It's safe to say that the World War II era has been one of the most overused stages for videogames, mostly revolving around FPS and RTS genres. With this in my mind, it is likely any new WWII game will be met with an inauspicious beginning. What makes the case for Velvet Assassin different is the fact of it being a stealth game. With the unexpected genre choice and the inclusion of promising gameplay nuances, one must ask whether or not breaking the mold on what's expected in a WWII game instantly makes this a good one.
The main character is Violette Summer (inspired by real-life WWII hero Violette Szabo), a British female spy that's dropped deep into German territory for means of sabotage, assassination, and more. After being mortally wounded, Violette lies on the brink of death while retelling fragments of her past life pertaining to important missions she was tasked with carrying out. The missions she was ordered to carry out range from destorying vital Nazi equipment to assassinating high-value targets. As Violette dives deeper into her nightmares, she also displays the many horrors that the Nazis imposed on innocent life.
The story is one of the brighter spots to this game. Violette's flashbacks ,coupled with her current situation being discussed in between some missions, help flesh out the story in an interesting way. It's quite entertaining to hear both the grisly statements of certain Nazi soldiers and Violette's introspection with the task at hand. The main fault to be found with the flashback mechanic is how blatantly unnecessary some of her thoughts are to the gamer. In the end, this morose WWII tale is guarunteed to deliver some powerful moments.
The presentation of the game can be praised more for the artistic implementations, rather than sheer fidelity. For the most part, the engine holds fairly well to today's age. Ranging from the solid character models to the enviroments, the graphics are quite good. The problems that really plauge the game are in different aspects: framerate hiccups quite often, daylight missions don't have dynamic shadows (ie sun stays put until you reach a certain part of the map), and fire effects are underwhelming. As stated, the graphics have their faults but can hold their own.
The sound department is also one of the highlights of the game. The score isn't exactly versatile, but it makes up for it in depressing the mood. Being greeted by a single violin in each mission intro feels like it sucks out all of the verve one may have acquired in their previous mission, making each level feel start on an unnerving note. Another great idea Velvet Assassin had was keeping all German soliders speaking German, rather than the usual English with a German accent.
When comparing to the likes of the Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid series, the controls can feel rather rudimentary. The layout is simple with the stand/crouch button, typical weapon layout, whistle, and interaction button (whether to turn off light or assassinate someone from behind). The differences from this game to other stealth games is your violet silhouette and morphine mode. The violet silhouette is the indicator to show whether or not you are hidden or in plain sight. Morphine mode sends you into a trippy haze, with Violette dressed in her nightgown, that stops time and basically hands over a free kill (ability to kill one soldier from any angle). To ensure most of the assassinations are purely stealthy, there's a curbed amount of one-use morphine shots on each level.
At it's core, the stealth mechanic operates on the "study the enemy's routes" formula. The training of watching your target until he is in the right place can come off as archaic to some; however, there's still satisfaction to be had by the plethora of different animations seen as Violette silences her enemies. The glaring fault in the stealth mechanic would -ironically- be in the stealth itself. IF Violette is seen by a guard, she is litterly an ubiquitous spy even after she's gone back in the darkness. Only staying in darkness is irrelevant until your violet silhouette stops blinking (indicator for being seen). There is also no multiple alarms punishment of any kind, although being caught unexpectedly usually guaruntees a death screen to begin with.
The weapons in Velvet Assassin revolves around the basic arsenal: knife, silenced or standard pistol, shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle, and flare gun. Since stealth is the main mechanic, the gunplay in VA doesn't receive much notice...and it shows throughout the entire game. The gunplay has a plethora of problems: overall stiff mechanics, bad hit detection (save for landing a headshot), general uselessness, and so forth. Overall, the gunplay is literally atrocious. And to make matters worse, the final level demands more shooting than stealth.
In conclusion, Velvet Assassin is the definitive "mixed bag" game of this generation. No one can deny the charm of either the unexpected genre used in this WWII game or the display of Violette's brutal nature. VA delivers some new ideas and a wholly entertaining story while also showcasing some very disheartening gameplay. While there's still an enjoyable ride to be played in VA, it's a shame that it's a ride that could've been so much better.
coolbeans' *RotteN* rating