Game Review: "Assassin´s Creed: Liberation"

Aveiline, oh Aveline, where could you be?
Aveline, oh Aveline, do you wish to be free?
Aveline, oh Aveline, where are you now?
Aveline, oh Aveline, there is blood on your brow.

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is a game that is incredibly honorable and experimental yet one that falls flat because it lets itself down.

Allow me to clarify.

Originally, “Liberation” began life as a handheld on the PS Vita, it was not particularly large in scale but still provided fans of the series a fascinating protagonist in the brand new, boundary-breaking female Assassin Aveline de Grandpré (voiced by tri-lingual vocal artist Amber Goldfarb) . When I caught wind of Aveline, I was astounded- a FEMALE Assassin finally appears after all of this time? What took ‘em so long? Welcome to the fold, Sister, we are glad to have you and for those of you who are dribbling such nonsense as “CHICKS CAN’T BE ASSASSINS”, go back to the Dark Ages, you’ll be welcome there. When Liberation became a port for the PS3, Xbox and PC, I hurried to snare my copy, the sweet sensation of excitement welling up within me to finally get the opportunity to step into the boots of a competent female protagonist. I got that… but ultimately nothing much else.

Taking place on the tail end of the Indian And French War, Aveline lives multiple lives- as the respectable lady about town, the unseen slave and of course, the Assassin. A child of a plaçage union between a French father and African-born mother, Aveline uses her social status and power in order to bring justice and freedom to those less fortunate than she, in most cases, victims of oppression- slaves. Mentored by ex-slave turned Assassin Agaté, de Grandpre divides her time and persona between the bustling streets of colonial New Orleans and the dangerous and mysterious bayou as she hunts down the Templars who impose themselves on the rights of the people. When she uncovers a shady plot orchestrated by the Templar Grandmaster known solely as The Company Man, she realises that she must push her limits to the extremes in order to stop him, even if it means questioning what it is to be an Assassin.

This game could have been a bunker-buster. All of the pieces to what makes an Assassin’s Creed game is here- an envelope-pushing protagonist, a significantly stakes-raising plot, and most importantly a sense of high-raising adventure amongst the historical background backdrop. Exploring the rustic opulence of New Orleans, the unpredictable voodoo of the bayou and the mystery of Chichén Itzá should have been a consummate blast as well as using the exclusive tools Aveline has at her disposal- machetes, a parasol gun and a whip. And it was fun… but unsatisfying. While I would not say the fact it was originally not a console game is the reason for the game’s failure, it is a factor nonetheless. The story feels more like an episode in Aveline’s life rather than a magnificent personal journey full of heartbreak, change and enlightenment. Granted, I was pleased the game didn’t feel the need to regale itself into an origin story, but I wanted to see Aveline suffer and rise over a long personal journey. I don’t ask for a positive sunshine and rainbow resolution in one game, but what matters is the quality of the journey that a character travels through and Liberation does not offer a whole and cohesive picture.

Here’s what works.

- Aveline herself. While her story here seems rushed and anti-climactic, Mademoiselle de Grandpré is a revelation for the franchise not just because of her sex, but her ethnic background and her own beliefs about what the Assassin collective should be. Given her social status, she uses the money that her family has in order to do good in the world, like a superhero and makes it a point to help anybody who comes her way. Fundamentally she is a compassionate person with a mighty heart who isn’t afraid to resort to violence if the time and circumstance calls for it. In addition, although Aveline IS beautiful, it is not her defining trait but simply a part of who she is. Female action characters, or rather female characters in general are difficult to pin down because of the fact a majority of them are used for eye-candy or are victims who require saving or empowerment, usually from men. Not so with Aveline. While she does partner up with Connor Kenway (yeah baby, it happens), he treats her as his equal, not an inferior or as other. Viva Aveline!

- The time period. Ubisoft has a real eye for selecting the epoch of which their stories take part in, and Liberation is no exception. The ancien et du nouveau have massive precedent in this world with New Orleans being the metropolis of the contemporary while the bayou and the ruins of Chichén Itzá provide a curious look into the past gone by and the inherent enigma that lurks within. Whether or not you appreciate the actual era is completely up to you, but care was taken into constructing these lands, so much so I’m curious to visit them myself.

- The game doesn’t insult the player’s intelligence. Despite the fact elements of the story deal with mysticism and religion, none of these details are simplified merely to benefit the player’s awareness. Sure there are several points that are given further clarification in order to the serve the story, but it is never condescending to the one with the controller.

