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NYCC 09: Velvet Assassin hands-on


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When we first got our hands on Velvet Assassin nearly eight months ago at E3 2008, we were impressed. The level of polish exhibited for a game still months from any formal release was a good sign to us that the game was on the right track to becoming one of few stealth/action titles we might really enjoy. We delighted in sneaking up behind a group of unwitting Nazi soldiers, pulling a pin from one of their grenades, and watching the resultant explosion of humanity from a comfortable distance. Not just for the obvious reasons but because little touches like that helped to make VA feel like a living world and brought you into the role of French WWII-era assassin Violette Szabo, the interesting real life person the game's based on.

And though we were assured the grenade trick has been left in the game (even if it wasn't in the most recent build we checked out just before the 2009 New York Comic Con), enough has changed since we first met protagonist Violette Summer to be concerned. The polish once exuded by German developer Replay Studios' first game for the Xbox 360 has all but vanished, leaving behind kludgey player animation, poor enemy AI and glitch-prone graphics. With two months to go until the "April launch window" of VA, we're hoping (but not exactly confident) they can bring back the experience we had so many moons ago.

Gallery: Velvet Assassin | 11 Photos

Controlling Violette Summer through a Nazi-guarded oil depot, we were tasked with collecting various items and demolishing the building -- an early level that serves as your advanced tutorial. Slipping around a corner, we took aim with a silenced pistol at the temple of an unknowing soldier. BANG! But rather than dropping to the floor, bullet firmly lodged in his skull, he instead flinched as though a bug had bitten him, turned the corner, and riddled Violette with bullets. "We're still balancing some things," we were told by a representative from SouthPeak, the game's publisher. We should note, however, that this problem persisted throughout the entire demonstration, occurring with not only helmet wearing enemies but also tanktop wearing, "Summer casual" enemies (read as: no helmet!).

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And balancing they'll need to do. Time after time we accidentally alerted enemies only to be immediately hammered by bullets -- even after stabbing enemies or shooting them, in most cases both and repeatedly. Luckily for us, the enemy AI got lazy after a few moments searching for their fellow soldier's cause of death and returned to a scripted track not long after. Alarms would go off and enemies would remain standing in the next room, unaware or carefree as to the potentially fatal situation at hand.

More disappointing was the seemingly enormous difference in graphical fidelity between 'Violette then' and 'Violette now'. The Uncanny Valley has opened up and she has fallen directly in, along with (the mostly generic) enemies, resulting in an experience we were finding hard to sink into.

At a certain point, suspension of disbelief becomes a tenuous argument and you are left with something you simply cannot perceive to be a "real world." Unfortunately for Velvet Assassin, based on what we saw the other day, this seems to be a real possibility. We'll remain hopeful as the impending April release window draws nearer.

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