroundings on a plantation by carrying boxes, and she can wear her Lady outfit, which reduces her ability to free-run, but she can blend into higher society and bribe guards and seduce targets. Each costume also has its own notoriety level, so changing outfits at the designated locations could be a good way to shake guards that are chasing you.
Assassin’s Creed III can now be displayed up to 4K, but it’s a 7-year-old game, and it shows. The cinematic moments rendered with the in-game engine are the most noticeable; what should be the most emotional and memorable parts of the game are awkward and sad, with the old motion-capture technology plunging players headfirst (literally) into the Uncanny Valley. The Ezio Trilogy had a similar problem, but the uncanny valley was relegated to what was outside the animus.
When playing the game, character models are perfectly serviceable, and the environments are immersive and vibrant. Whenever there is a break in the action for storytelling, which is frequent in this franchise, immersion can be broken by how bland and mannequin-esque the characters’ faces can be.
Assassin’s Creed Libration, by comparison, looks a great deal better than its contemporary by virtue of being a ground-up remake. This game does not appear to be a simple upgrade of textures from the Vita version, but rather takes full advantage of the fact that it is on a console that can display in 4K. Character models are still a little awkward in their facial animations, but have a great deal more detail and it shows.
While it is understandable that Assassin’s Creed III didn’t get this treatment by virtue of being a much larger game, it would have done the title a lot of good if Ubisoft had at least done some “spot-checking” for some of the most important character models – Haytham Conway, specifically – to help both games look equally good. Oddly: the game with the perfect excuse for having worse visuals actually looks better.
Both games sound amazing with a good quality stereo system. It is easy to make out the different barks and growls and chirps of the animals you are hunting in Assassin’s Creed III. Being out in the frontier is enjoyable hearing all the American East Coast songbirds singing while free-running through the trees. Out on the sea, all of the wood creaks as the ship rides over the waves, the ropes groan under the tension of holding the yardarms and cannons in place, and the sails flap as they billow under the wind. There is an adequate amount of chatter in the towns of Assassin’s Creed III and in New Orleans, and it is noticeably quieter in the shops coming off the streets.
The Assassin’s Creed III remaster collection is a must-have for players that love the franchise and missed this entry seven years ago. While Assassin’s Creed III is starting to show its age, many fans might have missed Liberation, and this iteration of the title is easily the definitive version to play. Both Assassin’s Creed III and Liberation benefit from the Uplay system, too, to unlock other characters’ costumes, such as Jacob and Evie Frye’s assassin robes for Connor and Aveline respectively.
Both games are also limited by what they were back in 2012: players who experienced Assassin’s Creed III or Liberation on their original platforms may not find a whole lot new here. Liberation will look and handle a lot better but could have benefited from small improvements, like a subtitle option. Understanding all of these characters with French accents can be a little challenging. Assassin’s Creed III, while including all of the downloadable content for that title, is still a straight port of the Xbox 360/PS3 title. The textures are crisper, but any problems the title had in 2012 have followed the game to 2019.