Every now and then there are games released that so utterly fail to meet any bar of quality, that they can become instant classics in their own right. Games like Ride to Hell: Retribution or Duck Dynasty, which are so lacking in any redeeming qualities they epitomize the negative side of a scale by which quality can be judged. Alekhine’s Gun is one of these rare gaming treats. From top to bottom, it is an irredeemable mess of squandered potential. Mired by poor gameplay, broken AI, bad graphics, shoddy performance, an incoherent, poorly presented story, and lack of any kind of proper save system, Alekhine’s Gun is a shadow of better games that came out over a decade ago.
Taking place at the height of the Cold War, Alekhine’s Gun lets players take the role of a Soviet Spy/Assassin navigating a world of espionage and intrigue. In Metal Gear style, you become responsible for averting such disasters as the Bay of Pigs, all while striking from the shadows. This is the most promising aspect of the game, and unfortunately, it never proceeds past being mildly interesting. The story is told primarily through poorly rendered comic-book style slideshows, all in tones of gray and black. While the voice acting quality ranges from decent to laughably poor, the writing is every shade of bad, relying on cliches at every turn and never failing to let down any hope of interesting development. Even worse, the player character is a boring cipher, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a game since the early 2000s.
It’s a shame too, because the core idea is sound and interesting. But as you play through the 10-hour campaign, players will realize very quickly that the story is practically the best thing about the entire product
The gameplay of Alekhine’s Gun should be similar to that of the early Hitman games—a stealth action game with an emphasis on quietly dispatching your targets and using disguises to move through levels. I use the word “should” because, while the game wants you to believe you’re moving through an ever changing stealth sandbox, the core gameplay and AI is so broken that you have to manipulate the game in unintended ways to complete your objectives, rather than rely on stealth or skill.
Let’s start with the broken AI, which would be hilarious if not for the frustration it constantly causes. In a typical stealth game, guard AI wanders around, and if they find a body or something out of the ordinary will sound an alarm or alert other guards to something suspicious. If they see someone they don’t recognize in a disguise, they will become suspicious over time. AI in Alekhine’s Gun takes a different approach. The same AI, upon multiple different attempts at an objective, can be entirely oblivious to dead bodies, easily led to a slaughter, or randomly sound an alarm, even if they catch a glimpse of you walking by. During multiple loads of one checkpoint, I had the same AI completely oblivious to my presence several times—only to load one more time and have him instantly shoot me to death.
This can lead to unintended comedy. Upon finding dead bodies, guards will simply shrug, and after a few seconds go pack to their predetermined path. It doesn’t matter if you’re standing over ten of their closest childhood friends with a knife in your hand, they will more often than not pass you by completely. Inversely, simply walking too close to a guard can trigger an alarm and a firefight, even if you have just started the mission and haven’t even done anything “wrong ” yet.
And this brings us to the gameplay. Alekhine’s Gun operates under “old-school” stealth rules, where open combat will often leave you in a bad state, making pure stealth preferable. The problem is that there is absolutely no way to survive in open combat most of the time, and not due to realistic difficulty. When the AI decides to break as it so often does, EVERY SINGLE ENEMY in the level will descend upon you to investigate/shoot you to death. Hearing range of the wide open spaces be damned, enemies from the furthest reaches of the map will roll out to your location. A well-designed game might have you face of with 5 or 10 enemies for messing up stealth. This is not a well-designed game.
When the AI decides to break as it so often does, EVERY SINGLE ENEMY in the level will descend upon you to investigate/shoot you to death.
Even if you find yourself in the position of going loud, nothing about combat is satisfying, or fair for that matter. There is no way to replenish health across the 45+ minute levels, nor is there any discernible way to tell which direction enemy fire is coming from, leaving players to wildly search every direction for whoever is shooting them. Should you manage to wrestle the poor shooting crosshairs onto a target, they fall pretty easily. But aiming itself is so finicky that you will often be dead before you can line up a shot.
So once players have had the joy of discovering how busted the AI is, and died in a confusing firefight brought on possibly by doing nothing wrong at all, players are treated to the game’s worst aspect: there are no checkpoints.
Alekhine’s Gun relies entirely on manual saves. Even in between levels. In a $50 game released in 2016, there is no checkpoint or autosave system of any kind. This means that if you didn’t know this, and somehow managed to get to the third level of the game, dying would send you back several hours, with no way to progress again other than starting over entirely. It is an unacceptable system, especially in a game that is wholly reliant on trial and error in how players achieve their objectives.
I wish this was where the game’s faults ended. But unfortunately it’s not.
Graphically, Alekhine’s Gun is hands down one of the worst looking games on current gen systems (excluding emulated games like PS2 classics and Rare Replay). Character models and environments look ripped straight out of an early 360 title, and to top it off it doesn’t even run competently. Lighting is all over the place, and I honestly haven’t seen texture aliasing so bad since the Playstation 2. A strange fog covers everything more than a few feet away in the larger levels, and texture pop-in is constant, especially when running through locations. Jagged edges and shadows that don’t fit models constantly morph and shift in front of the player, turning what ought to be scenic vistas and interesting environments into constant shambling messes of awkward polygons and blurry textures.
Character models and environments look ripped straight out of an early 360 title
By now, it should come as no surprise that this burning garbage pile of a game also comes with an atrocious framerate. Ranging from a decent 30 or so frames per second, Alekhine’s Gun can drop well into the single digits at the drop of a hat, and seemingly at random. Entering crowded rooms will often drop the framerate like a piano off a 15 story building, but even innocuous moments like walking down a hallway alone can set it off, at times even bordering on unplayable.
Now doesn’t that sound like fun, especially if an AI randomly decides to tell his buds about you, and you haven’t saved in two levels. It’s almost like I’m speaking from experience here.
The game doesn’t even have a consistent sound design. While the music is generic and forgettable, it’s not altogether bad, Gun sounds and dialogue meanwhile are laughably bad, making me wonder if it was never replaced with the intended audio before launch. Some machine-gun literally sound like knocking on wood while others sound like stock audio used in some sh*tty app. AI dialogue might just top this, however, as it is consistently ludicrous, and even incorrectly placed at times. Several times I encountered Russian or US soldiers who gave out the same cries as German soldiers, and vice versa. Why is this US marine speaking in German, and his partners coming to his rescue? It couldn’t possibly be due to poor coding could it?
Some machine-gun literally sound like knocking on wood while others sound like stock audio used in some sh*tty app
But even after all this, with Alekhine’s Gun clocking in at just under 10 hours, there isn’t even enough gameplay to warrant the exuberant $50 price tag, The repetitive objectives, combined with every other fault of the game guarantees that you will have seen the best the game has to offer by the end of the first hour. Nobody should even bother finishing this game because there is really nothing to redeem it, it just gets worse as it goes on. I can’t even imagine someone who would want to play it again for a better score on the objectives. Who knows, maybe this will become the next Twitch sensation.
Alekhine’s Gun is a rare breed indeed. A game so busted from top to bottom that, aside from its laughable lows, there is absolutely nothing to redeem it. There are the digital masochists out there who will delight in its mediocrity, but anyone with any self-respect or appreciation for good game design would be best off staying far away. It is an awful product, full of bugs and glitches and frustration. If the only two games to come out this year were Alekhine’s Gun and a port of Ride to Hell—Ride to Hell would win Game of The Year with very little effort.
Honestly, it transcends even what some would call a “bargain bin” game because nobody should ever have to pay any amount of money to endure this torturous title. Free would be too high a price. It’s a squandered premise attached to gameplay that was surpassed over a decade ago, and it deserves nothing more than to be forgotten forever.