It’s World War II, and sexy British super-spy Violette Summer lies at death’s door in a hospital. In her delirium, she relives some of her greatest adventures—based very loosely on the life of war hero Violette Szabo, except that Szabo never killed her way through an enemy camp, or took down a notorious war criminal single-handedly. The fictional Summer sneaks her way through 11 stealth missions (plus one bonus), seeing her way through with gruesome stealth kills, just a handful of bullets, and a knack for hiding in the slightest shadow.
Aside from its gorgeous scenery—the outdoors, when you get to see them, are rich and autumnal—Velvet Assassin is clunky and limited, and falls closer to Vampire Rain than Splinter Cell. And to execute its stealth mechanic, it leans on an array of contrivances. Guards don’t know how to walk through wooden doors, and can’t hear or see them when they open. It’s just plain verboten to pick up a Nazi’s gun or his ammo—though many levels end by giving you a shotgun and letting you blast through the finale. The AI is robotic bordering on animatronic, and the soundtrack hits you with panicky music when absolutely nothing is happening. And nothing underscores the spirit of “it works because we say so” as much as the morphine trick: If an enemy traps you, you can take the drug and time will slow down so Violette can off her foe—all while wearing her hospital nightie.
Beyond the game: Developed by a German studio, Velvet Assassin is sympathetic to the rank-and-file Nazi troops, depicting them as lonely, desperate, and more than a little crazy.
Worth playing for: Velvet Assassin placed its biggest bet on the sex appeal of Playboy “girls of gaming” pin-up Violette Summer. But while the SS uniform is over the top, Summer’s sinister looks fit perfectly with the endless tunnels and flickering lights.
Frustration sets in when: You have to sit through conversations before the guards separate and make themselves vulnerable. The Nazis are insufferably cultured, and crouching in the shadows while they lecture you on art history proves a true test of patience.
Final judgment: Bugs, shortcuts, and the game’s habit of repeating the same clever trick too many times hold back an otherwise solid stealther.