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Jeremy Jastrzab
18 Jun, 2009

Velvet Assassin Review

360 Review | More sandpaper than velvet.
There are often movies and novels based on true to life events. Over the last ten to fifteen years, gaming’s closest foray with true to life events has been the avalanche of World War II shooters. Occasionally, a developer will branch out and look for inspiration other than the Normandy landing. The latest being the WWII stealth title, Velvet Assassin, where the titular character is very loosely based on Violette Szabo, a well-known WWII Allied secret agent. Still, the only thing stranger than the fact that the developers are German, is some of the things the game was going for.

Players take control of Violette Summer, who you’ve probably figured by now to be an Allied secret agent during WWII. The game takes place with Violette in a hospital bed and as she talks you through her last few missions and how she got there. Along the way, you take down numerous Nazis and a couple of head honchos as you look to loosely re-enact some of the minor victories of the Allied forces. The story at times is completely upfront and blatantly obvious while at times rather obtuse and symbolically bizarre. While not terrible, it fails to hit on any emotional height, especially given the themes it deals with.

While it’s nice to have a WWII game that doesn’t have you storming Normandy, it also helps when the gameplay is actually good. Through twelve missions, you take control of Violette and you’ll be taken through Germany, France and Poland. Most missions involve you finding something than either getting to a designated point, or escaping. It often plays out like one rather large key hunt, as you’ll hit a door and be told “First, I had to find the right key”. And what better way to find keys than to pry them from the corpses of stealthily assassinated Nazis.

Light and colour are pretty well done here.

Light and colour are pretty well done here.
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Modern action games that are considered ‘old school hard’ are often referred to as being from another age. Unfortunately, attaching the 'from another age' description to a stealth game is somewhat foreboding. While Velvet Assassin takes a couple of good steps for the stealth genre, there aren’t enough to drag it out of an archaic trial-and-error design which will heavily test your patience - and that’s for a game that can be completed within eight hours on the first run. Well, the clock will say seven to eight hours, but there were probably more, though not in a good way.

While mixing elements of the Splinter Cell and Hitman series, to be fair, Velvet Assassin does some things right. In particular, sneaking is as easy as pressing a button to go into sneaking mode. Stealth kills are just as easy, as all you have to do is press a button once you’re in position. Violette is essentially out of sight whenever she's in the shadows, where you’ll be covered in a purple veil. Generally, unless you walk over a Nazi’s toes or make too much noise, it’s a reliable form of cover.

There are some nifty set moments within the game as well. Occasionally, you’ll get a chance to improve your odds by moving crates in front of lights to create more shadows. Furthermore, you can pull the pin off enemies carrying grenades for devastating effects - if pulled off quietly and at the right time. The game encourages you to explore your surroundings, by providing you with collectibles to find. Each of these has some experience points attached, and for each 1000 experience points you’ll gain a skill point, up to fifteen. These points can be spread over three attributes: morphine, sneaking and strength.

Taken from behind, what a way to go.

Taken from behind, what a way to go.
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The use of morphine in the game is rather odd. You can carry one vial at a time, and upon using it, you will freeze time and run around in a nightie temporarily. During this time, you can kill enemies from the front, where as normally you can only kill them from behind. Contextually, there is a reason why you’re allowed the morphine (as you lose it late in the game) and why you’re so modestly dressed in morphine more, but it unravels under the game's design. Not to mention, since you can only kill one enemy in morphine mode, it's useless against groups.

The game will take you through prisons, ghettos, ports, churches and the European country side. Essentially, each mission is divided into much smaller set pieces, where you’ll have a number of enemies that often need to be killed to get past or they’re holding a ‘key’. They come off as a set of puzzles, where you have to figure out the right set of skills to get through unscathed. A couple of problems arise from this, though they all combine to make the trial-and-error in the game almost unbearably frustrating. So even when you figure out what you need to do, pulling it off is another matter.

The worst part about it is the dull nature of the AI. Dull is workable, but when it’s unpredictably dull, then you’ve got a problem. Despite the fact that most of the enemies are stuck in typical patterns, there are just too many occasions where you cannot predict how they’ll react. Sometimes they’ll see you, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they’ll hear you, sometimes they won’t. Even while they’re looking in shadows, you won’t ever know for sure whether they’ll see you or not. The problem doesn’t stop there though.

Good luck with that.

Good luck with that.
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Firstly, you’re sneaking is often too slow to make up for this unpredictability. So by the time you’ve caught up with the enemy after they turn around, you’re often in the middle of the map, in full view and most likely dead. Upgrading the sneaking speed didn’t seem to make a difference either. Secondly, you are virtually helpless if caught. The gunplay is pathetic and you’re dead in a few shots. This leaves very little margin for error and putting all these issues together, you’ve got numerous (i.e. you don't have enough fingers and toes to count) visits to the restart screen, which can be really cruel between some of the lengthier checkpoints.

The audio visual presentation of Velvet Assassin has it moments, and benefits from the HD processing capabilities of the Xbox 360. Despite a stiff and unmalleable environment, it looks good in most instances and has some impressive lighting. Looking across the Seine early in the game is a particular imposing moment. Apart from Violette’s character model, the rest have clunky animations are low on detail. Some of the dark bits could have used better contrast and the artsy stuff is very hit and miss. The music queues aren’t always indicative of what is happening, often going off when they’re not supposed to. Only Violette’s voice is in English, with all the NPC conversations taking place in German. It’s a nice touch and they’re fun to read, albeit that they all sound the same.

It can be argued that the stealth genre is the most endangered in the gaming world. After all, action games seem to have the requisite stealth sequence and even the one great stealth game of the generation so far, MGS4 has less of a focus on stealth. After playing Velvet Assassin, there’s little compelling reason to reject this argument. While the underlying basis for the game is solid, a combination of archaic design, unpredictable and dull AI and weak mechanics make for an unnecessarily frustrating game. The emotion and artistic flair is quite hit-and-miss and made weaker by the gameplay follies. Mr Fisher and Agent 47, you gentlemen have some work to do.
The Score
Velvet Assassin is a decent stealth game, until you're replaying the same sequence for the umpteenth time. 5
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 Comments
4 years ago
Played this on PC a while back but didn't last long. It was just simply boring. Bring back Thief!
4 years ago
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violette_Szabo

Considering how the career of Violette Szabo ended, I found it difficult to see this game as anything but being in bad taste. The fact that it's rubbish only reinforces that feeling.
4 years ago
^ I disagree.

(SPOILERS)

It was if anything, in quite good taste as it ends in a way that is far more respectful to the character than going off exactly what happened to her in real life.
4 years ago
Morphine mode? Nice work OFLC, catching that one and censoring it ah la Fallout 3. Oh wait, YOU DAMN WELL DIDN'T!!
4 years ago
oomlot wrote
Morphine mode? Nice work OFLC, catching that one and censoring it ah la Fallout 3. Oh wait, YOU DAMN WELL DIDN'T!!
I remeber them stating the reasons for this. Something along the lines of 'morphine mode' in Velvet Assasin being intergral to the plot etc. while drug use was just gratitutous in Fallout 3.
4 years ago
^yeah, it's kind of a second chance mechanic that tries to provide continuity. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that well icon_confused.gif
4 years ago
this game sucks
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  21/5/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  THQ
Genre:
  Shooter
Year Made:
  2008

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