Well, it’s a $7 game. You might argue that I can’t complain too much. But we are bound by our purpose in this life, and my purpose is to nitpick videogames. Ergo, if there are flaws, they will be noticed and remarked on. Starting with…
|Velvet Assassin is the story of Violette Summer, with special guest-star: Her ass.|
I set up the controls. What is it with console ports? Do they just choose to omit a couple of keyboard keys at random? I always use numpad DEL for crouch / sneak, and to Velvet Assassin that key doesn’t exist. On the upside, I can use numpad enter, which most console ports manage to screw up. Still, DEL is the key I usually assign to STEALTH MODE, and I’m betting that is a thing I’ll be doing a lot in this game. Now I’ll have over a decade of muscle memory telling me to hit the wrong button when I want to sneak. Didn’t you guys have to USE a keyboard at some point during making this game? How do these basic details escape you?
The opening cutscene is right out of lazy storytelling 101: Voice-over exposition with montage images. It makes no effort to tell me who the main character is or establish the stakes. Okay, it’s a given that we’re playing a WWII game and the player is going to be predisposed to wanting the Allies to win, but it seems that an opportunity was missed here to make things personal or to hook the player with a few interesting questions. Violette’s voice is well-delivered, but clinical and detached. This may be appropriate for the character, but it makes the introduction that much more sterile. This is supposed to the the opening hook, and it’s basically got the same level of emotional investment as the opening of Wolfenstein 3D. The only reason we care at all is because we’re against Nazis and Nazis are bad.
|France is very yellow this time of year!|
Obligatory: The graphics are beautiful.
Our first victim is a drunk guard, who is staggering in place and mumbling to himself. Memories of the original Thief come flooding back, because our first kill in that game was also a drunk guard, facing the wrong way to detect intruders. I perform a stealth kill, and am astounded to discover this is not a quicktime event. Quicktime events are the new jumping puzzles of game design, and I am glad to see they left them out here.
I spot two guards in the distance. I stop to see what they’re up to. They don’t move. I wait. Still no movement. I wait longer. Finally I relent and inch in a bit closer. Suddenly they awake from their catatonic state and begin talking. They have a short conversation and then one of them stands with his back to me while the other one goes on a very mechanical patrol. In these positions, they are of course guarding the base facing INWARD, with their backs facing the outside world. Well, the non-base area of the box canyon, anyway.
The guy with his back to me is standing at one side of a bridge, and there is no other way around. It’s pretty clear what I have to do here. I slit his throat, drag his body into the weeds, and then hurry across the bridge. Guard #2 walks up, takes no notice of the fact that #1 has somehow mysteriously vanished, and turns around and heads back the other way. I try to sneak up on him but botch the timing. I really wanted to completely ghost this area, so I let him kill me and start again.
The next time through, I knife #1 and hurry across the bridge, leaving the dead body in the open. #2 is thick, but even he’s smart enough to notice this. However, instead of searching in the hiding places near the body he makes a beeline for me in the weeds – thirty meters away. He dashes headlong into the darkness instead of searching his way in. He stops juuust short of me and begins searching. This would be a tense moment if his cheating weren’t so clumsy and blatant. He wanders around in the weeds somewhat randomly, while keeping his weapon perfectly aimed in my direction. After searching for all of ten seconds he shrugs and goes back on patrol. I knife him and move on.
I featured these two mooks in an earlier comic. I just want to point out that Thief came out in 1998, and it had better AI than this. Really. Way better. They had guys with more interesting behavior in more complex environments running on a computer with about 1/64th the horsepower.
There is a front door and an obvious hole in the fence. The front door is non-interactive. Okay, I guess I’ll crawl through the hole. This all feels sort of pointless. By now Thief would have presented me with about a dozen choices and multiple ways to dispatch foes. It would have let me use the main entrance, and rewarded the careful player who located and used the stealth route. Yes, I know this game isn’t Thief, but it’s astounding how this flashy big-budget modern game is so pale and shallow compared to the depth and variety of an eleven year old title.
In the next area I get spotted by a dude on the roof. I hide in a nearby shed, but he’s able to track and shoot me through the wall. I die. I restart back at the last checkpoint (just in case I’d forgotten this was a console port) and give it another go. I head into a building and the level abruptly ends. I don’t want to keep beating a dead horse here, but Thief came out in 1998 and and its first level was probably at least a hundred times larger than this in terms of square meters, and it offered a dizzying array of choices, risks and tradeoffs.
I seriously doubt my play through was meaningfully different than anyone else’s. How could it be? I was never given any decisions to make. There was only ever two things to do in this area: Stay on the rails, or die.
The end-of level summary lets me know that I missed several “collectibles”, which are worth XP, which is used to upgrade your skills. So you get XP not for completing goals or accomplishing stuff, but for finding secrets. Which means I’ve just gimped my character by not finding them all. I don’t mind a little junk hunt minigame for the OCD gamer in me, but this feels more like the central means of improving my skills. Is the game tuned in difficulty with the assumption that I’ll get them all, and thus missing too many will result in the game being much harder? Since I don’t have the ability to put the game on easy, this is a really important question. The last thing I want is to hit a wall six hours in. This is not the kind of decision and metagame thinking I should be doing at the end of the first level.
Making things worse is the fact that the level ended without warning. You can’t save at will. You can’t tell when you’re about to proceed to the next level. These two facts do not work well with the “make sure you find all the collectible items before you move on” thing the game has going.
Sighing, I hit the key to proceed to the next level. And the game crashes to the desktop.
Yeah. I think we’re done here.
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