|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Replay Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SouthPeak Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 28, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Velvet Assassin is a stealth title that places players in the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe. While the game fails to innovate upon established genre conventions, it does a remarkable job of providing players with a puzzle-like experience. I suppose many players will get frustrated with the plodding pace and linearity of the game, however, others will find the meticulous approach with which levels need to be cleared exceedingly enjoyable. Moreover, the dark and eerie settings are perfectly rendered; aptly lending themselves to complete immersion in the tale being spun.
The game is set in 1944, and it is based on the covert actions of the decorated British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent Violette Szabo. Szabo, a mother and soldier's widow, died at the age of 23 after being apprehended by the Nazis while reorganizing the heavily disrupted French resistance, the Maquis. Szabo was beaten, raped, malnourished, and forced into hard labor by the occupying force until her death in Ravensbrück concentration camp in February of 1945. With this darkest of backdrops as a guide, the introspective German developer Replay Studios has players take on the role of Violette Summer - a fictional character developed in the mold of Violette Szabo.
As Violette Summer, players will be charged with infiltrating and destroying strategic Nazi installations across Europe and taking out key members of their leadership and even captured friends. Told in medias res, players will see the story unfold via a series of feverish flashbacks from the perspective of a bed-ridden Violette Summer who's strung out on morphine. This sets up each of the 12 missions as relived memories, and it also paves the way for the implementation of Morphine Mode (more on that later). Armed with little more than a knife and cat-like cunning, gamers are forced to make their way through the objectives relying almost entirely on stealth. Fortunately, the game's sneaking mechanics are very well employed and quite enjoyable to use. Hiding in the shadows and using the environment will provide players with nearly absolute cover. Of course, enemies can still spot you if you are even remotely careless. That means acting patiently yet decisively is a must.
Upon entering a new section, players will have to crouch into position and analyze the situation. This can be done by eavesdropping on enemy guards, looking for interactive objects in the environment (such as radios, breaker boxes, and hazardous materials), observing guard behavior, and quickly devising a method of attack and escape. This makes the levels' sections feel like puzzles. I thoroughly enjoyed coming up with a plan and, literally, executing it to perfection. If I got the least bit silly, or if I tried to do things unreasonably, I would pay the price with a quick death, having to then start over from the last saved checkpoint. Occasionally, this can get frustrating. But, eventually, the tactic for tackling a set of rooms, prison corridors, or a section of urbanization becomes apparent. On the downside, level design is fairly linear. Sure, sometimes you can choose from forking routes from a central hub, but once you are on that path there is little variation to be found. Sporadically, a secondary tunnel, secret path, or side room will allow you to dispatch with foes more easily, give you access to key implements and weaponry, or reward you with invaluable collectibles. Still, slinking along amongst the shadows and bushes is typically the best choice.
That being said, there are a few other alternative stealth tactics that can be employed. For example, Violette can turn off a radio or give a little whistle to lure a guard into a trap. Also, you can break fuse panels to turn out lights and sometimes you can even set oil pools alight or electrocute baddies stuck in standing water. These tools serve to help players get through sections in a rewarding and creative fashion. Unfortunately, some things don't always work quite the way they should. For instance, standing in front of a light source in a cove that projects your shadow on the wall won't alert enemies. This speaks volumes to the overall stupidity of the enemy A.I.; these automatons pace around predictably and rarely react to their surroundings.
When stealth isn't enough, the game does provide you with some weapons, but clearly Violette Summer is not a highly-trained professional. Don't expect to be able to blast your way out of a hairy situation, as the shooting mechanic is woefully meager. I didn't find this to be a problem, however. After all, more than 90% of the kills you will make in this game will be done from behind with a knife. Although, shooting gallery sections are tedious and should've been dropped or vastly improved.
If all else fails, as previously alluded to, a peculiar mechanic called Morphine Mode is used in the game. Essentially a glorified bullet-time system, whenever players encounter a situation that can't be effectively circumvented, Morphine Mode will have players shift into a temporary dream-like state where Violette prances around in her lingerie, allowing you to efficiently deal with these threats. While this may sound wacky, it somehow works within the context of the story.