World War Two is probably one of the most over saturated markets when it comes to computer games. It has all been done, from flight simulators to aerial view strategy formats and enough first person shooters to virtually relive the entire war from start to finish. So when Replay Studios come up with a slightly different take on things and deliver a moody, atmospheric third person shooter/ slasher, where you run around in the dark with a big knife carving up fascists, they do deserve credit for at least attempting to be original. However, almost like the Arnhem offensive, what seems innovative and like a great idea on paper, ends up poorly executed and let down by a shocking lack of attention to detail.
To begin with is the totally insane story. The player takes control of British assassin Violette Summer who, with her leather jump suit, strange accent and big hair looks less like a strong arm of the state and more like some Eastern European version of Edward scissor hands. Apparently this character is based on a real person, but the whole thing just seemed so ludicrous and implausible from the start. It begins with Violette laid up in hospital, surrounded by syringes like something out of Trainspotting, and doing some Apocalypse Now style narration along he lines of ‘All I can think about is getting back into Poland etc…’
The action begins after she goes into some drug fuelled daze or flashback, and recounts all of the previous missions which ultimately lead to her being laid up in hospital. However, when the player actually gets into the game it does grab their attention. In terms of graphics it looks great, with bright autumn hues, smooth movement, excellent detail on the guards etc, and really feels as though it is shaping up to be something special. However just like when the fog lifted on the third day at the Battle of the Bulge, it’s all downhill from there.
The worst thing about the game, and an issue which consistently plagues console games, is the fact that it is so horribly linear. The way the designers have been so unashamedly lazy about the level design in Velvet Assassin verges on being insulting. Back in the old days with games like Medal of Honour, it was possible for the player to turn a blind eye as they traverse one absurdly contrived route through a level. However nowadays, with all that computing potential available, it really is an unforgivable sin. The levels are unimaginative; there is only ever one way to achieve the objective and one route to take through the environment.
On top of this the whole thing is so repetitive. Some reviewers rave about how good the stealth kills are and how well they are complemented by the atmospheric levels. They are ‘electrifying’, ‘satisfying’, ‘adrenaline fuelled’ etc. This could not be further from the truth. There is absolutely no diversity, all the player can do is creep up and perform stealth kill after stealth skill. After the first five minutes of playing the game you realise it is just going to be more of the same, over and over and over again….
Then, just to pile madness upon madness, the designers throw in a feature where Violette enters this invulnerable state after taking a large injection of morphine. This is her special ability where she strips down to her nighty and goes on an unstoppable rampage. But needless to say this is just bizarre and leaves one wondering exactly what happened at the Replay Studio board meeting when they pitched that idea? They might as well have thrown in a feature where you take LSD and start flying. After a few doses of morphine and you would be about as combat effective as Jonnie Vegas. However, even though slightly odd, this feature really is the least of the game’s problems.
In addition to the terribly linear levels and repetitive game play, Velvet Assassin is plagued by dreadful enemy AI. It really is ludicrous, and similar to the unimaginative level layout, highlights a complete lack of effort on the part of the designers. It is actually possible to crouch in the shadow cast by a wooden box and not be spotted by an enemy from three feet away. It is clear that the game has taken a great deal from Splinter Cell, but fails to be anywhere near as dynamic. You cannot climb on the ceilings or walls, and for some strange reason you can only shoot out specific lights. However although many reviews condemn the game for how difficult it is to use guns, 1940’s side arms were very unwieldy, so there is no harm in making them slightly rough round the edges.
But over all, even though Velvet Assassin appears to be original on the surface, sadly, it ends up being nothing of the sort. The designers fail to exploit the potential of what is essentially a very good concept and this reeks of laziness. At £35 it is clear that they are looking to cash in on a game which will seduce buyers with its cool cover and nice graphics, but ultimately provide intelligent gamers with no real substance. Far from being Replay Studios finest hour, Velvet Assassin is a mediocre attempt to innovate a gaming genre already bursting at the seams with great titles. In these times of economic hardship, a game like this has about as much chance of survival as the first wave on Omaha beach, and after the sales bin, will undoubtedly fall into total obscurity.