It’s always refreshing to see a game without a number or subtitle on the box, especially a good old stealth title. Snake has grown old and Splinter Cell Conviction is taking too dammed long to get released, so anything to keep the genre going is welcome. Which is why Velvet Assassin has been a particular title I have been looking forward to. You take on the role of Violette Summer, who is based roughly on Violette Szabo a WWII British secret agent. Your mission is to break down the German war machine by taking out specific leaders and buildings from the inside.
Velvet Assassin is your basic stealth game, reminiscent to earlier Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell titles but not as flamboyant. Replay Studio’s took the basic concepts of the stealth action genre and turned it into an atmospheric title, while at the same time forgetting to evolve the stealth gameplay making it all feel a bit too stagnant. Don’t get me wrong though, Velvet Assassin should not be easily dismissed just for innovation sake. There is so much more to it but let’s get the mechanics out the way first.
Like most stealth games, guards will walk up and down their predetermined route. You can distract them a whole number of ways such as leaving a body out for them to see, whistle, break a fuse light, turn off the radio or make noise in general. The guard will go into a more defensive stance and wonder around slowly looking for the source. You use this time to get behind and initiate a silent kill, or if you are really lucky you can quickly pull a grenade pin from a guard’s belt as he walks back to his comrades and blows them up.
I’d class Velvet Assassin more as a puzzling stealth title rather than a stealth action title. Why? Well there are some tricky situations even a large arsenal can’t get you through. You are forced to find a stealthier way around and that takes a keen wit and some quick paced thinking to really take advantage of the situation at hand. It’s really satisfying clearing a room of 6 guards silently, especially when all their paths intertwine and you are dragging bodies into all sorts of hiding places.
The enemy AI however is not all that great, at times you can be right in front of the guards and they stand there completely oblivious to your presence, and sometimes from across the room even a glimmer of light on you will cause the whole squad of guards to become alerted. This does not happen often but with checkpoints being further apart than usual, it can become very frustrating and make a simple trip from A to B a complete nightmare. You see, while in games like Metal Gear Solid or Hitman where being attacked is not such a problem, Velvet Assassin is about silent killing and avoiding large scale battles. Violette is extremely fragile and 2 hits from a shotgun will kill you. This does make the game more realistic and certainly provides a tough challenge for stealth game enthusiasts but when you are forced to start a gun fight you sometimes have to hope for the best.
This leads onto the actual combat controls that really have hurt the game. While the obvious headshot provides any instant kill required, shots any where else on a guard’s body are pretty much useless unless you are wielding a shotgun. It would take 4-5 shots from a Colt to take down a Nazi and to make matters worse there are usually more guards around when you need to take these vital shots. Lining up a shot is no problem, it’s just as soon as the Nazi’s start to move towards you, the over the shoulder aim is not responsive enough to keep up and you end up missing the majority of your shots and wasting precious ammo. You can’t even pick up weapons from a downed enemy making your only protection come from convenient weapon lockers placed sparingly throughout the maps. The amount of ammo you are permitted to carry is low as well, again keeping with the realistic theme of the game but very frustrating later on, so if you make a mistake you can’t gun you way out of it as running away is hardly an option.
It is much more rewarding to go for silent kills, which is what a stealth game is all about anyway. Take your time, work out guard patterns and you could be clearing rooms much easier than with the limited weapons provided. This is the main redeeming factor of Velvet Assassin, the atmosphere the game exudes is perfect for sneaking around and they did a great job making World War II a truly uncomfortable experience. There are plenty of silent assassination animations, some of which depend on what equipment you have with you.
So what else can you do other than sneak around for hours on end? Well the game comes with the traditional collectables that we have all grown to love. These range from letters you can read to personal items from Nazi’s. There are also secret objectives for the majority of the missions that net you some cool achievements, intertwine with the main story and get you some bonus experience points for Violette.
Experience points in a stealth game? Well, yes. Each secret objective you complete or collectable you pick up will net you some experience points. These points can be spent on levelling up 3 of Violette’s stats; Morphine, Stealth and Strength. Each stat helps depending on what you want Violette to be tailored to but can be maxed out completely if you manage to find and complete all of the extras. Strength increases the speed you can push crates and boxes around as well as how many shots Violette can take before she dies. Stealth increases the speed you walk at in stealth mode making it easier to catch up to moving targets. The most interesting of them all is morphine, which increases how many morphine needles you can carry at once and how long it lasts for.
Now morphine is something talked about a lot during the course of the game, all the Nazi’s want it and are willing to pay large sums of money to get their hands on some. For some reason you find loads of morphine filled needles scattered all over the place. What the morphine does to Violette however is create a god mode effect for a few brief seconds. This deters from the rest of the more realistic style of the game as during this ‘god mode’ the screen blurs white and fills with rose petals as a scantily clad Violette runs around in slow mo and can take out one enemy with a quick press of the A button. While it is life saving during the game, it also felt a bit tasteless. Violette is a strong woman and the majority of her wardrobe is very respectfully designed as such, even the Nazi uniform has a below knee length skirt. So to throw Violette in a tiny nightdress during these moments were real atmosphere killers.
This brings me onto why you should be playing Velvet Assassin – The atmosphere. The sound and look of this game are done so beautifully. From the full German and French dialog (with subtitles) to menacing music that builds up at the right moments. Replay Studio’s have obviously put more time into the look and feel of Velvet Assassin rather than the mechanics behind it all. Along with the dark and harrowing air of war, artsy sepia cut scenes splicing together over an emotional decision between what’s best for the resistance and what’s best for the people. I found myself becoming more and more attached to Violette, mainly because it was nice to see a strong female lead that could be emotional but still professional.
Velvet Assassin does not glorify the war and at times makes it quite an uncomfortable piece to watch, which is something not often done. While no technical marvel or innovation has been accomplished here, I enjoyed my play through of Velvet Assassin. It’s not trying to be anything other than a stealth game and I found that charming with today’s titles attempting to do so much more than needed. While not worth a full price purchase it’s something I implore people to give a chance.