This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Velvet Assassin.
Another week, another game concerning World War II beginning with V and prominently featuring female soldiers with their bums hanging out. But that's where the similarities end. While Valkyria Chronicles is about uniformed cuties gossiping about boys and defending the Hundred Acre Wood from mean old Farmer Hitler, Velvet Assassin is about an emotionally dead young woman slitting the throats of Nazis because they just peeled off a Jewish baby's face and jerked off with it. The two games form interesting counterpoints of each other. On the one side, thinly disguised idealistic pussy-footed remote-control from the top of a general's ivory tower, and on the other, intense, behind enemy lines, morally ambiguous realism so gritty you could lay it down on your front yard and call it a driveway.
Velvet Assassin is loosely based on the life of British wartime spy Violette Szabo, and it couldn't get much looser without slipping off altogether. The game character is Violette Summer, a British wartime spy (with a much more relatably Anglo-Saxon last name) who looks like she does her eye shadow with a catapult and her hair with a firehose and whose arse extrudes a good ten or eleven inches from the rest of her. She's posted in occupied France, and after a particularly intense croissant binge lies comatose in a hospital, where she dreams of her favorite throat-slitting moments. It's basically just a Hitman: Blood Money-esque framing device to take us through the highlights of her glorious career up to that point, which seem to mainly consist of crouch-walking around sewer tunnels failing to make friends. So it's a third-person stealth game with a Splinter Cell crossed with Hitman crossed with Schindler's List sort of feel, with a dash of Thiefs atmosphere and a sprinkling of Metal Gear Solids confused, vaguely anti-war bullshit message.
The mechanics are simple enough. Enemy soldiers walk stiffly around predetermined paths with their delicious, fleshy throats on display, and you are either in shadow and invisible or not and not. I have a special littlle black hole in my cold, obsidian heart for stealth gameplay, but it's like owning a tiger: it's very impressive if you know how to look after it, but if you don't you're going to be cleaning massive dollops of your former children off the kitchen floor. Instant game overs the moment the guards so much as smell your farts are an example of bad stealth. And while Velvet Assassin does give you the opportunity to fight back or evade when you're spotted, they have assault rifles, you have a pistol, they have several friends, you have a bad haircut, so they might as well just dump you to the load screen to try again for the sixteenth hyperbolillionth time.
Alternatively, you can use the Morphine Mode feature, which deserves a frank description without colorful analogies. You can have one morphine syringe at a time, and when you use it, the enemies freeze in place, the world fills with mist, rose petals fall from the ceiling, and most of Violette's clothes fly off. There really needs to be a word meaning "artsy" in a way that's cool rather than gay. As... interesting... as the effect is, it's only real purpose is a one-time Get Out of Fuck-Up Free card, allowing you to swiftly delete one inconveniently alerted Nazi. Once you kill someone, you go back to reality, so if there was more than one alerted Nazi around, then the fuck-up remedy has instead resulted in what we experts call "boomerang fuck-up".
Alternatively alternatively, you can put on an S.S. uniform and hide in plain sight, which turns the game into Hitman (incredibly scaled down and fueled with estrogen) with only one outfit. And in which you can't get close to anyone because you emit the unmistakable stench of a British agent (a combination of tea and extremely greasy food).
Velvet Assassin suffers from repetition, and the levels are extremely linear, which is what turned me off Splinter Cell. It'd be nice to see another stealth game with a little more explorative freedom, like what Assassin's Creed very nearly did and completely failed to be. "But what is nice is seeing a game ignore the pressure to try to please everyone and concentrate totally on the stealth mechanic to really bring to life the emotive and nerve-racking combat alternative I like so much" is what I would be saying if Velvet Assassin didn't wrap its lips around the very same shotgun deathcock Assassin's Creed snacked on and clunkliy revert to mandatory run-and-gun shooty action for the last mission, because they couldn't think of any other way to make things feel climactic. If Violette hadn't spent the whole mission running around in skimpy night attire, it would have been a complete disappointment. Yeah, you heard me. Remember how this game was supposed to be based on an actual person? I'm pretty sure they were making shit up by this point. If there were female soldiers battling in their lingerie back then, there would probably be more photos of it.
The general feel of artsiness makes me think Velvet Assassin is trying to make a point, but I'm not sure what that point is. Possibly that the Nazis were bad? Yeah, we figured that out around the Normandy landings. But then again, things aren't as clear-cut as that. You keep finding the letters the soldiers wrote to their girlfriends, talking about how much they're looking forward to coming home and living long, idyllic lives with five children and a pristine, undamaged neck. And Violette herself comes across as a bit of a psycho, murdering captive Allied spies before they could talk, and when she's busy introducing Mr. Jugular to Lady Fosington-Switchblade she always looks like she's just a little bit too into it.
One thing's for sure, this definitely wasn't an American production, because if it was it would have ended with Hitler's volcano doom fortress sinking into the ocean while Violette watches from the deck of a nearby submarine with the orphan children she rescued from the underground genetics lab. Out of curiosity, I looked up the developers, and they're actually German! Which surprised me, because I heard that if you even mention the Nazis in Germany, then the government come over and set your house on fire. Between this and Valkyria Chronicles, what's with all the World War II games being developed by the Axis forces? What is this, community service?
We deny all knowledge of his existence: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Still, even if he only had one ball it must have been pretty fucking big to go outside with that moustache
Oddly enough 'artsy' and 'Nazi' are two of the very few words that rhyme with my name