Throughout the history of video games, World War II has been fought, and won a seemingly countless number of times. Each of the perspectives of war have been that of a soldier scrounging for life in the trenches, or storming Normandy on D-Day, or trying to survive the attacks on Russian soil. Velvet Assassin is a polar opposite of the first-person shooter experience that is World War II. Hiding from, and sneaking up on the enemy has never been so difficult.
The story of Violette Summers is perhaps one of the most interesting for that of a trained killer. Before she was recruited by MI6, Violette grew up in a happy family in Devon, England. At the beginning of her life of responsibilities, she spent her time working in a beauty salon before the war broke out. After that, she felt compelled to join the weapons industry. The story seems to just comb over the details in order to avoid us wondering why she went from a beautician to an assassin, but I digress. While she was working in the weapons industry, she was simply noticed by a member of MI6, and because of her beauty and athleticism, was trained to become a killer for England.
If you think the background is oddly unique, you’ll like the story presentation even more. Violette has been severely injured, and is lying on what seems to be her deathbed in the hospital. You play through the game in a world of flashbacks, forcing Violette Summers to relive some of her best and worst moments while fighting under the order of MI6. The bulk of the game play takes place during these flashbacks.
At its core game play, Velvet Assassin is nothing more than Splinter Cell ever was, but there are a few differences. The beautifully rendered Violette Summers is an incredible killer. In fact, near the beginning of the game you almost feel as if she has the power to defeat the German war machine all by herself. Perhaps she does, but the player won’t.
Obviously when stealth is the key game play element, you will not be running and gunning through each level. Instead sneaking up and quietly ending the life of individual Nazis is your goal. As you plan your strategy, and slowly begin to secure victory something could likely go wrong. If you’re lucky, you can escape from the bullets of your enemies, but more often than not you won’t be lucky. Then because after twenty minutes of playing the game there was no check-point, you really do feel like you have wasted twenty long minutes of your life, and precious game play time.
It isn’t as if you’re hurried along. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Violette does nothing but wait and plot. You’re ability to stay hidden in the shadows and watch enemy patterns is an awesome addition to the game. It turns more into a strategy game, than stealth, which is a major redeeming factor. Of course, even if you execute several things with near perfection, you’ll end up doing it again and again because of the absolutely unforgiving checkpoint system. Surviving past a difficult section of the game should always reward you with a checkpoint, but the developers at South Peak must disagree with us. A lot.
One portion of the game requires perfect timing, and you’re obviously set up to kill, hide, run, kill, run, kill, and then hide. After several attempts and losses, you feel as if you’ll never complete it. That is, until the magical moment that everything rolls together, and you come away unharmed. You walk past a doorway you didn’t realize was there, but you make it past, kill the guy…and keep moving. After several little kills, you’re set up for another sequence of running, hiding, and killing. Then you die and go all the way back to the beginning. After a literal twenty minutes of playing, you wind up having wasted all of your time. It’s really unfair, even on a high difficulty setting to punish you for all the time you spent making it perfect because the game does demand perfection.
A quirky element of the game is Morphine Mode. At times, if Violette is in trouble and about to loose her life on the field of battle, she will start to go into convulsions in her hospital bed. The nurse will give her a shot of morphine, which will allow Violette to perform an instant kill on her enemies.
The beautiful purple glow that surrounds Violette as she is hidden throughout indicates whether or not any enemy can see her. The brighter the glow, the more hidden she is. This new feature is an improvement over other stealth titles, and really provided a great assistance in knowing where I could wait, and where I could not.
The world of Velvet Assassin is plagued with brown. Through the years I have come to expect this from World War II titles, but it seems to me that Velvet Assassin brings it into a whole new light, and it gets old. Gamecock does a good job trying to change things up. At times you are watching Violette in the hospital, and so there are those slight changes. Other times the brown takes over as the entire scene is filtered through a sepia tone, and you’re left with even more brown than before.
The crux of the matter is this. Velvet Assassin is hard. It’s hard by stealth title standards. This is going to turn off a lot of gamers from wanting to finish the game and fully appreciate the story. The extreme difficulty and lack of forgiving checkpoints is going to cause many people to believe that the game is broken, but it is not. It is going to be an extreme challenge that will turn off a lot of people in the first five hours. The story continues to become more interesting, but the game does not even begin to become easier. You’re in for a challenge, are you up for it?
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
The cinematic story-telling is awesome, but it's all brown and boring.
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It's too hard, it is unforgiving, and its too hard.
Nothing memorable, but it flows nicely.
I'm not really sure you'll get past hour five, much less play it again.
If you're a glutton for punishment, go ahead and get this game.