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Velvet Assassin

Velvet Assassin

Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Platform: PC, Xbox 360
UK Price (as reviewed): £24.99 (incl. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $49.99 (excl. Tax)

Velvet Assassin isn’t a game about murdering posh couches (or sofas, if you prefer), so if you’ve decided to take a peek based on a strange and innate hatred for furry futons then you’re going to be just a tiny bit disappointed.

Instead, the Velvet Assassin name is actually used to imply a sense of subtlety and tense, disciplined violence rather than a literal attack on heavy curtains and drawing room footstools.

Velvet Assassin is the story of Violette Summer, a toff-voiced young spy who lays dying in a hospital towards the end of World War II. Violette has enjoyed a long and strangely successful career as an intelligence operative and murderer for MI6, but now it seems that the job had come to an end.

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Violette glows slightly purple when she's hidden from view

In lieu of victory, all Violette has is her memories, which she relives and narrates on her deathbed as the series of morphine-enhanced flashbacks form the structure of the game. Violette looks back on her life as a spy, drifting out of reverie and back to reality whenever the drugs wear off so that the story becomes enticingly put together.

Rather than starting at the end of the story and working backwards through linear flashbacks the plot tells three interwoven tales concurrently; the memory that Violette is reliving, the story of how she ended up in hospital and what exactly is going to happen to her. It’s a fusion that works brilliantly, always keeping you interested and providing something to ponder on.

The real highlight of Velvet Assassin’s story isn’t how it’s told or the way the gameplay is slowly expanded, but actually the starlet who steps into the spotlight; Violette herself. An unusual an enigmatic character compared to most other computer games, Violette isn’t just a tart in a boob-tube, but nor is she the vocal and sympathetic stereotype either.

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Peeking through keyholes quickly becomes a matter of habit

Her portrayal as a cold and efficient professional separates her both from the 2D models of Duke Nukem 3D and the ever-whinging Alyx Vance of Half-Life 2. Her aloof nature and deliciously sexy accent elevates her to the same ranks as Thief’s Garrett, Hitman’s Mr 47 or The Prince from The Sands of Time (before he was ruined by sequels). While it is admittedly unlikely that the game itself will ever become as memorable as those titles, for reasons we’ll get to shortly, Violette herself gives Velvet Assassin a strong opening and a hook to drag players through with.

As players work through the levels and more of Violette’s story begins to unfold, there are some obvious cracks that begin to form, but they’re minor and easily overlooked. It’s constantly worth remembering that Velvet Assassin isn’t trying to be totally realistic just because it has a historic setting, it’s merely using the setting as a backdrop to tell a story. The story itself and the motivations of characters may be a tiny part of some WWII games, like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, but that’s exactly what makes Velvet Assassin stand out; that the WWII setting becomes just a backdrop for Violette’s personal war against the Reich.

As with most good stories too, it isn't the ending that makes the plotting great - especially since we already know that Violette ends up dying in hospital - but the journey of how she got there, how come she's slowly dying and why she probably wished she was dead a long, long time before that.