|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Replay Studios / ML Enterprises||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SouthPeak Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 28, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
July 24, 2008 - Thus far, Xbox 360 owners have missed out on Metal Gear Solid 4, the most-buzzed-about stealth game in years. But this fall, Velvet Assassin will step up in an attempt to fill that void and make PS3 owners feel left out for a change.
The game would deserve an eye-roll or two for choosing World War II as its conflict (haven't played a game like that in a while!), except for the fact that the story is quite compelling: It's based on the true tale of Violette Szabo, a secret agent for the Allies who helped fight the Germans during the occupation of France. She was captured and tortured, and died by execution at the age of 23. Reportedly, Replay Studios (based in Germany, oddly enough) has kept the story at least somewhat true to life. The environments include faithful recreations of several major World War II locations including a frighteningly realistic Warsaw ghetto.
In the game, Violette Summer awakens in a hospital, dying, and re-imagines her exploits through a morphine haze. In an interesting blend of the hospital and the battlefield, while fighting in this dream, she occasionally finds syringes of morphine, and when she injects herself, time slows down. Apparently, what's really going on is when Violette dreams she's in danger, the hospital staff notices her fussing in her bed and injects her. It's a grim but bracing series of missions. In one, the goal is to bring cyanide capsules to soldiers being interrogated, so they can kill themselves before giving up secrets.
Those who have played early builds of the game, however, have offered less-than-laudatory reviews. The third-person stealth system makes it absolutely clear what kind of danger Violette is in: when she walks in sneak mode she's inaudible; when she's in any sort of shade at all (even if it's daytime) enemies can't see her (guards have three levels of alarm, handily displayed on the screen). Most of the basic gameplay elements are pretty standard, such as minimizing noise and dragging bodies to places where other people won't find them.
Some have also complained about unrealistic A.I. (guards don't seem to find nearby explosions particularly worrisome) and clunky stealth controls. It's unclear how well Violette will handle during more traditional, non-stealth shooting scenes. This will be important, because the game is meant to walk on the more kill-heavy side of the genre.
Still, the graphics look terrific. The environments, both indoor and outdoor, are detailed, well-textured, and well-colored, with spectacular lighting effects. Violette's morphine use makes the mood become surreal, and the visuals reflect this well, with effects like hazy focus and falling rose petals.
Also, the game will feature some new twists; Violette can stab Nazis in the groin, pull the pins from their grenades while they're not looking, or distract them with various tools. Critics have praised the intense kill moves (50+, all told), which assure Velvet Assassin will be a gruesome, ratings-board-unfriendly title.
Beyond the intriguing storyline, can Velvet Assassin feel like anything more than a low-rent Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell title? The early verdict is no, but we're hoping Replay puts the necessary time and effort into last-minute adjustments.
CCC Freelance Writer