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Alekhine's Gun Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . After years of development hell, Death to Spies 3 has been rebirthed as Alekhine's Gun. While this third-person stealth action game has all the ingredients for success, it can't overcome dated gameplay and visuals. Worse yet, this Cold War spy caper is riddled with technical problems and crummy AI characters. You're better off sneaking into a more exciting game. Rating: 40%
Alekhine's Gun
Alekhine's Gun Alekhine's Gun Alekhine's Gun Alekhine's Gun
  • Review Score:

  • C-
Even under the best of circumstances, I've had a hard time warming up to the Death to Spies franchise. Believe me; it's not for a lack of trying. The publisher of the series went as far as to fly me out to experience the games on Russian soil, complete with authentic foods and allegedly real spies. This didn't change my opinion. I felt the first two games were far too difficult; punishing for all the wrong reasons.

Despite my stubbornness, the developers at Haggard Games assured me that I would change my tune with Death to Spies 3, what was to be their first foray into the console market. With a brand new setting and much more convoluted conspiracy to uncover, this sequel seemed like it was headed in the right direction. Maybe I had consumed too much borscht, because I came away from that preview impressed.

One year later, I was shocked to see Ghost of Moscow, a renamed and retooled version of Death to Spies 3. This iteration was even more ambitious, giving players a chance to swap between three different characters on the fly. It introduced a bunch of gadgets and new tactics involving a female spy. It was definitely on the right track, and, for the first time ever, it wasn't burdened by its unwieldy difficulty. I could see myself getting into this version of Death to Spies.

And then it disappeared. The publisher pulled out, the console versions got canceled and fans of the genre moved over to Hitman. I figured that I would never hear about the game ever again, it would be just another half-finished game I played at some preview event that never makes it to store shelves. Little did I know that Haggard Games wasn't going down without a fight. Years after the cancelation, the Russian developer took to crowd-funding to help save the sequel. This attention seems to have worked, because six years after I first previewed the game, Death to Spies 3 has finally been released, now with a brand new title -- Alekhine's Gun.

Forget all that stuff about switching between characters on the fly, because the finished product ditches all of the gadgets and gimmicks found in Ghost of Moscow for a more straight-forward affair. You play Semyon Strogov, a Soviet assassin turned CIA spy who finds himself in the middle of gripping Cold War drama. This involves a whole lot of sneaking into fortified locations and killing marked targets without anybody noticing.

Alekhine's Gun (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

You do this almost exclusively through stealing other people's clothing. It won't take long to realize that stealing a bellboy's uniform will get you into hotel rooms that would otherwise be off limits. The same can be said about infiltrating a biker bar or an army base. More than anything else, this is a game about dressing to your surroundings.

On the surface, Alekhine's Gun has a lot of what you want from this style of stealth action game. The levels are large, the eleven scenarios are varied and it has a compelling conceit that sees us jumping from the Cold War to flashbacks of World War II. Unfortunately, an intriguing premise and the promise of spy craft simply isn't enough to keep this from becoming an infuriating mess.

Like I said, the levels are large and varied. While that is indeed a good thing, you'll quickly discover that it comes at a price. The stages often feel empty, as if they are completely unlived in. With the exception of guards and soldiers, there are rarely civilians standing around. And the few people you do run across don't act natural. It is all set up to the convenience (and sometimes detriment) of the player, almost like an elaborate puzzle.

Alekhine's Gun (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

It's not just the civilians who act weird, because the same can be said about the guards and soldiers. The AI is all over the place, usually to the benefit of our hero. They are incredibly forgiving, to the point where you can often avert disaster by simply shutting the door or walking away. They have the memories of a gnat; looking to kill you in one second and then forgetting you exist in the next.

Perhaps this can't be helped, but Alekhine's Gun feels dated. IO Interactive has gone a long way to refine this style of stealth action with a half dozen Hitman games, so it's hard to go back and see how primitive this is by comparison. It's not just the empty levels and bad AI, but also little things, like the clunkiness of switching between weapons or the lack of environmental objects to interact with. These are the kinds of problems you expect from a game released five or six years ago, which is exactly when Alekhine's Gun should have come out.

As outdated as much of this felt, I was intrigued by the Cold War setting and spy fiction. Sadly, this too fails to live up to its potential. The story beats are told in the slowest, most laborious way possible. Often it will be still images accompanied by poorly-written conversations that drone on for what seems like hours. It's as if Alekhine's Gun is determined to suck all of the fun out of being a spy.

Alekhine's Gun (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

And then there are the technical issues, which have a funny way of bringing the game to a grinding halt. Some of these bugs are funny, such as getting stuck in the environment or watching the elevator flip out. But things will quickly spiral out of control, to the point where the game would crash on me about half the time I booted it up. Worse yet, the crashes were so severe that I had to restart the entire computer multiple times. For a game that has been in development for the better part of a decade, Alekhine's Gun should be a lot more polished than it is.

I'm not sure the world absolutely needed the long-overdue resurrection of Death to Spies, but I hope Haggard Games finds closure in Alekhine's Gun. It's far from a terrible game, but also difficult to recommend. It's plagued by empty levels, awful technical problems, stupid AI and a bland story. And with so many superior stealth titles to choose from, you're better off sneaking into a more exciting game.
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