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Preview: Velvet Assassin (360)

Velvet Assassin

I had a chance to play Velvet Assassin at this year's New York Comic Con thanks to the nice folks at the SouthPeak Games booth. Check out my impressions below.

When gamers think "World War II game," they immediately imagine first-person shooters set during the major battles of the Second Great War. Who would have thought that a game developer would create a game that takes place not on the front lines, but behind them, deep in the shadows of the Nazi regime?

Enter Velvet Assassin. Developed by Replay Studios and published by SouthPeak Games, it is the story of Violette Summer, a fictional version of the real life World War II Allied secret agent/sabateur Violette Szabo. She is lying in a hospital bed at the beginning of the game for reasons unknown, and the plot consists of Violette reminiscing about the events of her missions, with the player acting them out in real time. Some readers might be confused, as this game was originally titled Sabotage, but had its name changed due to the other WWII stealth game due out: Saboteur. Rest assured, this is a separate game from Saboteur, and is in no way different from Replay's previously unveiled Sabotage. (Confused yet?)

While Velvet Assassin might be classified as a stealth action title, it is all about stealth over action. According to SouthPeak rep Aubrey Norris, the two things to remember while playing the game are "kill everybody, and don't get seen." She wasn't kidding either – Most of the game is spent crouching in the shadows, waiting for a soldier to walk past so that you can kill him. Much like Metal Gear Solid, every area is a puzzle, with soldiers walking along set patrols and obstacles set up to hamper your ability to get past. It makes for some really interesting gameplay as Violette shuts off lights, hides behind cover, and attempts to creep silently over floors coated with broken glass.

When Violette finally stands behind an enemy, you can kill him with a single button press, which will generate one of thirty-six distinct assassination animations. The one that gets used is determined by what weapon Violette is carrying, where she is standing relative to the enemy, and a variety of other factors. The screen turns red as Violette is about to kill her victims, adding an even greater level of tension to the already nail-bitingly tense assassination scenes. Violette's missions range from assassinating Nazi leaders to blowing up bunkers to killing Allied spies before they can give away information, but a lot of what I played was simple room-by-room assassinations. (Think Metal Gear Solid) I could see Velvet Assassin facing the same problem as Assassin's Creed, wherein there are so many assassinations that they become tedious chores, despite how well-designed they are.

For the packrat gamers, there are "collectibles" scattered throughout all of the levels, but instead of being meaningless trinkets, each and every one is an object based directly off of artifacts from Nazi-era Germany. These include things like medals and even letters from German soldiers to their families. Nearly everything in this game, from the weapons to the hairstyles, was heavily researched by the developers at Replay Studios.

One of the more unusual additions to the game is something called morphine. Violette has the ability to use it while telling her story, causing the game world to turn into a psychedelic, flowery dream, slowing everything down so that the now-nightgown-clad Violette can sneak past enemies. This powerful ability can be recharged with morphine syringes found around the levels, and it sometimes must be used to pass obstacles. The morphine is the only part that diminishes the game's realism, since the weird dream sequences are actually a fully-required gameplay element, rather than an optional crutch for players in need of help.

All in all, though, Velvet Assassin is shaping up to be an interesting game. Its take on World War II is quite unique, as it is simultaneously tackling the idea of a female main character and the concept of the battle "behind the front lines." The game looks beautiful, and the stealth gameplay has its share of nerve-wracking moments. Fans of Assassin's Creed and Metal Gear Solid who are looking for a title a little bit more grounded in reality: Don't let Velvet Assassin sneak under your radar.

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