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If Violette Summer, the brave, beautiful, and revenge-driven protagonist of the new stealth action game, Velvet Assassin, seems familiar to students of World War II spy lore, it’s for good reason. The game was loosely inspired by the life of 21-yearold Violette Szabo, who joined the British Special Operations Executive after her husband was killed in the North Africa campaign. Trained in escape and evasion, unarmed combat, and demolitions, she parachuted into France and led a Resistance network in sabotaging Nazi roads, rail bridges, and communication lines. These activities led to her capture, torture, and execution at Ravensbrück; she was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix du Guerre.

Velvet Assassin borrows from Szabo’s background, but intentionally diverges from history to weave its own story. Though Szabo and Summer share the same first name and the same motivation, Velvet Assassin’s plot and missions are pure fiction. At the beginning of the game, Violette Summer lies wounded in a French hospital after a failed mission. In a morphine haze she dreams about past missions, which you carry out through a series of flashbacks; they include destroying a fuel depot near the Maginot Line, assassinating a high-ranking German officer, and assisting the Resistance.

Velvet Assassin offers a fresh take on World War II gaming. Violette is not the nearly invincible protagonist featured in so many games of this genre, running and gunning with immunity through hordes of enemies. She can’t take more than one or two gunshots before it’s game over. Therefore, staying undetected is key. To avoid discovery by the enemy, you must use various stealth tactics, such as disabling fuse boxes to kill fog lights, which cast her shadow as she passes by, or using an SS uniform as a disguise in areas with less cover.

But in many cases there is no way around an enemy, and you must eliminate them as silently as possible. Violette’s Fairbairn-Sykes knife or silenced Colt M1911 come in handy in such instances, since using noisy firearms will give away her position. She can whistle or turn on a radio, causing the enemy soldier to move from his position to investigate, and allowing Violette to sneak behind him and take him out.

As a stealth action game, Velvet Assassin could use a little more polish— especially in the areas of enemy intelligence and weapons’ combat mechanics. But the lighting effects and textures are excellent and the historically modeled surroundings, weapons, and culture (German soldiers actually converse in German) are accurate. These factors suspend disbelief, making you feel as though you’re actually there. In a genre glutted with generic first-person shooters and real-time strategy games, Velvet Assassin is a refreshing departure.


Originally published in the September 2009 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here