Originally Published: May 14, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

I admit that I have never been a fan of World War II or other historically based games. I felt that it limited the imagination of the player and the developers because at the end of the day, no matter what happens in the game, we know the outcome of the war. Sure, these specific era based shooters are great and the gameplay and graphics usually try to make up for the lack of originality, but I usually can walk away from the game without finishing it and not really care because in my mind, I still know the ending.

That leads us into today’s review. In Velvet Assassin you play as a female British secret agent during World War II with the gameplay revolving around your lurking in the shadows and undermining the Nazi regime in 1943-1944 Western Europe. I had heard rumors about this game in the later part of 2008 and then saw a demo at NY ComicCon and my interest was immediately piqued: A semi-original storyline (it’s based off a real-life WWII British agent) that didn’t revolve around troop movements and taking out tanks with bazooka launchers. It dealt with the grittier, darker side of war; sneaking cyanide capsules to captured double agents, infiltrating enemy strongholds and single-handedly sabotaging their oil lines or railways, and assassinating high-ranking officials in the middle of the night.

The great thing about this game is that it emphasizes stealth more than anything and it is rare to a see a game do this nowadays. Yes, the Metal Gear series has stealth elements as a strong part of the game, but then again you could hide in a crappy cardboard box and had a wealth of weapons and devices at any moment to help dispatch your enemies. At no time during this game do you have more than three weapons, one of which is your ever-present knife, to remind you that the best kill is the one that doesn’t make a sound (aside from the satisfying noise of your defeated foe gurgling on his own blood). The gameplay was a nice changeup from the run-and-gun style of most of today’s games.

While the game makes you think and work to succeed in ways that most games don’t anymore, the story engrosses you in the character with what has always been a limited subject matter for originality. Firstly, the female lead, Violette Summer (almost sounds like violent summer, any irony there?), is an attention grabber just due to the lack of female leads in games. Add in that she is one of the main weapons for the British on the frontlines doing the unthinkable and you’ve already got me hooked. But that wasn’t enough for SouthPeak Games. To add on top of it, the entire game is her memories of the war while she is in a coma from injuries that are explained as you progress. This also ties into one of the more interesting aspects of the gameplay. You can collect morphine over the course of most levels that represent an increase of her real-life dosage to help slow things down for her and make her dreams less strenuous (and less difficult for you).

Along with the great gameplay and plot, the game is graphically beautiful. From lurking in the shadows of ancient European cathedrals to trudging through the sewers of French ghettos, the visuals are superb. And the shadows are so critical to the entire game as you cross in front of floodlights and watch your silhouette raise the attention of the dozing off guards, or knock the lights out to bathe a room in obsidian safety.

Include a haunting soundtrack and you can actually feel your blood begin to race from the tension, as if you were in the shoes of the heroine, as you know that the wrong move could alert the enemy to your position and almost assuredly forfeit your life. The atmosphere that was created with so little and the clandestine nature of the game leaves you breathless like when you stare directly into the vapid eyes of the gasmask of a flame-trooper while he patrols right by you.

Time-accurate weaponry and locales, stunning graphics, and powerful atmospheric elements that stay with you well after you turn your XBOX360 off, makes this game a great stealth experience. If you’re tired of the usual run-and-gun and looking for a little more strategy from your shooters, this is a must have. Velvet Assassin is out now for XBOX360 and the PC.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.

Graphics: 8.5: Although beautiful, the game is mostly spent in the dark so I can’t give it a perfect score. The lighting effects are top of the line though. Along with some very smooth NPCs (Non-playable characters), this game is not going to disappoint you visually.

Audio: 10.0: There purposely isn’t a lot of music to help immerse you in the experience of being this character and to stress the stealth aspects of the game. The music that is there is moving and sets the mood beautifully. Along with great voice acting by all involved (even if most of it is in a foreign language with subtitles, you could still feel the emotions of the characters) and Melinda Cohen who plays Violette (and doubles as the physical basis for Violette very nicely as well) does a brilliant job.

Plot/Plot Development: 7.0: It is another game based off of real-life events so you still know the historical outcome, but it is a story that hasn’t been told in a WWII game before and super-spies always play better to me than Saving Private Ryan rip-offs. This is more along the lines of Splinter Cell or No One Lives Forever, minus the fictional megalomaniac villains and replacing it with one of the original, real-life megalomaniac villains. This is one of the best stories for a game that you know the ending to that has come out in a long time.

Gameplay: 9.0: Difficult (at least on the hard difficulty I played on) but addictive, this game will keep you entertained for a solid 10-15 hours (I beat it in 11), and for this, that is the perfect length of time. The game is so engrossing that any longer and you would probably start speaking German and lurking in the shadows on your way to work in the morning.

Replay Value: 3.0: There are some interesting WWII inspired collectibles throughout the levels, but aside from that there just isn’t enough to bring you back for a second playthrough once you beat this. Great game, but definitely a one and done.

Overall: 8.0 (not an average): I thoroughly enjoyed Velvet Assassin as it was a nice alternative to all the run-and-gun shooters that usually permeate the market. Although it didn’t have enough to bring me back for more, and the last level was frustrating because it deviated from the stealth theme of the rest of the game, the game as a whole is engrossing and deserves a look from any shooter fan.

Also, I just want to include a special shout-out to Jino Song of Video Game World at 58 Broad St. in Bloomfield, NJ, 07003. Jino was kind enough, for a nominal fee, to fix my XBOX360 after I burned the lens out (it’s what I get for playing games for 10-12 hours a day) in just 24 hours. No hassle, no six week wait for Microsoft to replace my system, just a single day. Without Jino’s help, this review, and any game reviews coming in the next couple of months, would not be. If you have an XBOX360 that is giving you problems or are tired of the lack of personality you usually get from the big chain stores like Best Buy or GameStop, check out Jino’s shop and tell him that Ray Carsillo sent you.

-Ray Carsillo

Advertisements