Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
Back in 2009, Replay Studios released the stealth title, Velvet Assassin
. Set in France during World War II, a much-touted element of the game was that the title's heroine, Violette Summer, was based on a real life secret operative named Violette Szabo. However, other than sharing the same first name, initials, and looks, the game had extremely little to do reality or history. On release, the game received mixed reviews, some of which were harsh in the extreme, with a couple of notable gaming websites even refusing to finish or review the title, citing a number of major flaws in the game which they felt rendered the title unworthy of their time and effort. Fortunately, there were those who were prepared to persevere, and as reflected in later player scores and user reviews, the game did have something, just not for everyone.The Basics
The game is played in retrospective, with Violette, a special operations agent, being nursed back to health having been severely wounded in one of the missions. She lies in a hospital bed, half comatose and sedated with morphine. It's through the drug-induced dreams and memories that we relive and replay Violette's missions eventually culminating in the mission that leaves her hospitalized.
The missions are either assassinations or sabotage, taking place deep behind enemy lines in the midst of Nazi occupied France. Armed only with a silenced pistol for most of the time, totally alone and pretty much defenseless, the player has to rely on stealth skills to get them through the deadly assignments in some very dark and very grim locations. With no support, the player remains constantly outnumbered, which means that discovery at any time, usually ends extremely badly for the character.The Hook
As hinted at earlier, the game does have a number of flaws. Even when the game originally appeared, the graphics weren't too fantastic, and have since dated further. However, the proprietary Replay Engine did produce some very startling and atmospheric environments. The dank and dark underground locations are actually captured with stark reality, and the ghetto level with its chilling ambient sounds of gunfire and screams serves as a grim reminder of the horrors of that period.
The stealth techniques were not ground-breaking, and in some ways were a little rudimentary. Whilst the player could hide in shadows, it could be pretty much a hit and miss affair whether they actually provided the expected cover or not. For a stealth based game, it was unusual that the player could not actually slide into cover, and although bodies could be moved, they could not be hidden. Add to this, a certain level of unpredictability in the AI of the enemy vision, sometimes almost standing on top of the player without knowing it, and at other times seemingly having a sixth sense and spotting them in the deepest, darkest corners.
Ironically, it is these very issues that actually lend to the real hook in the game, Violette's vulnerability and the tension that it creates. Unlike certain other female leads such as Lara Croft, Violette is not quite as tough as her deeds would have us believe. One or two hits from enemy soldiers and the mission is quickly over leaving the player to restart from one of the sparsely-placed checkpoints which can result in the player having to replay large parts of a mission. A fate that is made all the worse in having the level, enemies, and collectibles reset. With the character being so vulnerable and cost of failure being so high, the player becomes acutely protective of their life. With detection from any of the many enemy guards meaning almost certain death, the player can feel like they are on a knife's edge.
The game requires that the player study the pre-programmed paths and routines of the guards, carefully and patiently planning a strategy to evade or overcome those enemies, make a commitment to a plan, and ultimately making that first step. These are the moments that the game really shines; the moment when the player cannot help but feel a real degree of tension, knowing that any slight miscalculation will result in the ultimate failure and death of the character. Peeping through a keyhole into an adjoining room and suddenly being confronted with the sight of an enemy soldier heading towards the same door induces a small degree a panic. Does the player run, alerting the guard with the sound of footsteps, or does the player try to sneak away slowly with the risk that the guard might reach the door first and see the player?
It's during moments like these that the player can fall back on the only mechanisms in the game that might possibly save them. If there is suitable closet available, the player can hide or even change into an officers uniform. These mechanisms only work if the player is not spotted going into hiding or gets too close to enemies whilst disguised; failure in either will result in the guards recognizing the player as an enemy with all of the expected consequences. One last resort is the use of morphine to create a sort of bullet time. Given that the missions are being replayed through the memories of Violette whilst lying in her hospital bed, the morphine can be used to alter the course of events and allow the player to invoke a time-slowing mechanism, enabling a single instant kill if needed. In keeping with the rest of the game, this is limited, and the player has to be extremely prudent in its use, as once it has been triggered, it cannot be stopped until it has been exhausted
There is a level of challenge within the game that demands a degree of patience from the player. The almost predatory moments of planning and waiting, carefully stalking the enemy and picking the exact moment to strike require nerves of steel and a patient resolve not seen in many other games. Couple that with the tension and suspense of knowledge that failure can be swift, catastrophic, and very costly and it feels like a rudimentary version of a stealth game. There's no reliance on being able to shoot your way out when things go awry. If you choose the wrong strategy or fail to execute it well enough, then you are in serious trouble. Ironically, the flaws in the game become the same elements that contribute to making the game so intriguing and challenging to play.
The game demands a certain amount of dedication to get through. In some ways it feels like going back to basics with the stealth genre, and in this respect it will probably only appeal to the hardcore fans. With the apparent weakness of the main character, and the knowledge that mistakes will be severely punished, the title makes the gamer feel as vulnerable as the game's protagonist.
It still has to be said that the game does have its issues, and those issues will frustrate players and cause them to quit. The final level seems discordant to the rest of the game, forcing the player into a cat and mouse, run and gun scenario, which seems to be such a departure from everything that has gone on earlier. However, before that, the game can conjure a sense of vulnerability and weakness in the player that very few titles can match. The Achievements
There are 45 achievements spread across the usual themes: story progress, collectibles, difficulty, weapon kills, and a few mission-specific pops. One achievement requires the completion of the game in under five hours
which is difficult to do (2.05 ratio) if you are still looking for collectibles.
Achievement hunters might also want to know that there is no mission select option after completing the game, so any collectibles missed require a completely new playthrough. The Stats
At the time of writing, only 9,184 tracked members have played the game, but 1,684 players have completed it fully. However, 3,189 gamers (35%) saw the single-player campaign through to the end.
The TA community have given the game a score of 3.1 out of 5, whilst Metacritic has the title rated at 56, with mixed reviews, although the Metacritic user score is a slightly higher 6.8.The Price
As always with these older games, it is always worth shopping around for the best deal including the bargain bins at your local game stores. However, as a price reference, Amazon UK
has the game listed at £9.99 and Amazon (US)
has the game listed at $14.99. The VerdictVelvet Assassin
remains a game that will only appeal to the hardcore fans of the stealth genre. The amount of patience that is required to get through the various missions, and the amount of time spent hiding in shadows, establishing a strategy, and waiting for the right moment to strike will frustrate and inevitably drive away lesser fans and players. However, for the hardcore fans of the genre who can overlook the many flaws of the game, there is a real challenge to be found here. In places it can be as punishing as any stealth game. The lack of escape options and lack of firepower means you have to get your strategy right first time. Fans of the more accessible titles in the genre need not apply, this is for the hardcore only. It requires an amount of dedication to complete the campaign and becomes a labor of love which is not for everyone.
If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!