We've seen many World War II games in the past, but the majority have focused more on mass conflict and non-stop action. Velvet Assassin proposes a completely new take on the era, as instead of going in all guns blazing, the idea is to be discreet and stay in the shadows.
This genre is of course very niche, with Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell being the two most prominent examples. The question is, does Velvet Assassin have what it takes to sneak its way to success, or will it just sink away into the shadows never to be seen again?
The story is in essence rather simple. It centres around the exploits of an MI6 secret service operative called Violette Summer as she takes part in missions that don't really have a huge bearing on anything in particular, other than the general war effort. Occasionally, gameplay may be interrupted and momentarily insightful cutscenes are seen, but the majority of the time the missions are fairly redundant. There is very little rhyme or reason as to why the activities are being performed, they just are. This does begin to change towards the end of the game, but it's a shame it doesn't happen sooner.
So much more could have been done to develop Violette as a character and it just feels a bit lazy. Because the game takes so long to actually attempt to develop the story, it makes the ending of the game just feel really empty. It's as if nothing has really been achieved by following the path of the main character and there is no sense of accomplishment at all.
Unfortunately, the gameplay in Velvet Assassin doesn't perform much better. It works well in theory, but it lacks a lot of depth. While the overall levels are quite long, the individual segments are actually quite small. There are usually only two to three enemies in each particular section, and they all follow very rigid patterns. It's fairly difficult to progress without monitoring their patrol patterns, but once they have been figured out, dispatching the enemies is relatively easy. There are also some actions which can be performed to make things a little easier, such as disabling lights.
However, dispatching the enemies is where problems sometimes arise. Ammo is usually very sparse, and missions often only start with a gun that has 7 bullets or with no firearm at all. This means the majority of the time, the player will have to fall back on the stealth kill to defeat enemies, and this instantly exposes the limitations of the system. The most prominent problem is that stealth kills can only be performed directly behind an enemy. If they are approached from the side, or at a diagonal, no option for a stealth kill appears, and it's also not possible to attack normally unless the weapon is "aimed". So, despite being in a winning position, it's often easy to come unstuck purely because positioning was slightly off.
The main weapon that Violette has is her ability to basically be invisible when standing in shadows. Unless a guard is literally on top of her, she can't be seen and this should be used to its full advantage. However, the system does seem a bit inconsistent, as if Violette is in alert status, a guard that couldn't see her from one metre away, can see her in shadows from the other side of the map. In semi-alert, the guards also have an uncanny ability to know exactly where Violette is and often if they find a dead body, they will home in on her position when in reality they wouldn't know where the player is hiding.
The gun play is equally as shallow, and it's easy to see why it's marginalised for the majority of the game. Although the ability to switch shoulder perspectives is a nice touch, the combat just feels sluggish. Simple things like the inability to reload unless the weapon is aimed really are just baffling.
From the perspective of presentation, Velvet Assassin actually performs quite well. While the game isn't going to blow anyone away with its visuals, it looks nice, and the lighting effects are for the most part done well. The music is excellent and really helps to raise the tension, especially when in alert status. Ambient sound effects are also equally as good, and they help to set the scene perfectly. The same can't really be said about more direct sound effects though. While they may seem like a nice touch to start off with, hearing guards hum the same tune over and over again does get old very quickly. There are also various glitches which detract from the experience though, and these range from camera clipping when standing next walls, or guards being able to shoot through doors and walls.
Gameplay is somewhat varied. While every mission is in essence much the same, there are some differing sections which help to mix the action up. Violette can sometimes dress up as a German officer, which adds a slightly different angle to the stealth element and there are also some run and gun sections, which don't work overly well.
There is also an attempt to add an RPG element, as Violette can be levelled up. However, there are only three stats, and they can only be levelled up five times each. Experience can be acquired by performance throughout a mission, picking up hidden items and performing secret objectives. Ironically, the hidden items and secret objectives offer vastly more experience than natural progression in the story and this makes the already shallow system seem completely unnecessary. There is also very limited scope for replaying the game, as nothing is unlocked when the game is completed and there is very little incentive to play it through again.
Velvet Assassin tries its hand at offering a new take on the World War II era, but it doesn't manage to make a name for itself in a positive light. While its visuals are nice, and the audio is for the most part excellent, its lack of depth, lazy combat system and very forgettable storyline make it hard to recommend for anyone.