2 Reviews

Velvet Assassin

It's Lara Croft on drugs, but not in a good way...

If the title sounds naughty - well, it's supposed to. Except it really isn't.

This Splinter Cell-esque stealth game seems enormously conflicted: it passes mournful comment on the psychological horrors of war, while showing you a shapely Kate Beckinsale-alike wandering around in a tiny nightie, even though she's supposed to be dying from horrific injuries at the time.

Set in World War II, Velvet Assassin ends up feeling like three different games bolted into one more-or-less functional Frankenstein. First, there's the sombre storytelling - flashbacks recounting the career of titular heroine Violette Summer, currently hospitalised with monstrous injuries.


Then there's its major feature, the stealth-killing of German soldiers. Like Sam Fisher and Agent 47, Violette is near-useless in a straight fight, so this is a game of thoughtful sneaking and backstabbing.

Finally, it attempts to be Tomb Raider by somehow making the troubled and tragic Violette a pin-up, fetishised by impractically short-skirted military uniforms and grunting in pained-pleasure as she pushes crates around.

It's a bold trilogy of ideas, but the trouble is that none of these elements end up feeling as complete as they should. Enemies, for instance, seem to ping between unearthly psychic powers and total brain-death. This, together with a targeting system apparently modeled on a boozy grandma with a shotgun, means stealthery often relies on chance as much as strategy.

The Splinter Cell element's also compromised by a dread reliance on long-winded hunts for door keys - though given Violette's supposed to be some sort of super-spy, surely lockpicking would be foremost among her abilities?

The tragic storytelling, meanwhile, misfires with the crazed inclusion of morphine as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Somehow, morphine collected in the flashbacks can be used by present-day, bed-ridden Violette, which in turn freezes the flashback world for a few seconds, enabling her to dodge or slay a few angry Nazis.

It's a fun little concept, but it makes about as much sense as Iggy Pop advertising car insurance. In practice, it just feels like activating some particularly surreal cheat mode. Finally, the attempt to make Violette a new Lara Croft falters for one simple reason: she's got a face like a creepy, sweaty shop dummy.

Critical flaws in every major respect, then, and yet it just about hangs together. There's an affecting moodiness to it, a real satisfaction when you do chain together several silent kills, and the low-tech 1940s setting lends a refreshing purity to the sneak 'em up genre. With a little more polish, further adventures for Violette could well be to die for.

The verdict

Atmospheric stealthery, but far from smooth

  • Grown-up storytelling
  • A refreshing setting for stealth
  • Slightly awkward controls
  • Silly Morphine Mode
  • Enemy AI's all over the place
Xbox 360
Replay Studios
Action, Stealth