E3 2008: Velvet Assassin
It might be hard to believe at the moment, but there are stealth games outside of Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid. Replay Studios’ Velvet Assassin is one of these. Instead of futuristic warfare and fancy gadgets, the action takes place during World War II. The story is loosely inspired by the true story of female agent Violette Szabo, a British agent executed by Nazis after performing numerous sabotage missions. The game intends to ramp things up with a number of grisly assassinations performed by a sexy protagonist.
The most striking aspect of Velvet Assassin is its setting. Europe during World War II has been done to death, but the stages I saw were something much different. Violette Summer, clad in tight jeans and a jacket, was surrounding by apartment buildings where shots would ring out periodically. She was infiltrating the nearly empty Warsaw Ghetto. A poignant reminder of the sad history of the place was the section where the streets were littered with furniture. The Nazis were looting the apartments of the people who were on the way to their death. Violette would give a line or two reflecting on the horror.
Showing the terrible realities of the war is something almost all shooters have neglected to do, but the gameplay seemed to lack the depth of the setting. From the demonstration I saw of the first few levels, Velvet Assassin streamlines the many features that make other games in the genre so complex. Violette doesn’t have any particularly fancy moves or an endless inventory. She can hide in shadows and become practically invisible, even in broad daylight just a few feet from the opposing soldiers. The most effective way to take out the German soldiers is to sneak up behind them and stab them. There are more than 50 different death animations, which are a lot more satisfying than shooting an enemy. With the enemy silently dispatched, they must be moved to a quiet area to avoid detection. One particularly nasty way of taking out an enemy is to stealthily trigger their grenade and then move to safety.
A small twist in the narrative is that Violette is in a coma at the start of the game. She’s reliving the missions in her mind. This is more than just an attempt to liven up the plot since it actually affects the gameplay. Scattered throughout the stages are syringes of morphine. When Violette uses one, time slows down and she is shown in her hospital attire. This effect is actually quite beautiful, with stylish special effects to compliment the bullet time. She can then easily dispatch an enemy even when if she had been detected. This is a great lifesaver to survive being spotted by a heavily armed soldier. Another nice feature is the minimal heads up display.
The levels, much like the gameplay, are relatively uncomplicated. Each stage consists of only a few enemies, so it looks like Velvet Assassin will be easy to pick up and play for a few levels at a time. The game is expected to last from twelve to fifteen hours with a number of achievements available. It comes out for the PC and Xbox 360 by the end of year. If you’re looking for someone less complicated than Sam Fisher or Solid Snake, Violette Summer should be your weapon of choice.