Massive Games must have some balls. Not only to release a game that shamelessly lifts from IO Interactive’s Hitman series, but to then release said game in the same window as the Hitman reboot – there’s carelessness and then there’s being brash. ‘Inspiration’ can sometimes reap rewards – look at Uncharted, Call of Duty and so on. Does Alekhine’s Gun borrow and rework or is it bald cloning?
Set amidst the Cold War with an early dip back to the end of World War II, Alekhine’s Gun places control with Agent Semyon, a dour Soviet spy with an awful accent and the emotional range of lukewarm tapioca. As with the Hitman series, Semyon has to infiltrate and assassinate by switching disguises, avoiding suspicious eyes and using the best methods of dispatch. This also liberally swipes from Hitman – poison, garrote, silenced pistol and environmental ‘accidents’. Unlike Hitman, these methods are never inventive and are either made obtuse by uninspired level design or so overtly blatant as to not offer any challenge.
Reused assets abound throughout which wouldn’t help even if the game didn’t look abysmal. Muddy, low-quality textures, stilted animations and more make this look less than current gen – even if this appeared on the Xbox 360 it’d be considered an affront to sight. Shadows can manifest as tessellating stripes or even green boxes, as if the lighting artist forgot to keyframe in the light source. You often clip through doors, people and other environmental details, the objective markers fail to work out whether you need to go up or down and (utter sacrilege) there isn’t a way to invert aiming in the controls.
Despite looking worse than launch 360 games it still manages to tank in terms of framerate. Open a door into a wide area with a few NPCs scattered around and you feel the engine strain as the framerate barely scrapes single digits without grinding to a halt. In a game where wide-open spaces filled with NPCs tend to be the go-to level design, how this was considered consumer ready is beyond comprehension.
That’s not to say there isn’t some inventiveness in level design. Flashing back to World War II sees you infiltrating Nazi castles and secret military bases, nicely juxtaposed with America of the 1960s. The Hitman concept seems perfectly suited to espionage – there’s a case to be made for a James Bond game using a handful of the same ideas – so it’s a shame Alekhine’s Gun is so clunky and unoriginal away from its premise.
Even then, there are deeper problems that simply shouldn’t be present in a game that revolves around careful planning, stealth and accuracy. Guards are either overtly suspicious, their heads pivoting like an amateur production of The Exorcist, or laughably dumb, immediately disregarding you once out of line of sight. A case in point as to how scatterbrained the AI can be: in the bathroom of one level one attempt saw a guard standing outside a toilet cubicle disregard Semyon change his disguise as the flimsy cubicle door masked the act. Nevertheless, once hiding in the cubicle, the very same guard went into full alert once a garrote was prepared, despite there being no line of sight whatsoever. Schizophrenic AI like this entirely ruins any best-laid plans, not to mention how rudimentary the basic routines can be. After the natural behavior seen in Hitman, Alekhine’s Gun feels like each level is a Garth Marenghi spin on Cold War espionage, bad acting and all.
Quite a lot of mistakes could be forgiven were it not that the shameless cloning of Hitman is so in-your-face. There’s even a system that’s straight-up Hitman’s ‘Intuition’ mode, whereby a button press reveals enemy states, useful environmental details and the like. What’s it called in Alekhine’s Gun? ‘Intuition’… again. When you don’t even change the name of the systems you pilfered imitation becomes less and less a form of flattery.
Tying together each level are lengthy, monochrome cutscenes that scream ‘budget’ in their execution. Presented as still images with a few added effects here and there, they are the very opposite of exciting. Terrible voice acting pervades as if they asked around at the office if anyone could do a Russian accent. Every Russian sounds American, every American sounds bored and it sounds as if the mic used to record the dialogue picked up all the extraneous office noise as well. Shuffled papers, stifled coughs – all the usual background foley sounds inordinately loud, then will suddenly cut off as the cutscene segues to the level itself.
Alekhine’s Gun would have scraped by had it not had the hubris to call itself ‘Best Cold War Shooter’. It’s barefaced cheek to appropriate the Hitman formula to a different time is interesting, were it not taking everything else from a franchise that has just revamped itself. Under no circumstances pick this one instead – even if you’re after a ‘so bad it’s good’ game, Alekhine’s Gun is too dull to provide any laughs. In actuality, releasing at the same time sorts everything out – if you’re looking for a Hitman-esque game, it’s right there on the shelf. It’s Hitman.