Alekhine’s Gun is set between the latter years of World War 2 and the Cold War era, a fascinating time in history with tensions running high between the US and Russia, the introduction shows you the assassination of JFK and after a short cut scene your back in World War 2. Missions are then assigned to you, these vary from assassination, kidnap, burning tapes – the usual spy like things.
It is worth noting at this point, the game was originally developed by Haggard games and was called Death to Spies 3. The game started off, by appearing on Indiegogo asking for around $80,000 to make the game happen, it drew a paltry $982 and that was that. A few months later Haggard put together a demonstration and tried their luck on Kickstarter, again an unsuccessful campaign (although they did raise substantially more this time around). After a couple of failed crowd funding efforts it was picked up by maximum games, given a new name and the remainder of development was finished in house.
Alekhine’s Gun had the potential to do something really special with an era that is often overlooked in today’s crowded market. With recent films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy building heavily on the Cold War Era and the uncertainty between two great nations, I was expecting a game that leaned heavily on the tensions and mistrust that had been instilled by the covert operations of both countries, especially considering the protagonist you play is Agent Alekhine a double agent working for the CIA, but with roots in KGB.
The storyline sounds gripping, from previous events that Maximum Games have attended and gameplay has been shown, it quickly got comparisons to early Hitman games, and this is immediately obvious, when you take out a guard and you have the option to change into his uniform, (A small amount of nostalgia hit me at this point). I tapped the change clothes button and instantly I was a private in the German Army, next thought was to hide the body, and this is where it started to go a bit wrong for me. A lamppost was next to the guard hut, I tried to walk between the gap and it wouldn’t let me, not a big deal I thought as I was furiously trying to hide the body before being spotted, I went into a shadow and disappeared? I assumed it was my screen settings however no end of adjustment made much difference to the shadows on the game. Stealthy I was, so much so I couldn’t see myself. Small issues.
The first mission requires you to infiltrate a castle, assassinate 2 Germans and burn a tape, for someone who loves stealth games this should not be a problem I thought to myself confident in my own ability to get these dastardly chaps and show them some justice. After my earlier shadow issues and eventually hiding a dead body, I walked straight through the front door in my newly acquired German uniform. A brief bit of scouting and I come across a locked door. Up comes the lock pick screen, this was done extremely well, I loved the lock mechanism and matching the shapes, I actually wish Ubisoft or Bethesda looked at how this was done and utilise this method rather than the lock pick kit or bobby pin, because this was sublime, I wish the that the Safe locks followed the same design, the rotary locks are horrible. I understand the concept (Left, Right as you would do when setting a combination), however no matter how gently I moved the sticks it took me a good 10-15 minutes to get into the safe (I was so relieved, I took a screenshot to show it can be done!). After a few attempts the ‘trick’ is to get the bottom ring into place first, and work up. This would have probably been better with a tutorial to demonstrate this.
Kills can be carried out in a number of ways, the most challenging is to make it look like an accident, no spoilers but the first officer you find a hammer on the floor so the apparent accident that you can create is pretty clear, similar to Hitman you have a Garrotte on you at all times, again the silent takedown could have been improved on in terms of game mechanics. For example if you have the Garrotte on in your inventory and sneak up behind the mark, it should allow to use it with a simple button tap. To actually use it you need to aim and then fire. It’s not limited to the Garrotte, the knife is similar in execution – really an equipped item and a button tap should be all it takes, not a combination of buttons, for a start you only have a small window to kill the mark, the wasted time in pushing multiple buttons, will probably end up in you being seen.
The game graphics and mechanics are not what I would expect from a next generation console game or PC game, it has some serious failings one of these which will infuriate novice players (and I include Dr Flox in this statement) is the lack of a checkpoint system, now this could be intentional, but it was hugely annoying. I died once, and assumed the game would auto save as you progressed, it didn’t and threw back to the beginning. The map layout was difficult to understand, I was looking for a doctor at one point and he was in a completely different building on the 2nd level, it’s a little clunky but once you’ve paid close attention to the objectives, and you’ve navigated the menus, you quickly pick up what the game is asking for.
Maximum Games was formed in 2009 and I’m a massive fan of some of the games Maximum have released. Crime and Punishments: Sherlock Holmes (which coincidentally was in my games with gold article earlier in the month), WRC 5, Farming simulator and many more, all these have been as a publisher, opposed to the developer, so I was extremely interested to see how this game would pan out.
I actually commend Maximum games for trying something a bit different. The stealth genre has needed a fresh player with Hitman and Metal Gear Solid being the only 2 real fighters in the ring, however I can’t help but think, had this game been put up against the early versions of Hitman it would struggle. The mechanics are tough to master, the safe lock picking could have been alot easier, if it followed the lock and key method or a tutorial that clearly explained start at the bottom and work up and the saturation levels of the graphics had me adjusting my screen thinking I’ve got an issue when really, the mimicing of dark dismal and moody times of the Cold Era and gone slightly too far. This leads me back to the earlier paragraph that the studio originally behind the game eventually ended up passing the IP to Maximum Games, so it may be a half started project that was finished off, this may explain why it’s had delays to its anticipated release date (which was November 2015, then February 2016 and eventually March).
There are some positives though in Alekhine’s Gun, the box art is great, it has a very eye-catching cover, the lock picking for the doors (not the safes!) is probably amongst the best I’ve ever seen in any game, the era and timeline are often overlooked by most developers, despite there being a market, so if Maximum Games had got this right then they would have had a gem on their hands.
Fun Fact: Alekhine’s Gun is actually a chess move which would explain the chess piece assortment for achievements within the game.