I’m not sure where to start with this game. I was surprised to hear about it, a Hitman inspired, noir-esque, Cold War stealth game. It sounded like a fantastic idea! This could be the game that would snatch up the Hitman fans that were disappointed in the game’s decision to go episodic, and who were itching to have another stealth assassination game in a similar vein. It’s not that though, but not because it didn’t try.
Alekhine’s Gun: PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer: Maximum Games
Publisher: Maximum Games
Release Date: 1 March 2016 [EU 11 March]
Price: £29.99 [-15% Off Till March 11th] [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
My experience began early on in the first mission. The controls did not feel very good. Movement was fine, a default walk with the ability to toggle a slight jog, something not just similar but pretty much straight out of the early Hitman games. Aiming and camera control was the biggest problem however. First off, gamepad controls, at least on PC, are slow. Turning the camera around 180 degrees took literal seconds, and aiming a gun was just as sluggish and clunky. Normally you could just adjust the sensitivity in the options menu, but there is no functional control menu, and once you switch the game to use the Xbox controller everything is locked into using it, even the menus until you switch it back. Going into the menu specific for the controller only gives you the list of buttons and their commands, with them all being grayed out and unable to be changed. And yes, the sensitivity option is non-existent. Changing back to keyboard and mouse does alleviate this problem, allowing you to rebind any keys and slide the mouse sensitivity wherever you like it, and going back in game was now much more enjoyable with standard camera control.
With that issue out of the way, I moved forward in a crouched position towards a guard at
the front gate of the level. I pulled out my garrotte wire and proceeded to choke the man dead, after which I picked up his body and moved it with me behind some crates. Now this is actually starting to feel like the game it wants to be! I took the guard’s clothes, walked past a few other unassuming men, and went into the mansion towards my goal. My mission in this level was to eliminate an officer, burn a tape, and eliminate a doctor. I explored a bit, taking in my surroundings, trying to notice what I could use and where everyone was. My compass contained each objective marker showing me where to go, and I naturally followed the first one, at which point I was face to face with the officer I was tasked with killing.
Curiosity got the best of me, as I wanted to know how well a strictly combat heavy approach would go, so I whipped out my MP-40 and blasted the officer in the face, and then swiftly tried to take out the nearby guards and then run away. This did not work. Within an instant, every guard that could see even a fraction of my body or face was pelting me with bullets from all directions, killing me almost instantly. I couldn’t tell if my death was exactly fair or not. I did wise up though, and finished my objectives by noticing patrol patterns, but the game claims to have multiple different paths to finish any given mission, I could not find them. About the only other potential way to kill the officer was to poison him, so I found the poison in a medical room nearby as well as a syringe. However, the game failed to tell me how or if there was even an inventory. Now, I’m not helpless, I did go into the controls and found the inventory key, but it seems like they could have been more clear. May I mention, the game’s “tutorial” consists of a few text prompts at the very start of the level about how to move and use your hotkeys, and then stops mentioning very much from there.
You’re supposed to use the game’s “instinct mode” to notice important opportunities and to help you keep track of guards, but it doesn’t always point out what you’d expect it to. I spent much of my time for this review just in the first level alone, really wanting to test just how many different ways there were to complete a single objective, and without counting the numerous areas your target would patrol, allowing you to kill him the same way just in a different area, your options felt more limited than was implied. Even once I got to the second mission, it felt like a retread of the same thing, just exploring the level hoping to find what you’re supposed to do next, maybe killing a couple innocent people in the process. And you know, maybe that’s what you expect from your stealth assassination game, no hand holding at all and little to no explanation, but I felt like it became repetitive very quickly.
I’ll be honest though, some of these problems could have been attenuated by some nice presentation, but Alekhine’s Gun doesn’t do that well either. It’s not a terrible looking game, but this is supposed to be a title released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as well as the PC, and it looks like a game from 2007. There’s admittedly some nice lighting both indoors and out in a few areas, but textures range from passable at best to very low resolution, and character models reminded me of the models from the first Far Cry, smooth and sort of blocky like they were made of clay. The sound design is fine when you’re actually playing the game with your standard sound effects and some music that made me think of my time sneaking in Metal Gear Solid, but once the game goes into cutscenes there’s this very notable change in quality.
Voices consistently sound echoey, even when they aren’t in an environment that would produce it, and sometimes there’s this very awkward direction mix where the character on screen would be standing still on the right side, but the voice moves between the center and left of my headphones. It’s like they recorded everything with a barebones microphone sitting in the middle of the room and voice actors just stood around it wherever they pleased. The voice acting itself isn’t great either, with dull inflections and odd quirks such as actors smacking their lips and clicking their tongue just before they actually speak.
And this is all if you even get a cutscene using the actual game engine, because otherwise you get the voice acting dubbed over some still images trying to emulate some kind of noir style, which looks like actual game screenshots with a filter slapped overtop. Really, it’s not that anything doesn’t work at all, it just doesn’t work well together. Nothing flows well, there’s poor transition between cutscenes and gameplay, and the varying quality of audio is jarring at times.
I realize I’m being very harsh, but I haven’t even got to the game’s technical problems. I had the game crash on me multiple times for seemingly no reason, forcing me to lose progress while one time I actually had my computer crash entirely, though it hasn’t happened since so it might not necessarily be an issue with the game. Again with the audio issues, it would consistently overlap itself or get hung up and stop entirely, forcing it to repeat the dialogue seconds later when that part of the conversation was already over. The AI is practical most of the time, but I was able to get a group of soldiers stuck in a room just by running in and out of the same doorway a few times and then fleeing, and they often bunch up when they’re chasing you in smaller areas, allowing you to kill almost half the level’s AI in a matter of seconds.
Menus and interfaces are unwieldy or non-existent, which made sifting through my inventory hotkeys cumbersome or interacting slow and annoying. On the bright side though, I had no issues with framerate on PC, unlike the console versions from what I’ve seen, but like I mentioned the game doesn’t exactly look that great to warrant massive losses in framerate in the first place. I am reviewing this based off an early PC code however, and the PC port has been delayed until March 11th so they could be fixed before then, but I’d certainly be cautious when considering buying it.
There are some other nice features of the game as well, such as the lockpicking. It’s simply a matching puzzle, but it’s better than guessing like you would with other lockpicking minigames. Elements such as taking someone’s clothes as a disguise and peeking through keyholes are very reminiscent of the Hitman games which would briefly put me into the mindset that I was actually playing one of those games, if only it wasn’t ruined by the game’s issues
Alekhine’s Gun isn’t the worst game I’ve played by any means. It’s functional, if a bit clumsy at it’s best. It’s to my understanding that the game has had a bit of a rough history, originally being the third sequel in the Death to Spies series. After a publisher backout it was witness to two failed public funding launches, and then finally picked up by this new studio as their first in-house game. If you’re hoping for more stealth assassination gameplay, I’d honestly look elsewhere, or just wait for the full Hitman experience later this year.