Velvet Assassin is an attempt to bring back the old school style of stealth games some people may remember, before Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid took the genre by storm. And while it does manage to keep the basic gameplay from an earlier time intact, it does nothing to improve upon it. The gameplay is something that some fans of the genre may enjoy, but it’s hard to deny that it feels less like a current generation title and more like an old relic from two console generations past.
The story is “loosely” based on the life of British secret agent Violette Szabo. But by loosely, I mean it does not have any historical accuracy with either Violette as a person, or her life. The only connect that can be made is that it all takes place during World War II, and the main character, Violette Summer, is a British secret agent. But aside from those key points, it’s a completely fictionalized version of both her life, and that time in history.
Violette tells the story of the game as she is lying in bed, and the entire game is narrated from her own perspective. But she tends to narrate everything, even basic things you could just learn from a tutorial. Saying things like “lockers tend to have useful items inside” just removes any credibility the narration has, and at times makes it almost laughable. The voice actress who portrays Violette isn’t necessarily convincing either, as a lot of her lines seem to be simply read from a script without emotion or care, not acted.
The game does have a surprisingly original look to it, with an art style that is dark, brooding, and sometimes a bit creepy. It definitely takes a lot away from whatever realism the game is going for, but it also adds a lot to the experience. But sometimes, it can be too dark, to the point where you have to rely on your flashlight way too often. And of course, getting to a new area with your flashlight still on will lead to trouble, because the enemies will no doubt find you in a second. Darkness is a necessary part of a stealth game, yes, but it also becomes an obstacle you need to overcome.
As I said earlier, the basic stealth gameplay is intact and it does work rather well. It pretty much involves you entering a new area, figuring out the pattern of the enemies, and finding a way to take them all out (or just sneak past them) to get to the next area. If you are a hardcore stealth fan, you may appreciate this game’s attempt to revitalize the old school stealth genre. It definitely is an acquired taste, but it works for what it is trying to accomplish.
However, there are many other problems that hold the game back from being an enjoyable stealth game. The A.I. is a big one, and when you have a game that is practically dependent on the enemy A.I., you can’t afford to mess it up. The enemies can be both too stupid at times, allowing you to walk right past them when it is clear they should notice you. But they can also do some odd things, like being able to detect you through a doorway. Sometimes when you open a door, you get a very brief loading screen and then you are in a new area. There were times when the enemies would someone detect me the second I walked through that door, and I had no chance to do anything to protect myself or get away.
You can upgrade Violette, but it is generally useless as the majority of the game involves you trying to avoid danger as opposed to finding it. The increase in health can be handy, but more often than not, when you get caught in some later levels, you might not even get a chance to escape. And then you get upgrades for guns, or at least Violette’s ability to use them. They are more of a problem than a helpful tool, since the aiming is absolutely awful. You can also pick up morphine, which when used makes you invisible to the enemies for a short period of time. It can be helpful when you need to get out of a tight spot, but again, takes away from any realism in the game.
Another problem is the game’s checkpoint system. You do get checkpoints during missions, yes, but they are way too few and far between. During one mission, you get one checkpoint right at the beginning, and that was it. The mission should take most players from that point on another ten or fifteen minutes, but since you can be killed so easily, you’ll find that time increase by another twenty to thirty minutes. It is old school, but it definitely is not fun.
Velvet Assassin is a rather ambitious stealth game that tries to blend realism with a unique and original art style, but it falls flat on its face too many times to make the game worth any price. You might get some enjoyment out of this title if you’re a huge fan of the genre, but players are guaranteed to be persistently annoyed by its problems, no matter how patient they are.
ESRB: M for Mature; contains plenty of blood, violence, and strong language.
Pros: Basic, old school stealth gameplay is intact; the art style of the game is interesting and original
Cons: Various A.I. problems can sometimes make the game more frustrating; the game is often too dark; the aiming/shooting mechanics are awful; the game’s lack of checkpoints can lead to frustration; narration is unintentionally hilarious at times