Velvet Assassin (X360) (2009)
Developer: Replay Studios
Review by Faididi and Co.
Hiding from the Robo-Nazis
One of Britain's spies during the Second World War is Violette Szabo, and this game is loosely based on her real-life efforts against the despicable Nazi forces. Unlike most other games set in this period, it has a story that tries focusing less on the heroic Hollywood glamour of warfare and more on the psychological pain wreaked by the Nazis, on both victims and perpetrators. The conversations among the enemy guards that humanize them to some degree can be a welcome, if limited, change of pace.
However, the historical heroine is the only truly remarkable element of the story. The plot is little more than a recollection of unrelated missions that could've been drawn from a generic WWII FPS, and the enemies are still ultimately interchangeable Nazi evil-doers. The narrative device of Violette reliving her missions while lying comatose on a hospital bed misses the opportunity to infuse literal nightmares that would've turned this into the first truly horror-themed game about the war. (The single hallucination at the prison scene isn't enough.) Worse yet, Violette never talks to any other character, and she is never referred to by name throughout the whole game, meaning that she could just as easily be any faceless agent.
Replay Studios' Velvet Assassin is a single-Player stealth action game whose 12 levels are supposedly inspired by the real-life Violette's missions. The idea sounds great at first, until you realize this game is a cheap piece of work that is inconceivably full of stupid, fun-ruining flaws.
Naturalistic artificial intelligence is important for stealth games, and none of that can be seen here. There is virtually no gray area in the enemies' awareness states. The guards either completely fail to notice Violette or instantly snap around and blast away at full-auto as soon as they spot the tip of her hair sticking into view. Whatever passes for a half-alert state is a joke, because if Violette runs noisily on the other side of a wall, nearby guards will turn their heads straight toward her position and snake their way to her exact location, like freakish robots with infrared vision. Furthermore, there are moments when the bad guys automatically detect Violette directly through walls, which is fucking bullshit.
Despite their abnormally perfect aim, the enemies act like lobotomized retards. When Violette wears her SS uniform disguise and blows off a guard's head from a distance, she can literally run around with her rifle slung across her back, and the other bad guys will wander straight past her without question. Let's also not forget the hideous Biohazard effect, where enemies fail to open certain doors or climb ladders, so Violette can simply race past a bunch of sentries and enter the next room to reach safety. (By this method, the game can be finished in 3 hours.)
Perhaps more aggravating than the shitty enemy intelligence is the shittier checkpoint system. Velvet Assassin saves Violette's progress strictly through predetermined checkpoints, but they're distributed in a way to piss you off as much as possible. The checkpoints' spacing varies wildly and nonsensically, from as close as two mere rooms apart to as far as entire stretches of warehouses. Yet, they're invariably placed before cutscenes and minute-long enemy conversations, adding to the delays whenever Violette restarts from the last checkpoint.
Then, there's the general poverty of environmental interaction and usable items. Violette can neither flip off light switches nor shoot out light bulbs. She is willing to lug around useless trinkets like wine bottles and gold bars (for scoring purposes), but she refuses to carry more than one handgun and one longarm at a time. Sure, Violette may have a special morphine-triggered ability that lets her effectively warp behind enemies, but this is removed during the final two levels, further cutting down on her tool set.
Hell, there seems to be confusion as to how much this game is even about stealth. There are several points when Violette is forced to confront enemies in open combat. Many of Violette's tricks, such as using flare guns to instantly immolate enemies or quietly pulling their stick grenades' pins to turn them into walking time bombs, may sound like cool stealth moves but actually count as open attacks. Using these moves therefore penalizes her stealth score, rendering them worse than useless. (There's also a bizarre glitch where killing enemies with flares can burn away keys, preventing Violette from opening locked doors, and leaving you with a dead game.)
The controls are an unintuitive heap of crap. The stealth kill and the other attack actions are needlessly assigned to different buttons, and you're forced to hold the Left Trigger and press the D-Pad just to make Violette reload her firearms. Climbing ladders takes the form of a cutscene, instead of being a fully controllable movement. The clunky menus make allocating skill points a pain in the ass, and because the skill upgrades are recorded with the individual story progress (not with an overarching profile that can carry across to a new game), any unsaved upgrades must be re-purchased every single time Violette restarts from a checkpoint. Speaking of saving, the game also incorrectly loads what should be the "latest" checkpoint if you manually choose to retry previous levels via the main menus, creating massive loading delays.
Graphics: Below Average
The visuals look passable, until you see the enemies' laughably artificial tracking behavior or the inconsistency between the lighting effects and the actual cover of darkness provided in an area. Violette's mouth doesn't move if she whistles to distract guards, and there is no reason why the enemy proximity meter appears only when she dons her SS disguise and not at other times.
The audio effects are the only part of the game that consistently doesn't suck. The music is hardly memorable but sufficiently sets the mood, while the voice acting is authentic enough (with subtitle translations).
Velvet Assassin should've spent less time on the details of Violette's tight pants and more on making its gameplay and controls less like garbage. The enemy intelligence is artificial to the point of hilarity. The checkpoints' unfriendly placements reflect the frustratingly incompetent pacing, and the lack of a manual save option isn't helping. The menus even fail to load the most recent checkpoints when you want to replay earlier levels. In short, virtually any other stealth game of Velvet Assassin's generation is a better choice, whether it's featuring more realistic enemy behavior or offering merely decent controls. The real-life Szabo deserves a hell lot better than this.