The idea of the PS Vita getting its own exclusive versions of big console franchises is all well and good in theory, but the odds of them actually living up to expectations are often pretty long.
For a start, as capable a system as the Vita evidently is, these are still early days for the device. And if Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is any indication, Vita developers are still some distance from bringing us the kind of no-compromise, full-fat console gaming experience we're all yearning for.
When it comes to Liberation's fundamentals, Ubisoft's Sofia studio has done a grand job. The series's slick blend of free running adventuring and stealth-combat gameplay has survived the transition to Sony's newest handheld completely intact, and long-term fans of the series will be initially delighted.
Liberation even boasts some neat ideas that haven't been seen before in Assassin's Creed - chiefly, the ability to slip into different "personas" to suit the needs of each mission.Ave some of that
For example, the game's 18th-century female protagonist Aveline de Grandpré can elect to strut around in her formal garb and play the 'lady', charming and bribing her way past a guard.
Elsewhere, however, it might be necessary for Aveline to dress up as a slave and slip past guards by shifting crates, or help incite a riot to create a distraction. Failing that, you can also just literally dress to kill and be the Templar-slaughtering assassin.
There's also a smattering of touch-based gameplay, such as rear touch panel-based pickpocketing, Splinter Cell-esque target marking, and a neat letter-opening system (where you slide your fingers across the top of both touch panels at once). It all feels a little tacked-on, but not enough to irritate.
What disappoints me most about Liberation, though, is the slightly rough-and-ready feel about it all. The game routinely stutters when you want it to glide, and such regular framerate issues consistently threaten to chip away at your appreciation for what is otherwise a marvellous technical showcase for handheld gaming.Picture perfect
Visually speaking, the game is frequently outstanding, and provides the kind of sprawling picturesque vistas that have come as standard in Assassin's Creed titles ever since the brand burst onto the scene in late 2007. Likewise, the simple, intuitive free running controls make general exploration a joy.
If you're prepared to stick with the slightly unoptimised feel and can tolerate the curiously low bit rate audio, then there's plenty to admire. As you'd expect from an Assassin's Creed game, plenty of choice over how you go about achieving your goal is provided, though the downside of this less prescribed approach is that success is often a given.
Mostly, though, you're encouraged to sneak past guards undetected and play it like a true stealth badass, drugging your targets with a well-placed blow dart, or sneaking up and taking them out from behind, then legging it to safety.
In a game with such a horribly forgiving, button-mashing-favouring close quarters melee combat system, this reward for playing the assassin is most definitely a good thing. The last thing you want to do is get into a scrap - it might look pretty and keep the animation team busy, but it remains an insultingly casual fighting system.Death by numbers
It's also unlikely that you'll get too involved in the game's wafer-thin narrative, either, as the game quickly descends into the usual murder-by-numbers drama in which you hop from one lavish location to the next to kill whatshisname because he did suchandsuch. One day, it might be possible to care about an Assassin's Creed story, but it feels as distant a prospect as ever in Liberation.
You'll also likely struggle to find any compulsion to get involved with the game's asynchronous multiplayer component. The idea here is to assign troops to specific nodes on a map of the world, and try to control them. As little time as it takes to take a turn, it's hard to imagine anyone eking any enjoyment from his /her efforts at all. But, no matter: the solo campaign stands on its own merits.
If you've played any of the games in Ubisoft's AssCreed series in the past and merely hanker after a little more of the same, you'll be reasonably well serviced. Just don't set your expectation levels too high.