Velvet Assassin is the latest game from US based publisher SouthPeak Games and has been produced by German development team Replay Studios. The game tells the story of fictitious character Violette Summer, a British operative during the second World War. The Violette in the game has been influenced by a real life British agent Violette Szabo who was part of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during WWII. The game places Violette deep behind enemy lines as a covert agent with clear and crucial objectives to aid the war effort. The game predominantly offers stealth based gameplay in perhaps a genre that is well respected, but not as popular as more action orientated experiences. That said, with a few stealth games on Xbox 360, how well does Velvet Assassin stack up? Ultimately, should the game remain in the shadows hidden away, or exposed and drenched in the limelight for offering fans a palatable slice of stealth gaming?
Velvet Assassin introduces the main character Violette Summer via an introductory cut scene which sees her laid up in a hospital bed. It’s clear that she’s been through Hell and is perhaps on her death bed as her mind is clouded with dreams and memories. The scene is set and thus propels the game’s story, which instead of moving forwards, takes a step back and recreates Violette’s past missions as she remembers them in her hospitalized condition. Drained, bleeding and well bruised, when one’s mortality is questioned, perhaps it’s a time for reflection. Throughout the game, Violette offers a striking narrative, which delves into the determination qualities of her character. Although the game portrays an attractive young woman, the reality is anything but, and this is made perfectly clear as you play.
Velvet Assassin offers the usual mechanics synonymous with the stealth genre, so you’ll be hiding in the shadows, avoiding brightly lit areas, evading patrolling guards and being lumbered with limited supplies. The first mission sets the tone of the game well, and offers an easy tutorial mission of sorts. You’ll be instantly greeted with the game’s main stealth mechanic, the silent kill which you’ll be using one hell of a lot – especially if you play the game how it’s intended. The silent kill requires you to move undetected behind an opponent where once close enough, you’ll be prompted to initiate the attack (by pressing the A button). Once the attack animation begins the game freezes momentarily to show off a random attack sequence, you know, slitting a throat, stabbing in the back, shooting in the head, you get the point. Violette is very accomplished at killing, and for a woman of her stature, she’s pretty tough, taking no prisoners throughout her 12 mission journey. There are some 50 kill animations, and whilst brutal, they are a welcome addition to the game, spicing up what could have been just one or two kill animations. We’ve killed many Nazis in other games before, but none so visceral and brutal as this – peachy!
The game isn’t all stealth, and depending on how well armed you are, offers some minor action elements. With pistols, a sniper rifle, assault rifle and a shotgun at your disposal, there’s enough fire-power to offer some shooting action for those with itchy trigger fingers, and on occasion, the game will actually force you to ditch the sneakiness and just start shooting Nazis. When you’re really in a pickle, then you can use the game’s morphine mode and gain invincibility for a short duration. Here you’re unarmed and able to take out just one opponent. It’s really a device that gets you out of trouble should you mess up, and with limited refills available means It’s integrated well and offers a neat departure from the rather slow-paced sneaking around in the dark, the same can be said of the shooting elements which also break up the slower paced gameplay. There are some moments where you’ll be able to interact with the scenery, and it’s here that things like shooting explosive barrels, oily puddles or gas containers can help your progression without exposing yourself too much, perhaps even taking out more than one opponent with one shot, and thus conserving valuable ammo. They are welcome moments regardless and offer some light comic relief at times, despite being somewhat scripted in their placements.
The shooting mechanics are not perfect though, and you may discover that the aiming sensitivity is hard to find a good balance to suit your playing skill. A separate option for aiming and camera speed would have benefited the game here. It’s possibly due to the fact that stealth and silent kills are wholly encouraged, that shooting is a lesser element. So be warned, if you’re after a pure action game, you might feel a little unfulfilled.
The game’s levels vary between dark and dimly lit locales, during the night, and those set at dusk/dawn. You can always tell if Violette is hidden well in the shadows or undergrowth, as a velvet/blue hue appears around her character. For the most part there are plenty of places to hide, and on occasion you’ll also be able to hide in the open behind large crates/objects, and even in cupboards and toilets. With the distinct mixture of naturally lit areas and those shrouded in darkness, there’s a neat balance to how you navigate and move to get the drop on those patrolling. However some Nazis aren’t afraid of equipping flash-lights to throw your sneaking antics out the window, offering heightened tension for those encounters. Generally your path is always pretty clear and whilst predominantly linear in design, on occasion you’ll be able to take a slightly alternate route, or even do things in your own order. The real choice that is offered to the player, is the option to play stealthily or whip out the guns and start shooting. There are also moments where you’ll be able to don an SS uniform and blend in with your enemies, again, the choice here being optional. There’s some minor character tweaking to mess around with, whereby you’ll be able to pump stars into three main areas, thus tailoring the game to suit your play style. It’s very basic, and reliant on finding collectibles, but ultimately a welcome addition – although its effects are somewhat subtle in terms of gameplay.
