Alekhine’s Gun (Xbox One Review)
The stealth genre is a somewhat underutilized approach to modern games, with the exception of Hitman many gamers would be hard pressed to name 3 similar games. So I was over the moon when Alekhine’s Gun was announced, especially with a different approach than usual. It was about time that Hitman had a Jason Bourne to its James Bond. On the other hand, a Eddie Murphy in Spy might be a more astute comparison for Alekhine’s Gun, with its blundering and comedic facade, when it comes to Agent 47’s sleek visuals and classic approach.
For a game that seamlessly appeared out of thin air, Alekhine’s Gun has quite the history behind it. Originally part of the Death to Spies series Alekhine’s Gun was originally announced in 2010 with Haggard Games as developers and 1C as the publishers. Unfortunately further in to development 1C pulled out, resulting in Haggard taking to IndieGoGo originally and then a failed Kickstarter in 2014. Thankfully Maximum Games stepped in and saved Alekhine’s Gun from a development black hole in June 2014.
Alekhine’s Gun has one of the more interesting stories of any third person shooter around. Revitalizing some aspects of World War 2 with flashback missions and being centred around an ex-KGB agent joining the CIA around the time of the Cold War as an assassin of sorts. Yet in spite of all this rich history and setting, Alekhine’s Gun fails to deliver anything of great interest. Partly due to poor voice acting and partly due to some questionable decisions when it comes to cascading the story. For instance the main cutscenes of Alekhine’s Gun consist of charcoal drawing like stills with a modicum of animation, with very little going on visually and an accompaniment of dull tones with duller voices it was very hard to concentrate on the story as a whole, leaving the player feel almost alienated from their ability to engage. Although the biggest sin in terms of story is the ability to ruin such an interesting premise, to the best of my knowledge there has never been a stealth game based on a defected KGB agent in games. It was a subject matter ripe for a truly gripping and involving story that had never been told before, somehow butchered by poor choices and dulled to a point that leaves you questioning if you would like to see the subject matter tackled again.
The lack of a gripping story isn’t the only issue with Alekhine’s Gun, not by a long shot. In a world where there is a clear and defined approach to stealth games, one that has roots in the Hitman series, the games that stand out are going to be those that differ from the formula and improve on the issues others may have had with them. Unfortunately Alekhine’s Gun fails to take any of these risks to better itself or the genre, instead opting to play it unbelievably safe and stick to the tried and true method. So for those familiar with the gameplay of Hitman there will be no surprises. As you progress through the levels you will find yourself going through the motions of knocking out unsuspecting victims, stuffing bodies in cupboards, and finding inventive ways to make blatant homicide look like a believable accident. There is even a rating system, ranging from “Maniac” to “Ghost”, awarded at the end of every mission.
In spite of having very familiar gameplay to other titles, Alekhine’s Gun does its best to stick out when it comes to the world in which you inhabit. A diverse number of settings sees you exploring old castles occupied by German forces in a flashback mission, hunting down key recruiters for the enemy in outback biker bars, and even running wild in a police station. Each of the areas, although hindered by intolerably poor frame rates and poor lighting – something that could easily be fixed by visual sliders, a standard menu feature that is somehow missing from the finished product – are vast and varied to great delight. If you can look past a few enemies clipping through doors and some odd floating objects you will find that these worlds were intended to be full of life and take you on what could be an exciting trip through your accomplishments as an agent. Yet these worlds, instead of feeling lived in, end up peppered with the ghosts of AI carelessly placed in an attempt to force you to explore and take the road less traveled when scoping out a mark, something that can provide a great deal of enjoyment in these types of games. Unfortunately, due to what you can only assume as an oversight, the AI have less spacial awareness than the fabled 3 blind mice. Areas with prohibited entry can be easily by passed by closing doors on those who seek to keep you out, a literal incarnation of out of sight and out of mind, or by running really, really fast. It’s laughable at times, only because tragedy and comedy are so often tied intrinsically to one another.
Playing Alekhine’s Gun felt like returning to a game that your friends thought was great on the PS2, but it was released in 2016 and on modern consoles. It has a certain allure when it comes to story and setting, but fails to deliver at almost every turn. Personally, I wanted Alekhine’s Gun to be great, it was a chance at something new and different to take hold of a genre that has grown stale. Ultimately Alekhine’s Gun isn’t let down by just technical faults and poor execution, but falls down at providing hope in a genre that sorely needs it. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Maximum Games, they really do have a genuinely great idea, but next time it needs to be executed perfectly – much like that dude that tripped down the stairs, you forget the suspicious events leading up to accident, the lights turning off and the doors locking, and find something so perfect in it’s execution that whatever happened before is completely forgotten and you are left with a masterpiece.