The lead designer on Velvet Assassin, Sascha Jungnickel, was previously at IO Interactive working on the Hitman series. This will also be a third-person stealth assassination game, but more story-driven and narrowly focused. You play a British Special Operations agent during WWII, carrying out missions based on real events deep within Nazi territory. Jungnickel wearied of the manpower-intensive approach to game design IO had moved towards with Hitman: Blood Money. It took a team of 180 people to make that game. Sascha wanted to work in a smaller team, and focus on mechanics that would work throughout the game rather than coding level-specific ones.
Stealth, in Velvet Assassin, is a binary condition: you%26rsquo;re either hidden or you%26rsquo;re not. A Thief: Deadly Shadows style purple outline indicates if you are. Your weapon-set is simple: a knife, which can kill from behind but is useless otherwise; a Luger, for tight spots; and a sniper rifle for anyone you can%26rsquo;t get near to. But while you can%26rsquo;t take the enemy%26rsquo;s weapons, you can still use some against them. If you%26rsquo;re close to a guard who carries hand grenades, you can remove the pin instead of stabbing him, and he%26rsquo;ll wander oblivious back to his colleagues and kill them all. Later in the game, gas grenades play a role. Your enemies have gas masks, but it takes a moment to don them. That gives you a few seconds to maneuver around them %26ndash; assuming you%26rsquo;ve already put your own mask on %26ndash; and that%26rsquo;s often all you need.
The mission we played was set in the streets of German-occupied Warsaw. As Violet Summer, we%26rsquo;ve got to find and infiltrate a prison to deliver cyanide capsules to captured Allied agents, giving them the chance to kill themselves before the Nazi interrogators break them. There%26rsquo;s evidence that this operation actually took place %26ndash; a grisly thought as you play. The hazy sunset atmosphere is broken by flashes of gunfire in the tenement windows: soldiers probing for hidden refugees the noisy way. Surreally, the streets are littered with furniture: it seems almost like a game conceit, perfect cover for a stealth game, but the Nazis really did rip the flats of Warsaw bare scouring for the few Jewish citizens who refused to flee.
Atmosphere is Velvet Assassin%26rsquo;s main appeal. Jungnickel worked on Blood Money%26rsquo;s superb lighting and filter effects, and here they%26rsquo;re used to evoke a more resonant darkness. Ourappreciation of that was interrupted by a few mechanical limitations, though. The binary stealth system means that if you stumble into a shaft of light you didn%26rsquo;t see, or an area you thought would count as darkness, you%26rsquo;re revealed to nearby guards very suddenly. And strangely for a game that encourages you to circumnavigate your opponents, you can neither jump nor drop down from the ledges and rooftops you climb, except at a few predefined points. If Replay want to prove the virtue of a small team working on a tightly focused game, the story will need to carry Velvet Assassin. For highly flexible mechanics and emergent strategies, Blood Money is a tough act to follow.
Aug 12, 2008