During WWII, there were countless spies who embarked on missions of sabotage and espionage to help their side gain the upper hand. Violet Summers, the protagonist of Velvet Assassin, is based on a real-life Allied spy named Violet Szabo. Though the game encompasses missions beyond the ones Szabo is known to have performed, the developer has used her as inspiration and worked hard to make the game as authentic as possible. We saw a mission that took Violet through the Warsaw Ghetto, and the attention to historical detail was surely one of the most impressive elements of this early build.
The game began with a black and white dream sequence that showed images of a war-torn city and a rough military hospital. Violet's voice narrated a brief soliloquy that described some of the horrors she'd seen, and she spoke of her soldier husband whose death in battle spurred her to action. The game plays out as Violet's memories are recounted from the hospital bed where she lies unconscious. Throughout the following action, Violet would occasionally chime in with grim observations and thoughts, enhancing the gritty atmosphere.
Velvet Assassin is a third-person action game, and Violet is a slim Caucasian women with a sweep of dark hair. In the mission we saw, Violet was wearing an aviator jacket and jeans, and we were told other missions will have her dressing in other clothes appropriate to the scene. In this particular mission, Violet was charged with delivering cyanide to an Allied prisoner trapped in a Nazi jail with no hope of escape. It began in the sewers, and the first thing we noticed was a lavender halo around Violet's body. This appears when she is in shadows or hiding in brush, and it signals that she is invisible to her enemies. In the bottom left corner of the screen was a red circle that tracked her health, and that too had a lavender rim that indicated invisibility. Stealth is a key element of gameplay, and Violet will have to stay quiet as well as hidden if she is to remain undetected.
Sneaking through the sewer, Violet soon came upon a Nazi guard. As she approached silently from behind, the image of a button appeared on the screen with just one word next to it: Kill. With the press of a button Violet whipped out her knife, stabbed the guard once in the small of the back, then slit his throat. Two new prompts appeared onscreen giving the option to search or drag the body. Guards who come across their dead colleagues will go into a suspicious state and will search the area, busting out flashlights if it is dark. If they don't find anything, they'll revert to a passive state, but if they spot you they'll go into alert mode and bullets will start flying.
The next time Violet came across a guard, she wasn't quite so stealthy. Faced with a machine gun and wielding only a knife, she tapped into a different kind of arsenal. She injected herself with a shot of morphine and time slowed down, allowing her to get into position to knife her enemy. During this sequence the environment becomes saturated with white light, shimmering red blood cells float through the air, and Violet dons a dirty white slip. The idea behind this is that any time Violet is in danger, her unconscious self lying on the hospital bed becomes distressed, and the nurses inject her with morphine. The resulting effect smoothes things over for her temporarily, but don't think this is a get-out-of-death-free card. Violet can still die if her health is fully depleted, and she has a limited amount of morphine at her disposal.
Moving onward, Violet picked up a small collectible box and earned 100 experience points. These points will allow her to upgrade a few skills and attributes, like her health, morphine count, morphine duration, and stealth sound dampening. As she crawled up out of the sewers, we were treated to a view of the Warsaw Ghetto in the late afternoon. Orange light suffused the air, giving everything a vivid, somewhat surreal feel. The streets were littered with furniture thrown from the windows by raiding Germans, and distant gunshots signaled thorough apartment searches much like the ones that actually occurred in that neighborhood.
Vanquishing a few more foes, Violet eventually picked up a Luger pistol. When the next guard appeared, our presenter whipped out Violet's gun and used the free aim to pull off a headshot. Gunshots will definitely attract attention, but sometimes that just serves as a helpful way of lining enemies up and knocking them down. We were told that Violet can also whistle to distract guards, or shoot a silenced pistol at a distant surface to misdirect her enemies. In a nasty little maneuver, Violet sneaked up behind a guard, pulled the pin on the grenade in his belt, and sneaked away. Moments later, the guard was no more.
Violet will travel to many locations to complete her missions, like the Notre Dame in Paris and a fuel storage bunker in Germany. All throughout she will encounter grisly scenes and take on realistic missions that, when completed, won't feel like victory. The attention to atmosphere is impressive, and Violet is shaping up to be a unique and engaging protagonist. Velvet Assassin is slated to be available at the end of 2008, and we'll keep you posted as this WWII stealth game nears completion.