At the same Sony event where we sampled PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, I took a look at Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, the Assassin’s Creed spin-off title for the PS Vita from developer Ubisoft Sofia. And that was all I got, unfortunately: a look. Due to its shaky pre-alpha state, Richard Farrese, the game’s writer, preferred to tell me all about the game as he played through a short demo. I watched and listened.
First, he explained the setting: ”Louisiana, 18th century. The game starts in 1765. The French colony [New Orleans] is being handed over to the Spanish. It’s a really exciting time.”
Then Farrese introduced me to the game’s new main character: “So this is Aveline. She’s our protagonist, the first female assassin … I personally think it was about time for a female hero. When we did research of the time period we found that there were a lot of women that played important roles…. For our game, it was perfect. I think it was the best choice.” We’ll hear a little more about Aveline later.
Farrese went on and started the demo. “This mission takes place during the Louisiana Rebellion in ’68, three years after the Spanish take over. Since the game takes place over 12 years, there’s a lot more going on than what I’m going to show you…. You’re on your way to steal some gunpowder for the Spanish army. You see some citizens who are in trouble and you’re there to help them.”
As he approached two enemies from a rooftop he did a double air-assassination, a basic Assassin’s Creed move. Afterwards a mob of enemies surrounded him. ”Now I’m going to pause the game. This is a neat little thing called Chain Kill. As you play the game and you kill people, your meter goes up. And this basically tells you how many targets you can select when you use this particular ability. It allows you to pause the game, select targets — and here, this guy, there’s a pistol icon” — Farrese tapped a gun-shaped icon above an enemy’s head on the touchscreen — “this mean I’m going to shoot him. So, basically, you let Aveline do all the work for you.”
Basically, the Chain Kill is a very similar mechanic to the touchscreen controls of Uncharted: Golden Abyss. In that game you swipe the screen on certain platforms to make Nathan Drake traverse the landscape automatically. It takes the control away from the player and turns the game into a more passive experience. I typically want more control, not less. Farrese later told me that you can’t do Chain Kills using the Vita’s traditional face buttons. You gotta use the touchscreen. Hrmm.
Farrese continued: “The cool thing about that, every time you do a Chain Kill, the animation is different. It really feels cinematic. This is pre-alpha stuff, so it lacks polish. You can see glitches between cinematics and gameplay. This [demo] is almost two months old actually.”
“So now you meet your friend. This is one of my favorite characters. His name is Girard. Aveline meets up with an old friend, and an informant for the assassins. He tells you that not only do you have to steal the gunpowder, there’s a group of riders who have been arrested, so you also need to hurry and help them. He’s afraid they’re going to get shot.” From there Farrese continues with the basic Creed free-roaming and climbing. “We’re using the same engine as ACIII. The combat is quite fluid, but also when you navigate this allows us to jump through trees like this, kill a baddie –” as he talked he demonstrated all these moves on the Vita’s bright screen “– Of course anything around the environment, you can pick up. You can use a musket, aim and fire and drop it. It’s everything you’d expect of a real Assassin’s Creed game.”
“If you look at the weapons wheel, you have all these different weapons. They’re all unique to Aveline. She doesn’t use a tomahawk like Connor [in Assassin's Creed III], she has a machete. She has her own unique abilities. With the Vita we have different options.” One of those options is also a flintlock pistol. Aveline even has to reload it after every shot.
As the demo went on, Aveline ended up commandeering a horse carriage. One that’s set on fire.
“We have to navigate through the street and hurry to the warehouse” — where gunpowder for the mission is held, Farrese explained — “I can navigate using the touchscreen. I can move faster when I tap or I can slow down the pace… I still have to hurry because this is a timed mission. This is not the final quality, but it gives you an idea of the navigation. It’s actually quite fluid.”
Of all the parts of the demo, this one worried me most. Shoehorned vehicle sections normally don’t mesh with the rest of the game and this doesn’t look any different so far. It looked sluggish, and the carriage was comically knocking into the buildings that framed the carriage’s narrow path. I hope they iron this out. Again, this was a pre-alpha build.
The demo then switched to a wine cellar area. Broken bottles leaked a ridiculous amount of alcohol into a knee-deep pool of purple in the middle of the floor. Aveline dispatched a bunch of bad guys and that was the end of the demo. The graphics and combat looked like they’re up to the usual Assassin’s Creed quality.
Farrese went back to the subject of Aveline. “What you need to know about Aveline … She’s a French woman fighting the Spanish, but it’s not — it’s what you see, but it’s really the assassins fighting the Templars.” Of course, Farrese referred to the overarching storyline of the Assassin’s Creed saga.
“Aveline is a child of mixed race. Her father was a French merchant who had a wife, a slave who he liberated and he had a child with. This was sort of an unofficial marriage. It wasn’t a custom but it was something that was quite common at the time. She was born and raised in New Orleans, so she knows that place, she’s an insider, but at the same time she’s sort of an outsider because she doesn’t quite fit in either world. She can’t be an aristocrat because of her African heritage, and she doesn’t fit with the, let’s say, slave population because she’s part-French. It makes her quite interesting.”
And where there’s New Orleans, there’s the bayou. “It’s a completely different feel,” Farrese described. “It’s a swamp. You navigate through trees, there’s alligators and different sorts of challenges there. And a good part of the main story takes place there as well. You go to the bayou at least a few times. We also have a really nice environment in Mexico. You visit there a couple of times. I can’t tell you too much about Mexico, but it’s a nice place. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
So, Liberation takes advantage of the Vita using the front touchscreen for Chain Kill and navigation of the carriage. The back touch pad, Farrese told me, will be used to pick pocket people. ”You follow a guy and you slide your finger like this,” he demonstrated, rubbing his finger on the back of the Vita. I didn’t get to see any theft in action, but it will be in there.
There will also be a unique multiplayer mode for the Vita, most likely different from the addicting hide-and-seek modes we’ve come to know from Brotherhood and Revelations. It will be a few months until we hear about Liberation‘s multiplayer. I predict some kind of tower defense/strategy mode that would be more fitting to the Vita as a portable platform.
It’s tough to say how well the game’s shaping up without playing it for myself. From what I can tell just by looking, it represents the stealth-action well. Environments and characters are detailed, and the familiar gameplay’s there. As I surmised back at Sony’s E3 conference this is a Vita game worth watching.
The final version of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation will be out on October 30 of this year.