Review: Velvet Assassin
Velvet Assassin, the World War II based stealth action title, was another title that some looked at with fair amounts of interest. It has some decent ideas behind it and also has an interesting story to tell, one which is based on a true story. However most ideas look good on paper and in words, but read on if you’re interested in how it turned out as a game.
[Note: For an in-depth explanation of my review system, go here: Tody's Review System]
Name: Velvet Assassin
Genre: Stealth Action
Platforms: PC, Xbox360
Velvet Assassin is set in the World War II era, where the British MI6 have recruited “Violette Summer”, a woman burdened with a painful past who displayed great potential, as their secret infiltrator. The game puts you in the role of Violette, who, at present time, is dying in hospital due to her unfortunate encounter with the Germans in one of her final missions. She did, however, manage to complete a fair load of missions successfully before her capture. While her fate is left undetermined in hospital, Violette relives key moments during her missions in a series of flashbacks, and the gist of the story is that the player will be taken through the various flashback-missions leading up to her inevitable capture.
From the outset the story sounds interesting, but to put it bluntly, it’s bad in its execution. To elaborate, the player will be subject to briefings before each mission where Violette will explain what her objective is, but the developers seemed to take ‘brief’ from briefing very seriously as each one is roughly half a minute in length. A short cutscene is never a bad thing, but one that explains next to nothing regarding the story is. They only serve to tell you her objective, but don’t do well to fill in some of the backstory. It’s never explained throughout the game the details of her capture until the last few missions of the game, and once finding it out you’re left with the feeling that it is A) a little too late to care and B) entirely uninsteresting.
Even further, despite being completey uninteresting, finding out the truth also results in you feeling that the story could have been told without the flashbacks, from start to end, because you’re pretty much confused throughout most of the game as to what is actually happening. While this would serve to damage the “Morphine” gameplay mechanic (I will explain this later), it would have allowed the story to make some sense. The entire story, in a nutshell, is just not worth following and distorted. As a final point there is another controversial aspect to the story, that being the manner in which the Germans are portrayed. In the later stages of the game Violette will narrate her thoughts regarding the ‘inhumanity’ of the Germans, which struck me as tremendously odd considering that she was butchering, burning, electrocuting and offing nearly every German she encountered. In fact, the Germans are portrayed in such a zombie-like fashion in this game that they could easily be mistaken for something out of Left 4 Dead.
At the basic core, Velvet Assassin is a stealth game. The emphasis here is ‘basic’, because that’s exactly what the game is. I’m not going to waste any time playing with words, but instead get right to the point. The game seems to take the external frame of a typical stealth game and puts those elements forward repeatedly. To explain, there is a very limited amount of abilities and actions to perform in the game. Wait, who am I kidding? The entire game consists of just sneaking, running and dying. Players will only be able to sneak, whistle, aim and shoot and interact. That’s it. Those are the only abilities available to the player and those stick throughout the entire game. To put the gameplay in a sentence: you will travel from point A to B, stealth killing everyone in the way and going through repeated trial and error.
Unlike Hitman or Splinter Cell the game requires little to no strategy whatsoever. The entirety of the sneaking consists of waiting for an enemy to reach a halt in his patrol route before attempting a stealth or environment kill. I say attempting because Violette’s sneaking speed is so slow that you might even try taking your chances running at enemies blindly, because repeating this three or four times is actually quicker than trying to sneak up on them. Furthermore, the linear levels and lack of options completely disallow any form of creativity or planning in your stealth, resulting in the game being unbelievably dull. These instances might also frustrate players enough to use the Morphine ability, in the case of remembering that you actually have one in your possession. Players will find morphine needles scattered carefully throughout levels. Only one can be carried at a time, but on activation the game will enter a slow motion sequence where Violette will appear in her hospital clothes. While this slow motion is in effect, players will be able to run directly up to enemies for a frontal kill while they are frozen in time. These morphine uses are supposedly due to the hospital Violette receiving a shot of the stuff, but it’s just a different approach to bullet-time and doesn’t make much sense when the player decides to use one, kill an enemy, fetch a refill and repeat the process (overdose much?).