- The concept of identity is not the most often explored element in this game to be sure, but I still found it fascinating to see how Aveline managed to live multiple lives within one body all the while not quite conforming to whatever standards had been set for each personification she assumed. The Lady disguise for example had her learn all of the accepted ‘feminine' graces of society- playing the piano, always impeccably dressed and sweet-spoken, but underneath she has a keen business acumen and is a problem solver for her father’s business. Most of this is a mask for her, however not once does she sacrifice the faith she has in herself and her abilities. As The Slave, she is aware that she is seen little more than a workhorse for the higher classes. Nobody casts a second glance or even a cursory look at her as she blends in with the crowd while going about her undercover business. Finally, The Assassin role, arguably her truest form does not discriminate between masculine and feminine role-play- the most simple example being is her brutality in battle, but it goes well beyond her talents for fatality. She is a cerebral warrior, not just a blunt instrument of murder. Aveline is an avatar for the notion that all of us assume different characteristics as we go through life, depending on what is asked of us but also how we feel we shouldn’t discard who we are at the core.
The music. Although Jesper Kyd does not return, we get a worthy fill in by composer Winifred Phillips and producer Winnie Waldron and these women have got the skill. Their soundtrack for Aveline doesn’t come right out and slap you across the face, but it’s a gentle insinuation that fits the character’s feelings and situations. Here’s hoping if a bigger Aveline-centric game is made these dames come back.

All of these elements are what saves the game, so let us move on to its detriments, and let me just say now, this will be difficult for me to write because again, I really wanted to completely love this game.

- It’s far too short and hop-shod to serve as a full-fledged story. I have nothing against keeping something short and sweet, but you gotta pick your battles. Considering this game presented a lot of firsts and promise, there was so much more under the surface awaiting to rise. I understand this game was originally intended for a handheld, but this is the debut of a strong, likeable and different Assassin protagonist. There is so much potential waiting to be explored here but a lot of it is glossed over in passing or never addressed at all. A damn shame.

- It’s not challenging. There aren’t any missions or problem-solving that gives the player the sensation of accomplishment. Quite a lot of it hearkened back to the very first game in which your character gets information on a target, does a bit of recon before doing the deed. Other than the over-arching plot at hand, there isn’t anything else of value story-wise.

- The other characters. While Aveline is magnificent, those who she shares the game with are not so much, namely her assistant Alfre-er, Monsiuer Blanc who also works in her father’s business. Call me unfair but this guy really had no business to have as big a role as he did in this game. He sorted out Aveline’s travel arrangements and gathered several morsels of intelligence and that’s all of value he ever did. He’s mainly devoid of personality and the most emotion he shows is when he is sweating at the collar when Aveline allows him to tag along on a mission that consists of driving an out of control carriage. Granted, it was nice to see a bit of a play on gender role reversal by making Aveline the hero and Blanc the damsel, but still, his existence here isn’t necessary. The only other character that makes a statement is Aveline’s step-mother Madeline with whom she shares an abolitionist view on slavery. There is a unique chemistry between the two and it was refreshing to see two female characters on the level with each other.

OTP. Don't question it.
- The controls in this game generally speaking are fine but by goodness, some of the camera angles had me thoroughly annoyed, specifically during a sequence involving a collapsing mine. Aveline would be running up a crumbling mine shaft having to take cover behind obstacles to avoid falling boulders before continuing the escape was just ridiculous. Again, I realise a lot of the mechanics were made specifically for the handheld component, but some patching never hurts.

- More Aveline and Connor! Okay, so Aveline is more than satisfactory as a lone lioness and ain't no damsel, but it was a blast however short-lived to see her team up with Connor. If there is ever another Aveline or Connor game, a cross-over of sorts would be welcome. Here though it was far too short to make a substantial impact. Dare I say though, Aveline seems to bring more personality out of Connor so perhaps it would be good for our Native Assassin… not to mention some hawt sex.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is a respectable effort but in retrospect most of it feels wasted because the only hold back it ultimately had was itself, and that is a tragedy. That’s not to say Aveline’s tale should be done (it had bloody better not be!), but for a dip in the pond, it doesn’t make a lot of ripples outside its main character. I sincerely hope Ubisoft laces their corsets up and delivers us an Aveline outing that is a true tour de force, because until then, we only get this meow that could have been a roar for a game. Come back to us Aveline and bring Hell with you!
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About The Popcorn Unicorn

Fallen Botticelli Angel/Elightened Eldritch/Lunatic Fringe
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