Velvet Assassin Review (PC)

Rarely do games like to touch on the darker side of things, especially one of the greatest wars in recent history. The early Medal of Honour games, arguably the first mainstream series to tackle WWII espionage, shied away from the gore and sensitive bits, and the grittier side of WWII in this form has been relatively untouched... that is until Velvet Assassin came along.

A curious mix of Splinter Cell, Death to Spies with a bit of Hitman’s brutal motif, Velvet Assassin is a game inspired by (although not really based on) the life and work of real-life WWII agent Violette Szabo. Szabo was a French born English woman whose life for the British Government was short lived – she was captured, tortured and executed after her second mission. In the game, you play Violette Summer, an MI6 agent operating in Nazi held Europe doing all you can for the war effort. The missions you’re asked to go on range from sabotage, or assassination, to killings, and your career lasts a little bit longer. Playing the game however, you get the feeling that it’s not about what you’re there to do, it’s the journey you take whilst doing it, including the how and why.

hmm... I feel as if i should turn around right now... nah...
Whoa... this stuff is good...

The game setting itself is actually handled in a rather unique fashion, which is refreshing. The majority of the game takes place whilst you’re actually in a coma, and you’re reliving your past missions through flashbacks and memories. As such, necessary gameplay elements that wouldn’t happen in real-life are suddenly made that much more believable, because after all this is only a dream. The epitome of this is the ‘Morphine Mode’, which is really just a mechanic for slowing down time to make it easier to deal with enemies.

This mode is then explained away as the morphine injection happening outside of the dream, as Violette gets restless whenever she relives a particular brutal moment (which is defined as any such moment as would warrant the need to activate this mode). The only problem with this is that Violette interacts with the morphine as if she knows what it’s for, which kind of ruins things somewhat, but there you go.

Imperfection is unfortunately a theme for this game. Whilst the stealth mechanics are sound, they’re very basic. Context sensitive actions do apply to this game, but to the stealth element, which is a shame. You must then use natural cover and bit of guess work when sneaking around any given area, stripping it of the finesse you would associate with stealth action games. In a sense then, the stealth in this game forms more of a puzzle then a true ‘art’ – you simply have to figure out which actions to do in which order so that you can pass through to the next bit. Most of the time this involves killing whoever is in your way, although sometimes you get to wear a fetching SS uniform in order to breeze gracefully on by. This only works from afar however, as obviously there were no women in the SS.

Rolf? You’re looking rather effeminate today..
One of the guns you get to use, or have used against you.

But then of course there are moments obviously scripted for things other than stealth, moments where the game turns into an all out shoot fest where you need to kill or be killed – with a butt load more people. Unfortunately, the game’s general shooting mechanics is a bit slow and cumbersome, and not fit for purpose. Even GTA4 managed to deliver a workable FPS-esque feel to a third person title, however Velvet Assassin is not as forth coming. These moments are unfortunately too common to be ignored either, and can be spotted a mile away. (The sudden presence of a shotgun and a fully loaded automatic kind of clue you in) Unfortunately, these are instances you have to just deal with to keep playing the game.

Other oddities include certain enemies that are a bit imbalanced and/or buggy – especially the flamethrower enemies. The camera isn’t great either – whilst you can manipulate it, it doesn’t always work as smoothly as you would like. Dragging bodies backwards is also a bit difficult and seeing as in you do it a lot, it can get pretty annoying.

Still, when the stealth is good – it’s great. There is a certain satisfaction to be gained from sneaking through a level and using only your knife, or not using the morphine mode. The Xbox 360 version especially will have some fun and creative tasks for you to perform in order to get those achievements.

If nothing else, the background environments can be beautiful.
Stay out of the light...

The final element of the game is embodied by a limited levelling system, split into three categories: Stealth, Morphine & Strength. The names are more or less self explanatory, and whilst it makes up for Violette’s slow movements and under strength attacks early on in the game, it is still a pretty weak as far as a level up system goes. Furthermore, the only way to level up is to gain experience by finding collectibles and other random treasures dotted about the place. This seems odd, as it pretty much forces the player to care about hidden items and to painstakingly search each area you come across. The only saving grace with this is that there are a fair few items that are there to drive the story and setting, and so are easily visible.

Velvet Assassin could have been amazing. The story is suitably dark and gritty to support such a game, however it is the gameplay itself that lets it down a tad. Still, this isn’t Assassin’s Creed level disappointing, and provided you can stand the various faults and flaw of the game you should have an enjoyable ride. The ending may be grim and rather depressing, but like the game itself this is trying to be different, to stand out from the crowd. And ultimately, the moral of Violette’s story, both real and re-imagined, is plain - life doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Top Game Moment: Taking out a room full of enemies using only your knife, and a bit of creative thinking.

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By melzerith (SI Core) on Jun 30, 2009
I'm still debting over this one!?!
By Hunter_Raj (SI Member) on Aug 29, 2009
I'm still Playing this game but it's not 2 good ... so don't west your time