Velvet Assassin, Replay Studios and SouthPeak Games latest stealth action game, transports us back to World War II in a game inspired by actual events. Set in occupied Europe in the 1940’s, you play as Violet Summer, a British secret agent and saboteur. In an interesting twist, the action is being played out in her mind as she lies dying in a hospital years later. It’s in these flashbacks that Summer remembers her first mission and the chain of events that left her locked up in a military hospital. It’s got an interesting premise, but the only problem is that it falls flat.
Based off of the real life spy Violette Szabo, Velvet Assassin offers you the chance to sneak through World War II, causing mayhem and destruction where ever you go. What sounds like a recipe for success is marred by atrocious A.I. and repetitive gameplay. To make matters worse, the story sequences are bare, with the mission briefings being shown through a series of photographs as she explains what she needs to do. Few details on given as to why she’s in the hospital or why she’s reliving her past until the last mission, but it’s the classic case of too little too late. You no longer care why you’re doing what you’re doing, you just want to get it over.
The primary focus of Velvet Assassin’s gameplay is around stealth, as you attempt to infiltrate enemy bases and assassinate individuals. You’re assisted by a colored silhouette at the bottom left of the screen. If the silhouette is outlined in purple, Violette is supposed to be completely obscured from view, allowing her to move silently and attack enemies from the shadows. As you creep up behind the intended target the screen slowly turns red, giving you an indication of when the best time is to strike. The killing blow is done through a series of differing animations, from slitting a throat, slicing tendons, or even plunging a blade into an unsuspecting Nazi’s genitalia. There are over 40 animations used, all depending on the weapon of choice. While it may be engaging at first, it quickly becomes repetitive. Violette can also perform a few other maneuvers to create confusion, such as breaking fuse boxes to cast areas into darkness or whistling to get someone’s attention.
With such an emphasis on the stealth part of the game you’d expect that the sneaking mechanics would be extremely solid. Unfortunately, they’re anything but. There are several issues that completely ruin the stealth aspect, the first being the precise location in triggering the kill animation. If you’re even a hair off the soldier will be aware of your presence and you can kiss it goodbye. The leads into the second issue, your ability in combat. Since every mission has Violette starting with only her knife you’ll often find yourself in situations demanding a firearm. For some unknown reason you’re unable to pick up weapons from fallen enemies. You can only acquire pistols, rifles and shotguns from weapons lockers that are scattered across maps. And to make matters worse, all of which have limited ammunition. Many of these guards will take at least two or three bullets to the body before they go down, which can quickly deplete your supplies. Getting a head shot is key, but not nearly as easy as it seems unless you’re close up. There were instances where I had to put five bullets into a guard before he went down. This left me with two bullets to complete the mission, something that’s simply unacceptable.
There’s also an issue with the shadows and their effect on the stealth aspect of the game. To put it simply, the shadows don’t always conceal you. Far too often guards would become aware of my presence while hiding in the shadows, raising the alarm and creating a situation that was almost impossible to get out of. Lastly, the stealth action is linear, cutting down on the exploration or ability of getting through an area. You’re forced into one path if you want to progress through a level, you’re not able to take a different route of try to complete a section without using violence. Doors will be locked and the guards have the keys, forcing you to abandon stealth for killing guards.
Killing a guard is no sure bet, that is unless you trigger the morphine power, which for some odd reason places Violette in a negligee and has her running around while enemies are stunned and slowed down, allowing her to kill enemies in without taking damage. An interesting concept, but one that makes no sense in the story. Are we supposed to believe this is from her past or are we just living out something in her mind? One thing to point out, it’s far easier to get morphine then replenish your ammunition. The morphine will be laying around anywhere in copious amounts, which makes you wonder just what the Nazi’s were thinking.
A feature that would have worked nicely, if implemented properly would have been the ability to disguising yourself as an SS officer. This allows you to walk around in broad daylight without instantly attracting attention. Unfortunately, there are some issues with the disguise. The first is the loud noise the boots make when you walk. This prevents you from sneaking around because of the noise. Secondly, if you get to close to a guard or do anything out of the ordinary, your cover is blown. There are many instances where it’s inevitable that you get close to a guard since you can only progress down a certain path, and ones that have guards posted along them. It contradicts the usage of a disguise.
One of the most important aspects to a game is the A.I., it will effect whether you’re going to have an enjoyable time or be frustrated the entire way. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of nice things to say about the A.I. in this game. The guards will either be very aware of their surroundings or completely oblivious to you standing right in front of them. Guards regularly ignore the dead bodies laying right next to them, but would have the ability to see Violette hiding in the shadows behind crates. Far too often I was able to silently kill a guard with a fellow guard standing not four feet away. Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself that I have nothing nice to say about the game but that’s not true. Despite all my griping there are some positive aspects about the game.
The visuals are rather impressive, especially the lighting effects and textures. The colors are dark and autumnal looking, a lot of reds, yellows and oranges, yet they blend perfectly. The character models look impressive, with Violette looking the best. Sound wise they do a good job giving the game an eerie feel. See, now didn’t I say it wasn’t all bad?
Velvet Assassin had potential, and as a favorite movie of mine once said “The saddest thing in life is wasted potential.” This sums up my feelings of the game perfectly. The game could have taken an interesting approach to the World War II genre, but it failed. With a story that’s thin and uninteresting, short playing time, no multiplayer and a flawed stealth action elements you have to seriously consider whether $60 is worth the price of admission.