The game incorporates a type of character leveling system, where the player is required to find ‘collectibles’ in order to gain experience points. Once 1000 exp is gained, the player will be granted one upgrade point to improve either health, sneaking speed or morphine time. However, the system appears to be quite broken, because by the end of the game I had poured four out of five points into stealth, yet my sneaking speed was still annoyingly slow. I also had one or two points into health, but I still died within two seconds of being under fire. “Under fire” is the key point to one of the game’s largest problems. It adopts one of the most dangerous stealth elements ever – what I call the ‘death by discover’ mechanic. That system can work well in a game that actually has good stealth gameplay, like Metal Gear Solid, but in Velvet Assassin, when you’re inexplicably spotted, you will have absolutely no way of fighting back. Weapons are far too spread out and you’ll be forced to start nearly every level with nothing but a knife, when you are armed there will be a very limted ammo supply so you’ll rather keep them for headshot-sure kills, the knife is no help for melee and the biggest problem is that Violette just dies so damn easily. So this ends up with most of the game being a sequence of try, fail, load save, try again, fail again and so on. It’s exceptionally frustrating as well because some checkpoints have up to ten minutes of careful gameplay between them, so dying can only lead to more cursing.
It’s not just the leveling system that’s broken, it’s in fact the entire game. Reaching my conclusion, the game is littered with glitches and bugs, contains extremely inconsistent stealth gameplay that adopts the ‘when it works, it works, but when it doesn’t – it’s annoying as hell’ idea and overall just seems to test the players’ endurance more than anything else. If the utter boring gameplay doesn’t get you first, it will either be the lacking sense of progression, broken stealth mechanics, complete lack of variety, repetitiveness or the frustration-factor that does inevitably force to you to give up playing.
In the graphics and technical department Velvet Assassin is a mixed bag as well. The visuals are decent enough, but then again most games nowadays can warrant that point. However, I already mentioned that the game is littered with bugs, and I was serious. Countless times, you will see a guard become blocked and stuck against an object (even in his set patrol path), thereafter proceeding to teleport a fair distance forward to where he should have been. A fair number of times you will be under fire, attempt to retreat through a door that leads to another area, but once getting to the other side you will suddenly die randomly due to bullets connecting after you’ve exited. Moving on, guards practically all have the same faces, all walk with the same robotic movement and perform the exact same actions. Perfect clones of each other. It really is a headache just thinking about it.
Velvet Assassin is simply lacking in nearly everything it does. You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything good about the game, and that’s because there just isn’t anything to say in its favour. The only slightly good aspect I can mention is that it’s at least functional – although not all of the time. Otherwise there is nothing worth writing home about regarding this title and it overall just can’t measure up to other stealth games.
- A stealth game should only consider what I call the ‘death by discover‘ mechanic if it either has good, solid stealth gameplay or simply uses it as a higher difficulty option. This game has neither and added to the fact of limited ammo, lack of abilities, hardly any health and broken mechanics, and this idea in the game pretty much becomes a frustrating ordeal.
- There need not have been an attempt at an interesting story, because the game would have made much more sense without the flashbacks. The story, however, is for the most part uninteresting, confusing and does not bring much closure with its ending.
- It’s not a bad thing when a game decides to have spaced out checkpoints to increase difficulty, but Velvet Assassin is again frustrating because it forces boredom and patience onto you, wherein failing due to something stupid results in you having to start a very long, irritating section over again.
- I don’t understand why the Germans are portrayed in such a ‘inhumane’ light when the British protagonist skips around slaying them by the hundreds before she even has her breakfast.
- “If the utter boring gameplay doesn’t get you first, it will either be the lacking sense of progression, broken stealth mechanics, complete lack of variety, repetitiveness or the frustration-factor that does inevitably force to you to give up playing.” – quoted from review.
- The sad but unfortunate truth is that even if Velvet Assassin was bug-free and fully functional, it still wouldn’t be any good. It’s weighed down by too many flaws, where the only option for repair would be to remake the entire game.