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Velvet Assassin

Velvet Assassin takes us to the cold and harsh years of Nazi invasion throughout Europe. Players take control of Violette Summer, a secret agent enlisted in some of the most important roles against oppression.

Violette Summer is a character influenced by Violette Szabo, a real British/French Agent, who was captured on her second mission during occupied France, and sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, where she was later executed.

This re-imagined character resembles in looks, but also with some, although minor, historic factors.

We play Violette’s memories while she remains in a coma, after being found injured by the resistance. Her dreams are projected by flashbacks in which the player gains control of the action, most of the times, resulting in somehow real-life events, but with changes to accommodate the game’s story.

Violette joined the army as soon as the French occupation started, and when the first victims blood was shed, she was already motivated to do something about it. The player takes part in some memorable actions such as destroying a fuel deposit in the Maginot Line, stealing important documents revealing enemy position, planting signals for resistance bombers during Operation Gomorrah, assassinating important nazi officials, and even delivering cyanide capsules to captured prisons in Warsaw, Poland.

While the player goes through each chapter, our protagonists sleep while two men discuss her future. They did find her, and they seem to know her past deeds which makes them proud, but how far can they trust her? Is she worth risking the entire operation?

When Violette finally regains conscience, the hospital is overrun by german militia, and the entire village is almost destroyed. Is this the final struggle of our special agent, or does it mean another sacrifice for a better future?

Velvet Assassin is the first and last big name created by Replay Studios, the now-closed studio developed this game with its own engine in mind, the Replay Engine. This third-person action-stealth game was released in 2009 for Windows / MAC and Xbox 360, and it stands today with Mixed reviews on Steam, and for a good reason.

Visually, Velvet Assassin nails the oppressed scenario of death, corruption and hopelessness, across the buildings marked by either bullets or blood.

Players will hunt down as many enemies as possible through the most charismatic places marked by the war. Starting with the autumn gardens, almost burned by the torrid sunset that surrounds Maginot Line, the fuel depot one must destroy. Going deeper, the player learns how dark and obscure this game can be, with underground compartments where the shadows play an even bigger role.

The visuals change dramatically in Hamburg when Violette must mark a sub pen for bombers, a night mission where her skills are tested, with just the moon to guide her through such a cold night at the docs.

Things become progressively more vile, as we go under Warsaw underground sewers, filled with tight corners, shadows mixed with oil, and even toxic gases. Out of such subterranean, things don’t look much better either. Warsaw Ghettos are the perfect reflect of war inflicted on innocents. Entire family corpses can be found lined against the wall, after an obvious execution, or just hanged as in an exposition center.

Overall, Velvet Assassin is the raw example of how brutal World War 2 was. Levels are extremely linear, and that alone affects the design progression, but they have some qualities. Because the missions are presented as simple areas the player must traverse, it’s easy to spot a secret compartment or area, which benefits the curious ones.

As stated above the game uses the Replay Engine which gives it its own atmosphere and very characterized color palette. We would hate to see this one use the typical Unreal Engine 3, with the same color schemes many other games use.

With that out of the way, we can surely appreciate the blue-velvet effect over Violette, the shadows and the overall darkness that we must use to survive and sneak over the guards.

But not only the dark embraces us in this demand for freedom, the light comes with as much importance, both naturally and artificially.

Obviously we’re not talking about Godrays, or any modern effect, but one must enjoy each level as an experience, a moment, a reflex of suffering and endured sacrifice. Either walking across claustrophobic tunnels, or passing through a industrial area, each place belongs to a complete different set of visuals, even though the same assets as crates, cars or other objects are exactly the same.

Levels and areas are repetitive, yet original, however, the characters aren’t, and we’re not just talking about Violette of course, but pretty much every guard will be recognized by everyone playing, right after the second level. Enemies have the same physical appearance, and changing only their ranks and uniforms.

Technically speaking, Velvet Assassin got a shaky start on the PC. First the use of StarForce as a DRM option was terrible, and although it isn’t included in the Steam version, the game has other major issue; does not work with the included Legacy PhysX version. To make things even worse, it doesn’t work with the latest version of PhysX either. In fact, if you want to play Velvet Assassin you’ll need the version 9.13.0604. This build seems to be the perfect version for several other games such as Two Worlds.

Mechanically, the game works perfectly fine if one overcomes this issue, but it’s still a direct console port, which doesn’t help at all. Basic graphical settings are still present such as Resolution, Textures and Shadow Quality, Anti-Aliasing and Shader Quality. Options range from Very High to Low, with good performance for low-ending machines. Field-of-View and Motion Blur can manually be changed, and why is not an in-game setting surprises us, but then again, we’ve seen worse.

In game, Velvet Assassins behave like a console game in the mid 2000’s, and that really hurts. If there are games that could benefit from manual quick saves, this is definitely it, as in many other stealth games. There is a manual command code that allows manual save-game, but those playing with a controller, may have an hard time doing so.

(One mission where the Sniper really comes in hand, as Violette traverses the Polish ghettos.)

Checkpoints are given at specific moments, but they still aren’t enough for those lurking in the shadows, demanding the perfect silent kill count. Up to three areas may have to be repetitively cleared just because one wants to explore different approaches, and fails. This limits the player’s exploration and may create frustration. To avoid such frustration, or just for any extra fun, one can find and use Morphine injections to slow down time itself, and move freely for a specific amount of time.

Gameplay wise, it’s exactly the type of game you’d expect from a basic, yet fun, stealth game with action elements. The ability to unlock XP points are available, through either finding collectables, or completing secret objectives. Abilities are represented in three sections; Stealth speed, amount of morphine and its durability and Violet’s resistance to damage.

If that’s not interesting enough, players can, at some point in specific missions, dressed as a female SS officer, and walk around with caution, but disguised as one in league with the enemy.

Players can take different approaches to take out enemies, such as activate grenades and waiting the enemies to round up and explode or power up electric switches to shock some soldiers. Exploding flaming barrels or toxic ones is still an option, but if you want a more stealthy way, waiting for a soldier to step in a puddle of oil and fire it up might be the best bet!

Would be pretty interesting to set more different traps for enemies, but we can’t really complain about the ones at our disposal.

Violette uses special moves to take out enemies when in stealth mode. Scenes can be random depending on the space available for the action. Some of these take downs are definitely brutal, but satisfying to watch. Unfortunately, they become repetitive after awhile. The player can drag and drop the enemy corpses, and search for them when items are available.

Violette doesn’t rely exclusively on stealth elements, and can carry firearms such as her primary hand gun with a silencer, flares, a shotgun and even a sniper rifle. Later in the game, an automatic rifle will also be available, and using it is actually satisfying after spending so much time hidden in the dark.

To accompany us during this extreme war themed journey, we don’t have music, but we do have a thrilling sound to go with, making specific tense moments perfect to the ear. Violette’s voice is done by Melinda Cohen, who’s mostly an actress, but did fantastic in Velvet Assassin, with a great English accent.

The most impressive audio works are definitely the soldier voices, who are 100% in german, and that’s historically accurate of course, but rarely seen in video games.

Velvet Assassin is a fantastic 15-20 hour experience worth the shot for stealth fans, as there aren’t many games like this out there. A decent story presented with an atmospheric direction, and an overall pleasant experience that may or may not be slightly frustrating, due to its technical issues.

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