It’s not that the world isn’t ready for multiplayer role playing games with a penchant for deception and a reliance on absolute participation, it’s just that the sequence of events necessary to set it all in motion requires the steady hand of a talented and well-funded collection of people. Ambition is empty without execution.
To describe Velvet Sundown is to detail a personal experience with the game. I was placed on a yacht and assigned the role of a Russian aristocrat by day and a secret agent by night. Given a USB device and a red thong(!), I was charged with the task of finding a thief to steal information for my shadowy operatives.
I had no idea what sort of game Velvet Sundown intended to be, but I had an objective and I aimed to complete it.
Velvet Sundown presents every other person on board with a different objective, then tasks each person with manipulating everyone else in order to get what they want. The player is allowed some direct action in the form of inventory management, but more beneficial is Velvet Sundown’s text-to-speech feature, which allows the characters to speak whatever it is you type. Mass Effect-like conversations can happen on the fly.
A neatly dressed man named Boyle kept calling me “old chap,” gave me his taser, and commissioned me to zap other people. A woman named Dunla lured me into the cabin where she implied we would have sex. A bearded fellow named Imgar kindly received my red thong and said he would make good use of it. Later someone gave me a briefcase full of money. I didn’t know the limitations of the game, so I went along with all of it.
The objectives are given, but the roles are real provided everyone plays their part. Once I understood this, I switched my persona from the literal me into a lurid Bond villain shrouded in chaotic mystery.
My defining moment came when Boyle, confident I would tase the correct person, instead found himself tased by me — effectively ruining his part in the game and fulfilling my invented-three-minutes-ago idiot villain image. Everyone is trying to con everyone else, and the win condition presumably goes to whoever can most effectively perform their role. I lost the game, but I won in my mind.
Velvet Sundown, with its myriad of available scenarios, sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, in its present state, it performs with all of the style and grace of an early-aughts third-person action game. Control is bad, UI is worse, and the bewildering antics of your unpredictable cooperatives can ruin the experience. At least one person always drops from a game, rendering any sort of win state near-impossible.
Worse, a particular scenario is never as fresh the second time around. The first time is brilliant, and the rest feels poisoned by passive knowledge from that experience.
Velvet Sundown has all the makings of a great game, and with any luck it’ll inspire a Day Z-like rampage of inspired copycats from more agile developers.