Retelling the rather erratic adventures of Aveline de Grandpré, Assassin's Creed Liberation HD leaps onto the PlayStation 3 after its moderate success on Sony's handheld console – and visually, it's just about what you'd expect. The game's events are now witnessed through a much clearer lens, with some drastically improved textures wrapping the PlayStation Vita original's slightly muddier world – but aside from the expected aesthetic tweaks, this is mostly the same title that can be found on the portable device.
Unfortunately, this means that the release's narrative is just as baffling as we described in our review of the handheld version. Although it could be argued that the franchise's often tangled storylines have never been its strongest asset, Liberation is easily at the bottom of the pile when it comes to forming a cohesive, engaging plot. Things begin simply enough, as Aveline is guided from one basic mission to the next, but once the initial grind is over, characters and events seem to flash by in an instant, leaving you without much time to think about what just transpired before you're whisked off to a completely different scenario.
The fast-paced narrative is obviously better suited to a portable game, where you can enjoy a couple of quick missions and cutscenes before putting the device back down. But when you're sitting comfortably in front of a television with a DualShock 3 in hand, the story's blistering speed is much more apparent, especially when you find yourself frequently staring at loading screens after each cinematic.
Proceedings get worse still when the release's modern day storyline starts to bleed into the plot – although unlike other titles in Ubisoft's popular series, you won't be dragged kicking and screaming from the historic setting only to be plopped into the shoes of an unlikeable, or even mute protagonist. Instead, all of the Abstergo malarkey is thankfully kept within Aveline's tale as you perform tasks for Assassins who make a hobby out of hacking the devious company's software.
Similarly, many missions fly by just as quickly as the narrative, again something that seems better suited to portable play. Because of this, it's possible to blitz through a lot of the content in just one sitting – although that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Liberation inherently feels like a smaller slice of Assassin's Creed action than home console players will be used to, but its straightforward objectives and relatively simple mission design make it easy to pick up and enjoy.
That said, the title doesn't do much to explain the franchise's trademark mechanics to anyone who may be unfamiliar with the series. You'll learn the basics of combat, as well as previously touch-based techniques that have been reworked as very fiddly button presses, but when it comes to stealth, you'll be left largely in the dark. It's not a huge problem as it probably won't take you long to discover the ins-and-outs of the systems that are in place, but the lack of guidance is bound to frustrate newcomers at first.
One element of gameplay that's explained better, but still not to any great degree, is the persona mechanic. Despite its name, Aveline sadly isn't able to summon beings that are linked to her psyche – but she can switch between three different outfits which come with their own strengths and weaknesses. Not only is dressing for the occasion often the best way to progress through missions with minimal hassle, but it's also quite a clever addition to the series' formula.
Having Aveline suit up as a noble or a slave as well as a typical Assassin provides us with a glimpse of her varying personality. One minute she'll be using her womanly charm to convince guards to let her pass into restricted areas, and the next she'll be trading information with slaves while masked as a fellow plantation worker. At other times, of course, she'll be leaping across rooftops and stabbing people in the neck. It's a case where gameplay actually helps flesh out the protagonist, while also providing a refreshing new take on the jack-of-all-trades Assassin lead.
The only real problem with our heroine's trio of personas is that you need to go to a dress chamber in order to change, which becomes an annoyance when said closets are streets away from your location. Some missions are closed off to certain outfits as well, which means that you can potentially travel large distances to initiate a main objective, only to learn that you're currently wearing the wrong attire. It helps that you can spend your hard-earned cash on renovating derelict buildings into new dress chambers around the city, but even then it feels like a bit of an unnecessary chore, breaking up the aforementioned fast-paced gameplay. All in all, the title presents a solid, slightly altered take on the hallmark formula, but those who are attuned to the bombastic nature of the game's home console counterparts won't be left too impressed with the comparatively bare-bones experience that this remaster offers.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, however, is the release's surprisingly poor technical performance. As we mentioned previously, the expected graphical fidelity is present, and barring some niggling jaggy edges, it mostly looks the part on an HD display. But when you're moving through the city at high speeds, or when you quickly turn the camera in populated areas, the frame rate tends to stutter wildly, and at the worst of times, the game struggles to maintain a consistent smoothness when you're simply walking around and taking in the view.
Assassin's Creed Liberation HD's smaller, less complex objectives feel unsurprisingly tailored to a handheld device, but that doesn't stop this from being a decent romp on the PS3 – especially if you snuck past the portable release. The original title's flaws still remain, however, and to top it off, Aveline's story is hampered by some worryingly poor technical performance. This killer's blades just aren't sharp enough to go toe-to-toe with her home console brethren.