With Sam Fisher’s mysterious disappearance and Solid Snake becoming an elderly Rambo, stealth-action games have seemingly fallen by the wayside in recent years. To remedy this, Replay Studios is bringing some new blood to the genre with Velvet Assassin, their upcoming stealth-based third-person adventure game. I went hands-on with this title recently and somehow lived to tell the tale.
Velvet Assassin is inspired by the true life events of Violette Szabo, a secret agent in World War II. After losing her husband, Violette became a British spy and infiltrated Nazi-controlled Europe. Her in-game character, renamed Violette Summer, is being portrayed far more realistically than many other video game females in that she isn’t just an object to be rescued and doesn’t walk around half naked. I asked the on-hand developer about this, and he said that they wanted to stay true to their roots in history. They didn’t want to cheapen the story by over-sexualizing the character, and therefore created a more natural female protagonist than you would regularly see.
Since Violette isn’t a typical video game superhero, Velvet Assassin requires the player to utilize true stealth in order to advance through the game. You must stick to shadows, hide bodies and quietly silence enemies before they inform others that you are around. Failing to do so will leave you riddled with bullets, as Violette is ill-prepared for heavy combat. This is definitely a more realistic take on this genre, but there are many ways to tackle each situation to keep you from getting frustrated.
The core gameplay of Velvet Assassin will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has played a Splinter Cell title. The demo level that I was able to try had Violette sneaking around a woodland field that was patrolled by a number of soldiers. The game uses color more freely than many others, as the leaves on the trees and ground were made up of a plethora of reds and oranges that were quite beautiful. The dynamic lighting was also nicely implemented, with real-time shadows being used to label areas that you can sneak through when trying to stay undercover.
I was told by the on-hand developer that I should never try to run-and-gun, but instead need to wait until the opposition is looking away before attempting a quiet approach. Using a nearby weapon that I was able to pick up, I brutally disabled the soldier from behind and triggered one of the game’s many stealth kills. There are over 50 of these in the game, and they range from quick and easy takedowns to drawn out and bloody executions. After finishing with the guard, I carefully pulled his body away from the path so that the other patrolmen wouldn’t notice. The developer also told me that your actions would give you experience points that could be used to upgrade some of Violette’s vitals, including health and strength. While not as extensive as Fallout 3, this is a much appreciated addition that should add some depth.
I was also shown the effects of morphine, which is used to add a bit of unpredictability to the events. The entire game is told through flashbacks, as the game begins with Violette being trapped in a hospital remembering her past. When you use morphine, hospital-bound Violette injects herself with the drug that allows her to “forget” certain aspects of her memories. This allows the player to pull off certain moves that could not be done realistically. The example that I was shown had a guard positioned directly in Violette’s path with no visible way to sneak around him. After injecting the morphine, the screen went hazy and she was able to run right in front of the soldier and kill him before he was able to react. Morphine can also be used to allow Violette to take out several enemies at once or save the player’s life if they make a mistake. This mechanic adds a bit of variety to the gameplay without being overwhelming enough to undermine the stealth aspects of the title.
Overall, it looks like Velvet Assassin is coming along fairly well. As long as the developer’s are able to create engaging scenarios for Violette and vary the gameplay up a bit, the journey of Violette Summer might be a solid way to fill the void left by the recent dearth of true stealth titles.
Velvet Assassin ships on April 14th for Xbox 360 and PC.