Set in colonial New Orleans between 1765 and 1780, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation follows the journey of Aveline de Grandpré, only daughter of a wealthy white settler and his African-American placée – a freed slave raised to the status of a common-law wife.
Shielded from the awful reality of life as a black woman in 19th century America, the young Aveline enjoys great wealth and comfort – but the future looks far from rosy. For one thing, her loving parents are forbidden to marry; for another, Aveline can never inherit her father's riches. As Aveline grows up, the shadows of injustice become darker and harder to ignore, and when her beloved mother disappears one day, never to return, a wound is opened that fails to heal.
Abandoned and unhappy despite her father's continued affection, Aveline is taken under the wing of the freed slave Agate, who inducts her into the Brotherhood of Assassins. The Templars, it seems, are active in New Orleans, profiting from the miseries of the slave trade. And with the blood of both the oppressor and the oppressed in her veins, Aveline is the perfect person to stop them...
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is a show-stopper from start to finish, with production values as high as anything ever seen on a portable system.
Visuals are vivid and richly detailed, with the bustling, dirty streets of New Orleans as lifelike and inviting by day as they are by the light of a blue bayou moon. Speaking of bayous, the area outside the city is full of them: treacherous, gator-filled swamps as lush, large and ripe for exploration as the city itself.
Further into the quest, more distant destinations become available, all rendered with a keen eye for historical accuracy and a flair for detail that mean the game never feels anything less than true to life. It's a joy to control Aveline as she sprints and vaults across rooftops and along tree branches before diving from a towering church spire into soft bales of hay below.
Equally impressive are the script, soundtrack and voice acting: the game centres heavily on its twisting, turning plot, and the superb writing ensures that the story unfolds in truly cinematic style. What's more, the vastness of the game never overwhelms. The action may be epic, the teeming world around you brimming with information to collect and artefacts to discover, but Aveline's ever-growing inventory of weapons and treasures is easy to access and adjust, and the brief tutorial at the start of the game serves as the perfect initiation for the death-defying adventure ahead.
Aveline de Grandpré is a divided soul, born into luxury by sheer good fortune then forced to watch as the world commits horror after horror against others like her. Happily, she's smart enough to recognise the injustice all around; even more happily, she's a gifted assassin able to dole out punishment to evildoers using anything from her bare hands to a bullwhip.
The secret to Aveline's transformation from pampered trader's daughter to vengeful killer lies in her mother's sudden disappearance and her ensuing friendship with the freed slave Agate. It's Agate who reveals to Aveline the web of power underpinning the economic and political structure of her home town, and Agate who trains her to become the roof-leaping, wall-scaling murderess set to strike fear into the hearts of slave traders and Templar overlords alike.
Aveline is a completely absorbing heroine, as striking, implacable and strong as any of the male assassins in previous Assassin's Creed games. If anything, the conflict surrounding her identity and social status makes her tale even more compelling – and Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is a deeply exciting and emotive experience as a result.
Freedom for all
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is that rare thing: a historical thriller that's equal parts history and thrills. The story that shapes Aveline's quest is never less than engrossing, while the action itself is free-roaming, mission-led adventure at its very best.
The fast and furious combat and fluid free-running at the heart of the experience will be familiar to fans of the Assassin's Creed series, plus you can now use the PS Vita system's touchscreen to chain attacks together and finish off four or five foes in quick succession. Try swiping the touchscreen and rear touch pad to slice open letters and tilting the PS Vita system to guide a canoe through the dangerous waters of the Louisiana bayous. You can even hold the PS Vita system's camera up to a real-life light source to view coded messages written in invisible ink.
A heroine like Aveline deserves unique abilities, and here again the game delivers. Playing on both her mixed racial heritage and her gender, Aveline can take advantage of the prejudices of the period to infiltrate social situations where a regular assassin would be too easy to spot. By using cash looted from guards you've slain, you can establish dressing rooms around New Orleans; these can then be used to change between the outfits of an assassin, a slave or a lady-about-town, depending upon what the current mission requires. Each persona has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it's essential you learn to use each properly if you're to root out the rottenness in the world around you. After all, your Templar enemies are always on the alert – only the stealthiest and most skilled of assassins can hope to overcome them.