Once known as Death to Spies 3: Ghosts of Moscow back in 2010, is now known as Alekhine’s Gun with Maximum Games picking up both developer and publishing duties. This is a stealth action game akin to IO Interactive’s Hitman: Blood Money, and I reference that game specifically because that’s what Alekhine’s Gun so closely resembles in both gameplay and visuals. Alekhine’s Gun is a good game buried by being a victim of long development and bad timing of release that doesn’t hold up to its contemporaries.
Name after the chess formation, Alekhine’s Gun spans two significant times in American history, within the Cold War and a couple of flashbacks to World War II operations where the the Death to Spies games took place. You again play as Semyon Strogov, otherwise known as KGB Agent Alekhine (codenamed after the World Chess Champion the move comes from). He is recruited by the CIA in what becomes a long-lasting conspiracy revolving around the Bay of Pigs and eventual assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It takes itself serious, but believably so that you get somewhat invested for what’s at stake. From there it is a globe-trotting adventure of assassinations.
Clocking in at over ten hours of gameplay, the eleven missions offer different objectives, but lack in variance. Almost every mission requires a kill, except a few here and there. As the stakes get higher, so does the tension, surprisingly. In these later missions, the AI is also more aware of your presence and less willing to let things slide. To achieve your goals, you’ll luckily have the AI going through loops to allow you the time and opportunity to poison a food item, pour lighter fluid into a grill, or crash a chandelier on an unsuspecting target. These chances to cause accidents don’t happen as frequently as I would have liked.
Alekhine’s Gun feels like classic Hitman, like that of the aforementioned Blood Money. Each level is boasted at being open levels, and while that’s mostly true, you’ll notice the limitations when you bump into an invisible wall or seeing that some objectives can’t be met until others are completed first. Unless you go in guns blazing, any attempt at stealth will require a disguise to get past any level of security or Alekhine will be analyzed under intense scrutiny and ultimately alerting everyone to go after you. Alekhine doesn’t have health regeneration or med-packs, what you start with is what you end with. And if you’re not a fan of being shot or having you alerted to the area, you’ll have to rely on manual saves to reload from as the game does not checkpoint or autosave at any point.
In terms of gameplay, you’ll sneak, take cover, garrote, and take out enemies on your way to your ultimate target. I have to say, Alekhine’s Gun has the more unique lock-picking mini-games I’ve used as a mechanic. It’s just matching puzzle pieces together within a locking mechanism, some locks are two or three tumblers, but with the added stress of an enemy coming upon you while doing this makes for a very tense system. You also have the ability to turn on instinct mode, which really isn’t much help. It identifies people in the area and their cones of vision, but I never found it to be helpful in completing missions. The map helped me more than anything else, as many of these levels get quite labyrinthine in order to get around.
By mission’s end, you are rated by how violent, noisy, accurate, and professional you were (or weren’t) in terms of completing your objectives. The ratings range from Amateur to Saboteur to Assassin, and even Ghost which is not one that I had achieved through my time with the game.
Being stealthy and undetected during missions earns you RP (rating points) which allow to buy and upgrade weapons. More weapons become available as you play new missions. The most valuable purchases are the ones that enhance stealth, such as silencers for pistols. There’s no discernible reason to bring or not bring something. There’s no weight limit, just an inventory limit of what you can bring, but I never strayed from the default list of items: knife, pistol, chloroform, and garrote. I was never tempted to do otherwise. The weapons are also limited to the era, so there aren’t very many to choose from, but the gunplay when shooting guns leaves a lot to be desired, often feeling loose and sloppy.
It doesn’t help that Alekhine’s Gun looks and feels like a game made five or six years ago (which given its lengthy development cycle, actually has). There’s detail in the game, but overall still looks blurry or upped in resolution. Shading is heavily contrasted, making everything look really dark even during brightly-lit mid-day. The performance of the game is easily over 60 frames per second at all times, it never slows down for anything.
During my pre-release playtime, I found the game a bit buggy, crashing often multiple times per level at random areas. One I time I even fell through the world and had to reload a save. The subtitles are somewhat lazy, where I spotted a “Who r u?” as a line of dialogue. It doesn’t happen often, but thankfully the voice acting is a bit better.
For the most part, Alekhine’s Gun is a fine game, but is one out of time. It’s a game that would have fit in nicely with the last generation of consoles and PC, and it just sticks out and doesn’t work in today’s generation. It’s often buggy, not nice to look at, or too rigid to play. It has an interesting story, some fun missions, and a cool soundtrack, but none of it helps its dated gameplay. It being a game released in 2016, is too rough to recommend, especially at full price.
A pre-release Steam code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.