by Christopher Park
previewed on X360
Not another WWII game
World War II has been wrangled, exploited, used and reused over and over again in video games. True, there are sterling examples that continue to use the setting for more than just explosions and general bombastic chaos, like the Brothers in Arms series, but it is best that this sub-genre slowly ebb out into history if all we are going to get is Nazis, paratroopers and Russians with bad accents.
That is why Velvet Assassin looks so exciting. It is set in World War II, but it doesn’t toss you into the frontlines of war. You are sabotaging the Nazi regime, behind enemy lines. You are the clandestine threat that will undermine their efforts.
If that doesn’t pique your interest, then maybe the story will. Based on real events, you take on the role of Violette Summers. She will, for the most part, lay in a hospital bed as she recollects key, pertinent events of her career of subterfuge. You play her memories while she occasionally comments on the situation at hand, which should flesh out the narrative and her character. It is a neat way to kick off the game, much like how Prince of Persia: Sands of Time had the Prince narrate most of his adventure.
In all likelihood, Velvet Assassin looks like it will primarily be a stealth game, but there are indications of a lot of action elements. It is hard to tell how relevant the gunplay will be. It looks like the standard, over-the-shoulder shooting that is becoming the norm over the past half-decade. As far as stealth goes, it seems standard, too. Violette will be able to skulk in the shadows, take out enemy patrols with various kill animations and even be able to disguise herself to essentially walk past enemy patrols. In the most simplest terms, Velvet Assassin is Hitman with a World War II backdrop. Sounds good, right?
But, that is not to say Replay Studios isn’t infusing ideas of their own. The game’s health system is particularly interesting. Once you reach a state of imminent death in Violette’s dreams, the recovering Violette on the hospital bed will feel the ill effects of her dream going awry. This promps nurses to quickly inject morphine into her system, stabilizing her. Violette will also don a skimpy piece of lingerie, time will slow down and you will be able to eviscerate everything in your way. It bends every rule of reality, but this isn’t reality. The context gives this potentially absurd situation a nice dose of sense and the whole idea of this taking place in a dream allows it to happen without us guffawing at what is going on or ogling with intense interest.
This won’t work all the time, though, because losing all health kills Violette and the amount of morphine you have is limited. Anything in excess is always a bad thing, after all. Even morphine. A couple more inclusions, like the velvet layer of film that appears over Violette indicates that the enemy is completely oblivious to her presence, much like how the blue overlay in Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay indicated if you were invisible or alarmingly obvious to the naked eye.
As with all stealth games, consistent and plausible AI is a critical element. If it is too sensitive to your actions, then it comes off as too artificial, synthetic and irritatingly hard. Too easy and stealth becomes a moot element and tension ceases to exist. Either way, wonky AI can totally undermine the entire point of a stealth game. Not much has been said on the AI at this point, but there are some general facts. AI will be layered, so if a guard finds a recently-deceased while in patrol, he goes into a state of alert, scouting the area. If nothing is found, he reverts back to a passive state and continues his patrols.
Visually, Replay Studio is aiming for a much more illustrative and vibrant color palette. This can be seen in the outdoor areas Replay has shown off. The warm Autumn colors of orange and reds are exuberant and welcoming, creating an odd disconnect due to the grim subject matter at hand. Not saying that is bad, just interesting. A lot of levels will also be historically accurate and authentic, much like how the Brothers in Arms series based their levels on topographical maps and recreated battlefields by the yard. It is tough to say if Replay will obsess over authentic level design like Gearbox did, but it is still an element that is easy to appreciate.
Velvet Assassin is certainly aiming for a grim and gritty tone. There is a lot of blood, the stealth kills look painful and punctual and the M-rating should allow Replay Studios to fully express the themes and images they are aiming to provide.