Unfairly Maligned Game of the Day #1
Catchy title, eh? It’s a knack. You need something that you can hash-tag effectively.
Stealth games, really, are not a genre. What they are is a lavish repackaging of logic and timing puzzles. If you add ‘action’ to the ‘stealth’ moniker, that just means that if you get the puzzle wrong, you have to play a combat mini-game to continue. The ultimate goal, generally, is to move your game-piece (Sam Fisher, Corvo Attano, that little metal racing car that’s got into the wrong box) from one side of the board to the other, avoiding or neutralizing obstacles of various types before they see you.
The secret to a good puzzle game, then, is a consistent set of rules which the player must apply in increasingly convoluted or exacting ways to achieve his or her goal.
Velvet Assassin is an entirely competent and challenging action stealth game.
It’s true that you’re not afforded the scope of acrobatics that, say, Sam Fisher enjoys in his adventures. You’re not going to be hanging upside-down from water pipes, or grabbing people around corners. The stealth kill mechanics are very simple; get close enough from behind and wait for the prompt to press the button. The shooting is perfunctory at best; it takes enough time between shots for any number of bad guys to put an end to you. The levels tend to be barely disguised puzzle-sections strung together.
They’re good puzzles though. I have found myself really enjoying the process of observation and execution, of steady progress through each of those puzzle sections. Rarely does the game force a shootout on you, so for the most part, you can play it as a pure puzzler; get it right, be unseen, or re-load the checkpoint and try something different. The mechanics of the sneaking are simple – there’s no cover button, for example – but they work consistently. Taking the tools in your arsenal and applying them to a silent run through a level is rewarding and challenging – just like a stealth game should be.
Also worthy of note is that it sprung a trap on me that I completely didn’t see coming and utterly fell into. That doesn’t happen terribly often. The designers laid a trap for a stealthy player and it worked perfectly on me. I love that.
So, while it might not break any genres, or forge new ground, it is a perfectly acceptable piece of stealth gameplay.
The packaging, of course, matters. Let’s not pretend that nice graphics and good art design do not help with the atmosphere and appeal of a game.
Here, too, I think the game is done a disservice by accepted wisdom. It’s not stunning, the animation is little but competent, but it manages to conjure a sort of smoky, noir atmosphere all of its own. There’s some nice texture and model work which looks great under the harsh, hazy lighting that drenches the levels in soft bloom and deep shadow. There’s a lovely reflection of the titular Assassin’s leather clad bottom when she climbs over a fence…
Anyway; the game is fine! It’s not going to win any new converts to the genre, but if you’re already a fan of pure stealth runs through nicely designed puzzles, you could do a lot worse.