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I recently read “Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have” by Suzanne Ottaway. It is a biography of Violette Szabo, who was a member of SOE’s F Section. SOE stands for Special Operations Executive, and it was a British organisation set up during the second world war to oversee covert operations in France.
Agents assigned to F Section where trained in covert operations, escape and evasion, cryptography, radio and telegram use, weaponry, and parachuting. They were usually parachuted directly into German occupied France and expected to blend in whilst helping to arrange and support the French resistance.
Violette Szabo was a French-born English SOE agent who had two missions in German occupied France. It was during her second operation that she was captured by the Germans and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was interrogated then later killed.
I’m glossing over a LOT here. For more information on Mrs. Szabo click here
I’m also not going to link to the story of Ravensbrück concentration camp as it’s a distressing story.
Why am I waffling about Violette Szabo? Well, there was a third person stealth action game based (very, VERY, loosely) on her missions in German occupied France during the Second World War.
Velvet Assassin was a PC game released in 2009, developed by Replay Games (based in Germany), who have since closed. Published by South Peak games in North America and Europe, Gamecock Media Group in Australia, and Ubisoft in Japan. It was ported to Xbox 360 and Mac OSX in 2009.
Before I go any further, I want to talk about the link between Violette Summer (the player character in the video game) and Violette Szabo. The developers took parts of Mrs. Szabo’s life as reported in “Call Her Name With Pride” (which has been shown to be full of falsehoods and half truths) and added them into the story for the game, but not that many real facts from her life ended up in the game.
I refer to Violette Szabo as Mrs. Szabo because she was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de guerre avec etoile de bronze.
Which is pretty difficult to say at the best of times
A lot of the missions in the game are based on missions that other SOE agents had undertaken, rather than being taken from Mrs. Szabo’s mission file.
The story-line of the game is very different to what actually happened to Mrs. Szabo, too.
Violette Summer was recruited into SIS during the Blitz, after having lost her husband (an RAF pilot) during the early days of the war and her Aunt during the early stages of the Blitz. Violette soon became a very skilled spy for SIS and was dropped in German occupied France.
During one of her missions, she is wounded by a German sniper. From the beginning of the game, Violette is recounting her missions to the player via flashbacks – as she is comatose in a hospital bed in France.
Differences With Real Life
I feel like it would be remiss of me to discuss this video game without, at least, mentioning the differences between the story of the game and the story of Mrs. Szabo.
Violette Summer’s husband was a member of the RAF, whereas Mrs. Szabo’s husband (Étienne Szabo) was a Hungarian member of the French Foreign Legion and passed away due to injuries suffered at Bir Hakeim by Afrika Korps on 24th October 1942.
Mrs. Szabo joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in September 1941, and was posted to the first mixed gender anti-aircraft batteries of the 7th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Training Regiment (located in Shropshire). As a Gunner, Mrs. Szabo was posted to Frodsham in Cheshire (which is near Warrington). However after a number of weeks, she left due to pregnancy.
Mrs. Szabo was recruited into F Section, probably because of her French background – she was a native French speaker, her mother French, and she had spent much of her childhood in France.
Interestingly, her SOE file contains a reference to a report on her which mentions that she "speaks French with an English accent"
Mrs Szabo was never wounded by a sniper while on a mission to kill a German intelligence officer, but was captured and taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was interrogated and killed.
Most of the game takes place as a series of flashbacks, with Violette Summer telling the player all about her missions. Because she doesn’t directly reference the player, it could be believed that she is telling her interrogators about her missions.
The player must use stealth tactics to sneak through levels, occasionally assassinating German soldiers and hiding their bodies in corners, shadows or foliage.
A silhouette of Violette in the lower-left corner of the screen shows how well hidden Violette is. As Violette hides in shadows, a purple outline appears around this silhouette. When she is discovered, the player has to either kill all of the soldiers in the area, or find an area to hide in until they stop searching for her.
we get it, it’s a little like Metal Gear Solid but set during WW2
Each stage has a single-use morphine syringe. This slows the game down, replaces Violette’s outfit with her nightshirt (and very little else) and gives her greatly exaggerated physical strength.
The bight areas are extremely bright, and over saturated but with a grimy filter to them.
Violette is designed to look sexy, which something I feel strange about. Here is this heroine, a woman based on SOE agents who actually undertook incredibly dangerous missions in German occupied France, but who is specifically designed to look a little like a fashion model.
There are parts of the game where you actively run around in a nightshirt.
I’m a little worried that I’ve come across as being ready to put on a fedora by this point, so I’ll stop while I’m ahead.
The German soldiers in this game walk around the stages and converse like real people, lending to a higher level of immersion – along with the graphical quality of the game and the sound design (especially if you play with headphones), which is amazing.
Looking past the factual inaccuracies
the game was advertised as being based on the real life of Mrs. Szabo
and the “21st century” character design, this is a fun stealthy action game. The player is rewarded for fully exploring their surroundings and making it through the stages with a low body count by awarding XP, which can be spent on character upgrades.
I guess that gives it RPG elements, too.
The controls can sometimes feel slow and unresponsive, and a lot of people who have reviewed the game complain of a motion blur effect applied to camera movements – I see this as an artistic choice, linked to Violette being comatose or drug fuelled.
But you’re free to draw your own conclusions
If you’re looking for something with a Metal Gear Solid feel to it, without having a “war is bad” message crammed into your eyes
I’m thinking of every MGS after (and including) MGS 2 here
then I would recommend it.
Have you ever played Velvet Assassin? Had you heard of Mrs. Szabo before playing it or reading this article?
If you haven’t played Velvet Assassin before, why not give it a try and let us know what you thought of it?