Is it bad when the only thing memorable about a game is the tune the enemy hum while staggering about? If so, then Velvet Assassin is a bad game.
Velvet Assassin is a stealth action game from small time developers Replay Studios. The game pits you as Violette Summer, a British Spy during the World War 2 era, performing sneaky tasks and objectives to interrupt and stop the Germans pesky Nazi ways. I went into this game with a lot of promise and expectation, with trailers and game play demos shaping the game into something that really quite tickled my stealth genre fancy. In a market where MGS4 and Splinter Cell both exist, this game had a lot to contend with, and let me just tell you, it doesn't even come close to the competition.
The game opens to the character being in a coma lying in a hospital bed, reliving the events of her life in a dream like state. The player is introduced to all the elements of the game by the lead character herself, who narrates everything that is currently going on, from what the player should look out for in the gaming environment, to carrying the thin plot. Bringing me to my first gripe with the game. The voice acting is weak at best, with Violette slurring out the mission introductions like she's half soaked and downed a couple pints of lager. Lacking believability, this really starts the missions off on the wrong foot. In addition to this, a minor point that ruins the believability of the character is the use of American pronunciation of words. Springing instantly to mind would be Violettes use of the word route, which in English is said "root" but rather is said like "r-out". Minor details, but they all add up to make the character overall weak and unbelievable in the realistic setting that this game is aiming for.
Secondly, and most importantly to some, the graphics. Graphically speaking, the game does hold some merit when compared to other titles currently available. Lighting effects and level textures really make the environment look and feel how they should, with grainy underground areas looking crisp and murky with floods of overexposed light, and the outdoor sections being openly bright and appealing to the eye, while still retaining a hint of War time flair. Violette herself on the other hand is as plastic as videogame heroines come. Comparatively, the enemies sport detailed appearances, their faces creased with wrinkles and dapper suits to boot. Violette on the other hand, rather than being dressed for success, looks like she has been ripped straight from the women’s section of a clothing catalogue, leather hot pants and all. Her hair also, in its permed state, is seriously questionable when the lead characters chosen profession is that of a spy and not a fashion model.
The game takes a very basic approach to the stealth genre, albeit a safe one, hanging around in shadows until the enemies back is turned and executing a silent kill. This is played out well, with the silent kill animations being more then satisfying every time they are performed. Enemies walk out set patterns and actions much like other stealth games, and the player must be aware of their surroundings when trying to sneak in for the kill. Broken glass fragments, electrified floors and oil patches are also dotted around to make it harder to reach the enemies but all these adages feel like a rough attempt to make things more challenging, when overall compared to other games, Velvet Assassin really is a cakewalk.
Disappointingly, the game opts to use a very basic hiding system. When the player is concealed in shadows, they are invisible to the enemy, unless they get to nose touching distance. If the player is out of the shadow, it’s as if they are completely exposed, and will be spotted from miles away from every Nazi in Germany. There is no middle ground to be had; you are either in shadow, or out of it. When stealth games have led us to believe that you can be hidden anywhere, even in broad day light if done correctly, this harsh back to basics approach is hard to swallow, and in some sections can make the game overly tedious and frustrating. Checkpoints are also merciless in Velvet Assassin, forcing you to redo overly long sections of the game, and even listen to ridiculously long speaking sections over and over again. When a game such as this is based off of trial and error, this really breaks the pace of the game down to a crawl in some sections, and the game at its best points is not satisfying enough to overlook such problems.
The games main selling point that makes it stand out from the crowd is its use of morphine. When Violette jabs herself with the happy juice, the world around her freezes causing all enemies to stop dead in their tracks. With all the enemies motionless the player can now use this time to relocate to another area, or take out one particularly annoying guard. Although this feature tries to be inventive and revolutionary, it just boils down to a “Get out of jail free card” of sorts, with it feeling more like a cheat code than an actual game mechanic. Personally, from a side note, with Violette’s clothes being replaced by a silky night gown during these sequences, I feel this was just an attempt to make the overall game slightly more appealing to the male crowd and I would much rather have seen her stay fully clothed. It just makes everything feel disjointed and fake when the game strives so hard to stay as realistic and gritty as it possibly can.
Overall, Velvet Assassin tries to keep up with the heavyweights of the stealth genre, while staying reserved in the areas that matter. This makes the game overall feel like a wasted opportunity, resulting in a unsatisfying, cheap and lacklustre experience to be had throughout. It’s use of gimmicky game mechanics, plastic graphics and weak dialogue make everything feel overall bland, leaving the finished product looking like a mixed mish-mash of different ideas. If you are really into your stealth games, and can find this at a very low price, you might want to give it a shot, but I wouldn’t go in expecting anything breathtaking or inspiring.
Update: Just read Jim’s review of this and I would have to say that he is right on the money with what he says. I also did not complete the game, as I found it too boring and tedious to continue. Nice job reviewing Jim, great work as always