The enemy AI is pretty typical for a stealth game, and whilst guards patrol pre-determined paths – sometimes stopping off for a lengthy chat with a comrade – you’ll be able to lure them away by whistling to get them to play on your terms. Armed with sub-machine guns and shotguns, the Nazis are very much well powered versus little Violette who is often armed with only a pistol and dagger. The guards will spot any dead bodies lying around, and if you make too much noise whilst moving, will come and investigate. The sad thing here is that the guard animations are no where as intricate as the silent kills, meaning you’ll easily learn when to move in for the kill based on the guard’s animations. It takes away a little edginess from the game and could have been improved to offer a little less predictability. That said, with limited supplies and a possible death around most corners, means that the guards offer suitable challenge albeit somewhat scripted. In typical stealth game fashion, guards will give up the chase after a while and resume duties as if nothing has happened. It’s an old mechanic and something that is obviously employed to keep the game play fair – not that it’s agreeable, just something stealth gamers have learned to live with. It’s a shame Replay Studios couldn’t develop the idea and make something new with it.
Graphically Velvet Assassin has its ups and downs with some visually impressive moments and some others that aren’t so great. For the record it’s well advised to not have the game/TV brightness too high. You tend to lose the element of darkness when the brightness is set high, and can somewhat take you out of the game when it looks like you should be seen when in fact you’re perfectly well hidden in the shadows. The game offers some varied locales during the day and night, but looking closer, and you’ll spot mixed texture details. Some textures are very low-res for an Xbox 360 game and could have had a little more detail. However, the game offers its own pallet of colours, presenting a more washed out look rather than something that is deliberately sharp. It works well in the context of the WWII setting. There are moments where you’ll witness some impressive lighting and shadow effects, which are drawn out in contrast to the over abundance of darkness. However things like simple, and possibly expected animations are not present. Climbing ladders, operating switches, opening some doors simply happens rather than watching the character perform the actual motions. It’s just a shame that the overall level of detail isn’t that little bit higher – it does feel at times like you are playing a much older game in this regard.
There are moments where the graphics can stutter sporadically, yet is nothing particularly game breaking, but is noticeable all the same. There also could have been a little more variation with the enemies, because you’ll be mostly killing what looks like a clone army. Other than these minor quibbles, the game generally holds up very well and is presented with just enough qualities to pull you in.
A very important aspect for the genre, and one that is well utilized here. Beyond Violette’s narrative (spoken in her British accent) you’ll be hearing the guards talking in German (with subs) leaving the rest of the aural pallet reserved for ambient sounds and a tense musical score. Violette’s vocal performance is very good, and well performed despite some instances where her voice actress’s accent falters on occasion. The music is well-suited to the game and whilst dynamic to the action, is fitting and non intrusive. What is worth noting here is that although you’ll hear a briefing at the start of each mission, and perhaps the odd cutscene during play, there is very little vocal interference. This is actually quite welcome, and emphasises the solitary experience the game provides. There’s no barking Colonel in your ear and pop up screens during the missions, so you’re really thrust into the thick of things on your own. This allows for the ambience to shine through, thus giving a better indication of the dark and moody locales you’re in – the terrified screams of tortured and burning victims in a church being one cold bloodied example of this.
Velvet Assassin presents 12 missions and two levels of difficulty to mess around with. The campaign should take between 6- 12 hours to play through, possibly longer if you hunt for all collectibles on your first run. The achievements are well balanced and will most likely take two or three play-throughs to get them all. With no tacked on multiplayer to offer a distraction from the main game, Velvet Assassin could have been a little longer, because other than some minor stats and ranking at the end of each mission, there’s no real incentive to play through again if you’ve already exhausted all other avenues.
Velvet Assassin is a welcome addition to the stealth genre and WWII games in general. The option to sneak around the Nazi regime is different, and seems to fit well with how the game has been developed. Violette is an interesting character despite being a portrayed as a little too methodical – there’s no real attachment to her as a person, as you’re only seeing her focusing on her missions. It would have been nice to have a little more in-game back-story to the character beyond what is already offered.
The gameplay is very slow paced, old school and basic, but having played the game in its entirety it lends itself well to the WWII setting. As already mentioned, there’s no intrusive radio chatter, no gadgets, and a sense of simplicity to proceedings, making for an accessible game. Perhaps it’s this simplicity which may prove too much for some, although will probably wrestle with your gaming scruples. Does a game need to be overly complex to remain fun and engaging is a question that is aroused when playing, and in this regard Velvet Assassin succeeds in providing an unadulterated stealth game forged on the simplistic tenures of its own design choices.
The question remains, is the game worth checking out, and worthy of a purchase? For fans of the stealth genre then that’s resounding yes, but perhaps the game’s brevity will unscrew a few holding bolts in making it a long term resident in your collection. For gamers on the fence, then it’s certainly worth checking out, but perhaps should be rented first to give you a greater indication of what’s on offer.
Velvet Assassin is very much an enjoyable game, it might not have the high production values of some of its peers, but in general offers a tense, thrilling, and engaging gameplay experience throughout. With not so many stealth games on Xbox 360, to have another which dares to venture into tired and well-trodden pastures, is very much welcome. If you’re a fan of stealth, then Velvet Assassin is well worth a look.