By Ben Griffin.
Two mere months since Black Flag, a big fat Christmas goose of a game that filled bellies to bursting point and still lingers on the tongue, comes the unappetising Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD. It's the videogame equivalent of finding a half-chomped digestive down your trousers.
A Vita game from 2012, Liberation's low-rent roots are immediately clear. Visuals are basic and animation crude despite the HD spruce, and the featured setting - an 18th century Louisiana incorporating New Orleans and Chichen Itza - feels oddly familiar. A croc-infested bayou bridging the two locations is essentially a murky version of ACIII's wilderness. Granted, it's an interesting period for yet another spot of virtual tourism, Ubisoft casting their historical lens on the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, and the horrors of slavery therein.
You play Aveline de Grandpré, the enigmatic daughter of a wealthy white merchant and the slave he purchased. Hers is a unique perspective, able to slink through social classes in order to observe them from within and without. The Persona System is the key.
This lets you dress Aveline in three different outfits. As The Lady, Aveline can spend coin to bribe her way into restricted areas and lure guards from patrol routes by turning on the charm. This comes at the cost of using freerunning or wielding weapons, aside from a James-Bond-style poison parasol. As The Slave, Aveline loses her combat strength but gains the ability to incite riots and blend in with other slaves. And as The Assassin, Aveline can do all that stabby stuff you're accustomed to. Now with added blowpipe.
Trouble is, donning alternative outfits just isn't appealing. Who honestly wants to wear filthy rags or a frilly pink dress in an Assassin's Creed game? Changing stations are too spread out to be convenient, too.
Besides a money-making minigame in which you send out ships loaded with spices and cotton by navigating a dull series of menus, there are no new marquee features. Liberation feels stripped-down and spartan, and while this isn't necessarily a bad approach given it belongs to a series guilty of feature-creep, players deserve more than a retread. There must be better ways of defogging the map than climbing a church steeple by now, surely? And driving a speeding carriage? So 2009.
Liberation works best when it gives you a strict set of rules and a large area to infiltrate. Sneaking into a governor's mansion, or disrupting some voodoo ritual in the deepest darkest bayou, are lent bite by strict fail states - get spotted and it's game over. The result is a game with a healthy dose of tension.
Liberation follows hot on the heels of one of the freshest instalments in the series' history, and this doesn't cast it in the most flattering light. It's just, well, too much like a biscuit (see first paragraph).
Expect to pay: £16
Release: Out now
Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Sometimes stripped-down and stealthy, but mostly basic and boring, Liberation can't play in the big leagues.