The two genres represented in Velvet Assassin are two of the most prominent in gaming. There are an abundance of titles set in World War II, and there is certainly no shortage of stealth games on the market. When you combine these two ideas you get SouthPeak’s latest title. Most importantly Velvet Assassin is a unique experience in that it combines two well-known staples of gaming in an unknown collaboration. This is however, where the innovation ends as the stealth gameplay is more reminiscent of classic titles with patience and trial and error being the forerunner, and wishy-washy AI encompassing the entire package. Still there is something about the game that keeps you entertained from beginning to end, and in this day and age that is a moral victory in and of itself.
The most interesting aspect of the game is the way the story is told. You play as Violette Summer (based on the real life Violette Szabo), a British secret agent who is sent on solo missions to eliminate prominent military figures, or simply to destroy compounds. The entire game is a recollection of Violette’s memories as she lies wounded in a French hospital. She will even narrate each mission as you progress through it. As the story advances you slowly untangle the dilemma before you, and you quickly become attached to the main character. The premise is truly invigorating, and it will draw you into the world even though it is very convoluted from the outset.
What also provides so much atmosphere for the game are the environments. World War II was not a beautiful, candescent vista, and each level in the game really provides the grit that you would expect from a warzone. Whether you are shifting your way through a prison full of screaming hostages pleading for help, or watching innocent civilians tortured and executed before your eyes; this game certainly pulls no punches when it attempts to tug on your heart strings. Having to move silently through and watch these acts unfold must have been terrifying for Violette, and the game pulls off this sense of morality near flawlessly.
There are twelve total missions and each one feels surprisingly unique in the way it looks and feels. The overall theme of the game is stealth, and this outing feels more akin to classic versions of the genre than more recent offerings. There is no doubt that every situation in the game was designed to be handled without confrontation (outside of a few sequences), and you will often times find yourself crouched in a corner waiting for just the right moment to strike. Taking out enemies is as simple as sneaking up behind them and tapping a button for a quick stealth kill. There are also a variety of environmental kills that you can perform, that spice up the gameplay, and end up being quite clever. You can fire bullets into puddles of oil and set enemies ablaze, you can pull pins from soldiers’ grenades for explosive results, and you can even send currents of electricity through water to shock enemies. The variety of ways to dispose of your enemies keeps each level fresh and exciting.
There are also syringes chock full of morphine scattered around each level that act as sort of a free pass to take out enemies. Once you inject this you somehow end up in your lingerie as flower petals rain down onto you. This gives you a chance to take out an unsuspecting enemy from any angle you choose without having to concern yourself with stealth. You can also level up your character by collecting items throughout each level. Each one gives you experience points that can be used to increase your stats making you stronger, stealthier and of course faster. All of this combines to make each scenario unique and exciting as you progress through the game.
It also helps that the stealth portions are extremely rewarding. Maneuvering around each level is handled extremely well thanks to the excellent lighting system. When you are in complete cover you have a purple aura that surrounds you. Guards will also stop and instigate conversations amongst one another, which are often times hilarious. There has not been a game where the tension when sneaking around has been this high, and there were occasions where my palms would be sweating as I narrowly escaped being seen by one of the passing guards. This is the type of atmosphere that really draws players into a stealth game, and Velvet Assassin executes that with near perfection.
While so far this has seemed like a glowing review there are a few setbacks that keep the game from being flawless. The most annoying is the AI of the soldiers. Like most other games in the genre most of your success is achieved by trial and error. Learning the guards’ patterns will always guarantee success, and rarely do they deviate from the allotted course. The other major gripe is that once you complete the campaign there is little reason to return for a second helping. Finally the gunplay is almost useless thanks to the slow aiming mechanic. Granted for most of the game you will find yourself simply toting around firearms with little use for them, but when the situation arises it becomes all the more frustrating thanks to the horrendous aiming mechanic the game delivers.
On a presentation level Velvet Assassin delivers a solid experience with a few minor hindrances. The menu system feels entirely generic and the upgrade system could be a bit more robust. Visually the graphics deliver a somber atmosphere with lots of muted colors and murky textures. Animations are a consistent issue as Violette’s transitions are sometimes wonky. It is also worth mentioning that every single enemy soldier is apparently a clone as they all sport the same face. Dialogue is nicely done with some excellent voice acting. The conversations between enemy soldiers is sometimes a little on the ridiculous side, but it does add nicely to the overall atmosphere. The levels are the standout though, as they fluctuate from poorly lit indoor environments to lush water-side docks and other various locales. No two environments feel strikingly similar.
Velvet Assassin is a solid entry in a genre that hasn’t been as prominent as it once was. Make no mistake though; this is a trial-and-error game through and through. It will require patience and determination, but it doesn’t come without reward. The lack of reason to return to the campaign will no doubt hurt the experience, but what is here is worth venturing through. If you are a fan of the stealth genre then I highly recommend checking out SouthPeak’s latest title. Being under the radar this is one game that will likely surprise most who play it, and disappoint very few.