I should have seen the signs going into Alekhine’s Gun. Delayed consistently? Check! Sent out to die in-between major releases? Check! Here I was, though, hyping myself up for what could possibly be a nice little spy adventure. Even with Agent 47 returning to action soon, the stealth genre is always looking for fresh faces. Why couldn’t Comrade Alekhine join the legends of the genre such as Solid Snake and Sam Fisher?
In a slight twist on the usual Cold War formula, Alekhine’s Gun places you into the shoes of a KGB agent. Semyon Alekhine is one of the best spies in the USSR, and after his superiors are contacted about a ploy on American soil to escalate Cold War tensions, he is sent into foreign territory. Luckily, the man who passed along the information, Vincent Rambaldi, is a CIA agent whom Alekhine saved from German imprisonment years prior. Together, the two will work to untangle a conspiracy that encompasses several important moments in world history, including the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy.
Coming from the absurd antics of the last Cold War-centric game I covered, I was intrigued by the USSR-bent angle of Alekhine’s Gun. It’s not a surprise that most games would choose to focus on square-jawed CIA operatives, so it’s always interesting to see a developer go at the time period from a different point of view.
Unfortunately, the story is pretty much a big pile of nothing. It doesn’t go anywhere you don’t expect it to go, the characters are unmemorable at best and the game features some of the most cliché dialogue in recent memory. I didn’t expect something on the level of The Americans coming into it, but this really needed some better writing in order to even be remotely worth paying attention to.
Not to be rude about this, but the best way to describe the gameplay of Alekhine’s Gun is Hitman-esque. And I’m not talking about the reboot, or even Blood Money. I’m talking about the original three titles in the franchise, as this is one hell of a dated game.
Each of the eleven levels gives Alekhine a series of tasks to accomplish. Most of them revolve around murdering people, but there are also objectives such as collecting documents and bugging phones. In order to do this, he will have to disguise himself in different outfits and make sure to avoid suspicion from the absurd amount of guards found in each level.
Accomplishing a mission is more frustrating than not, mostly because the enemy A.I. is extremely inconsistent. Sometimes, you can walk right by these armed-thugs, even if they tell you to stop. Apparently, all you need to break into a crime HQ is just some fancy clothes. Other times, though, guards will be able to see through a disguise instantly. I can understand them latching onto my trail if I left a bunch of bodies in my wake, but there were times where I was spotted without doing anything. It was like these guards knew what my face looked like prior to Alekhine even coming to America.
When it comes to taking out a target, Semyon has several tools at his disposal. Playing through each mission gives you points, which can then be used to purchase new firearms and upgrades for said firearms. Outside of the silenced pistol, I mostly avoided the use of guns though, as the aiming mechanics are crap and the enemies are great shots. Instead, I relied on tools such as the garrote and knife in order to accomplish my mission. They’re way simpler to deal with, and most of the guards don’t give a shit about me using them, as long as they aren’t personally disturbed.
As outdated and stale as the gameplay is, though, things aren’t all bad in the world of Alekhine’s Gun. I was a fan of not only the sizeable levels, but also the many ways Maximum Games lets you accomplish a task.
Like the Hitman franchise, there are usually ways to eliminate a target by making it look like an accident. I’m more of a meat and potatoes murder man myself, but I liked knowing that if I wanted to finish someone off by poisoning their drink, I could. My problem with the accident approach is that you tend to spend a lot of time sitting and waiting for the NPCs to slowly get into position in order to cause them. It’s quicker, and just as deadly, to strangle someone to death, you know?
The gameplay isn’t the only thing dated in Alekhine’s Gun, as the graphics look like they are from another generation as well. At best, the title has the same graphic quality as an early-gen PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 game. Outside of the period-appropriate costumes, the character models in the game are bland and lack detail. There’s also little variety in the enemies, too, so you tend to see the same one or two thugs appear over and over again in a level. The shoddy character models are even more noticeable in cut-scenes, as they pull from the in-game engine. In these clips, you have full view of the lack of lip-sync and poor facial rendering.
The spacious environments don’t fare much better. Most of them lack any detail, and even the broad aspects of a level, such as walls and floors, are drab. What’s more annoying than that, though, is the fact that the lighting in the game is terrible. There were levels where I was standing outside in broad daylight and couldn’t see enemies directly in front of me due to unrealistic shadows. And there’s no way to deal with the awful lighting, as the ability to adjust the brightness of the game is baffingly not included.
The last-gen tier graphics make the fact that Alekhine’s Gun runs like complete garbage even more surprising. The only time the framerate in the game doesn’t slow to a crawl is if you are in a room by yourself. Otherwise, you can look forward to noticeable drops as soon as you come across a warm body. Oh, and god help you if you enter a room with more than five NPC characters.
It’s also probably worth pointing out the repeated crashing that occurred during my time with the game. On one mission alone, the game crashed on me three times, all at different points. There are no checkpoints either, so get used to saving every time you accomplish something.
I already mentioned how terrible the dialogue was, but even if the script was Tarantino-quality, the horrid voice acting would torpedo it. I don’t know where the dialogue was recorded, but I swear to God, it sounds like they did it in the basement of Maximum Games HQ. And if they did record it underground, they must have woke up every actor in the middle of the night, as they all sound like they are just getting out of bed. Mr. Alekhine himself is the worst, as his Russian accent is comically flat.
I don’t want to disparage the team at Maximum Games, but Alekhine’s Gun feels like a relic in the year 2016. The gameplay and graphics are maybe on the same level as similar titles from a decade ago, and the frequent glitches and bugs are surprising and unforgivable once you remember how many times this game was delayed. With the latest chapter of the Hitman saga launching shortly, the fact that this title released with a $49.99 price tag is completely ridiculous. I don’t know how Square Enix’s upcoming game will turn out, but I would be shocked if Agent 47 is as incompetent as Semyon Alekhine.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game, which was provided to us.
I suppose I should have realized Alekhine's Gun was going to have quality concern issues following its numerous delays. I just wasn't aware of how severe these problems would be, as the stale gameplay and dated graphics barely put it on level with games from the last console generation.