Even though until now we have seen a lot of games that have the two World Wars as a starting point, the producers still won’t give up (just look at the new Wolfenstein). For some it’s annoying, for others it’s a good thing, especially if one is keen on that period.
Most of these titles are either shooters or strategy games, with the other genres being poorly represented. As a result, I was quite surprised when I stumbled across a World War 2 Stealth Action, going by the name of Velvet Assassin, which wants to present us the espionage side of things of World War 2.
The woman-spy prototype
The German Replay studios (best known for Crashday) took their inspiration from the true story of Violette Szabo, an English lady who endangered her life by being a spy in Nazi territory, who in the end was decorated for remarkable merits. This alone was enough for creating a heroine (with the name changed slightly to Violette Summer) who combines Garret’s agility from Thief series, with the more technologized approach of Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell.
The story is presented in flashbacks, a method that seems interesting, but may create confusions if it’s not used as it should be. In this case, it offers a unique feeling to the atmosphere.
The protagonist finds herself in a hospital bed and she remembers (even dreams) what happened before she got where she is now. As a result, each mission (minus the last one) is looked upon as a vague memory. From time to time, some visions help her to perceive more details, sometimes taking the game into the unreal sphere.
Even if the story on its own doesn’t say very much, as the missions don’t really link and a clear continuity can’t be found, I can’t say that the narrative elements don’t blend decently. Some memories are supposed to jump over some details or days and that doesn’t really affect the overall atmosphere.
Sneak in and pull out the knife
Skimming over the narrative part, we get to stealth and everything this implies. First and foremost, our heroine can’t do her job very well without darkness. Splinter Cell: Double Agent demonstrated that one can also sneak in the middle of the day, but it seems that Violette isn’t that good. Instead, shadows are her best friend and in the majority of cases they will protect her very well from the watchful eyes of her enemies.
Unlike other titles of the genre, Velvet Assassin is conceived in such a way that you have to kill a considerable number of enemies and not to spare them and move on. Why? Two reasons. The first is that in many situations a key is needed to open a door, but you won’t know which guard has it, and secondly because it’s easier to get through some delicate situations if we’ve already eliminated the patrols one by one.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, as Viollete’s hate for the Germans is understandable, if we consider the scenes she assisted and the thing she passed through, but it would had been nice to also have the possibility to assassinate a minimum number of Germans, to take pride in our sneaking abilities.
At least we can be satisfied that the assassination methods are varied and well realized at the animation level. As a standard offering, we kill by sneaking from behind and stabbing them in various parts of their bodies (featuring artistic animations, with fast, firm and precise moves). There are also other methods to accomplish the same thing without getting blood on our hands. The nicest way is when 2-3 guards gather somewhere after going out on patrol. If one of them caries a grenade, we can activate it at the opportune moment and it will blow all of them to pieces. The guards can also be set on fire, electrocuted, poisoned or blown up to Kingdom Come. It depends on what we can find and use in the environment.
Because it’s a game based on stealth, the shooting system that applies to the few fire arms is not the best one around. It isn’t necessarily a disaster, but it requires more attention than usual. Violette is fragile and it’s best for her to try scoring headshots when the target is stationary, because if they run, the guards are hard to hit. After we’ve killed an enemy, we can wait in the shadow for another one to come looking for him and shot this one as well with a well-placed headshot. This method works in the majority of the situations, but there are some when we can’t avoid a classic fight, in the light. That’s when the game can be pretty stressful if it catches you with the one type of weapon with which is nearly impossible to shoot with.
Why did I say “catches us with”? Because we can’t use other weapons than those found in various lockers. There is no possibility to use the ones thrown on the floor for instance. I can’t say that there aren’t varied types of weapons in these lockers, but not necessarily what we want or need. This is a way to steer the game towards a more stealthy approach and downplay the shooting side of things. I can’t complain about this, except for the fact that it should have been useful to have a little more ammunition in some situations (as a rule, there are very few bullets available).