Alekhine’s Gun is an ambitious stealth game set in the period between World War Two and the Cold War, but ultimately dated graphics and some clunky controls hold it back from it’s lofty aims.
I do enjoy stealth games. Sneaking around, weighing up your surroundings, gathering information all while you wait for the ideal opportunity to strike from the shadows is generally more appealing to me than those games that encourage you to be itchy with the trigger finger. When done right, stealth games make you patient, imploring you to wait, to be inconspicuous, and rewarding you accordingly. Alekhine’s Gun sets out to do these things, but falls short, frustrating more than rewarding players for their patient behaviour.
You play as the titular Alekhine, a spy tasked with rooting out a conspiracy in order to prevent a nuclear war breaking out between Russia and the US. I think. The story is introduced through cut-scenes similar in style to a motion comic, but plot points are lost due to accent’s sounding uncannily similar – was that Russian or German? Due to the motion comic style it can become difficult to follow the story, as characters lack facial animation and sometimes pop in and out of shot making it difficult to track who is speaking. I ignored these scenes mostly in order to jump straight in to the stealth action, gathering up the required information from the mission intel I was presented with before, and accessible during, the relevant mission, and as such the story took a back seat, which is a shame considering that the events that the game depicts are based upon actual events during WWII – the only reason I know this is because of the information squirreled away on the game’s website.
Jumping into the first mission I was presented with the option to begin the tutorial or jump straight in to the game on my own – choosing the tutorial is the obvious choice, and one I am glad I made as the controls are clunky and at times not very intuitive, and I ended up fumbling my way around the first level a few times as I gathered my bearings and attuned myself to the games controls, however this wasn’t the main reason for me playing the first level over a number of times, aw no, that finger of blame lies solely on the fact that Alekhine’s Gun lacks any form of auto save or checkpoint feature. This took a little bit of getting used to, and is probably my biggest gripe with the game, and before all you game puritan’s out there jump on the soap box and let rip about how this was the way gaming was in the good ol’ days I know, I get it, I am usually one of those gamers who doesn’t mind a bit of back and forward with a game as you perfect your skills and hone your technique, but it did become a bit irksome when I finally completed the first level, having plotted out my path and ideal route to completion during my previous replays (a tactic that I was informed in the after level stats took me 53 minutes and 48 seconds) only to hit O instead of X thinking the game had frozen on me as I waited for a response. This simple error meant the game thought I had chosen to replay the level instead of proceed – normally not a big deal, hit up the loading screen, choose continue, carry on where I left off at the beginning of the next level, but no, lack of auto save meant I had to carry out the level again, a mistake that caused me to rage quit and leave the game alone for a few days, which got me thinking – if I was enjoying it, surely I wouldn’t have minded this one mistake that was as much my fault as the game itself?
To be honest, I am enjoying it, in a way. Alekhine’s Gun tries to combine a few elements seen in other stealth games, most notably the Hitman series, think of the titular character as Agent 47 with hair, but sadly that is where the comparison stops. When the various game mechanics come together, Alekhine’s Gun is enjoyable in its own little way – take for example the second level,set in a hotel. The confined nature of the map played to Alekhine’s strengths, and after my initial frustrations with the first level, this one made me see a glimmer of hope amongst the dated graphics and chunky animations. I ploughed on, sneaking around the hotel tapping and bugging a phone call and then retrieving some documents from an informant I had managed to send off to bed with a dicky tummy by poisoning some wine. These events gave me a sense of accomplishment that the first level seemed to lack, but ultimately it was short-lived – Alekhine’s Gun tries to give you the impression that is an open world assassination sim, in that being creative and imaginative is rewarded, but in reality is quite linear in its structure – look for an isolated NPC, subdue, take their clothes, infiltrate the next area and repeat. This became my basic tactic, scouting out the current area until I could go no further, finding someone who could get into the next area and either taking them out in some isolated corner of the map or finding someone else who wore the same uniform or clothes and taking them out to walk into the next area unchallenged. The game does give you the illusion of choice, but in reality the scope for variety, and thus re-playability, is very narrow indeed.
Should you get discovered the game does have the option to come out shooting, but this is definitely a last resort – guards quickly swarm the area and the over responsive shooting controls make it nigh on impossible to take out more than a couple without succumbing to the onslaught of bullets they fire your way. Firefights quickly descend into run and gun, relying more on spray and pray than any special tactical ability one would assume a spy to have before you either hit the floor or run out of ammo – either way you are dead in seconds and in need of a restart (remember, no auto saves).
There is a real sense of potential in Alekhine’s Gun, and that is what becomes the game’s biggest disappointment. When the various elements come together, which does happen in certain sections and when fate allows, the game has the potential to be a clever, informative and historically accurate stealth game set among one of the most intriguing and fascinating in recent history, but too often this potential is over shadowed by clunky controls, questionable AI and dated graphics that make the game look like it is a port from a previous console generation. This is probably one of the most scathing reviews I have written, but amongst all its faults I am still giving Alekhine’s Gun a chance I currently have it sitting on pause on my PS4, so it must be doing something right, quite what is open to interpretation.
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