Alekhine's Gun is a Hitman-style game that's a decade too late

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Alekhine's Gun did not review well. Its Metacritic score is 38, and its Steam user review score 70%. That latter number might seem quite high, but, in Steam review terms, 70 is damning. Any lower and you're into protest vote territory—where a single unwanted feature is seen as such an unforgivable crime to the Steam userbase that it's mass downvoted to oblivion a 50+% rating.

I understand the reviews. I don't think Alekhine's Gun is a good game, but I'm also not sure it's a particularly bad one. Rather, it's as if a game fell forward in time from the mid-2000s. It's a decade too late.

Alekhine's Gun is a spiritual successor to the Death to Spies series, but with the Hitman-ish elements accentuated to the point that it's more Hitman than not. It was released on PC the same week as the new Hitman's first episode. It's a gambit that might have paid off had the new Hitman been awful. It wasn't, though. Whoops.

Reviewers criticised the game's AI, bugs and graphics, and yes, that's all fair. These things are all problems, but they're not bad in the bad sense. They're bad because they're old fashioned. If Alekhine's Gun is a Hitman game, it's most like Hitman 2. The AI is glitchy and dumb, but in that very logical, robotic way that anyone who played a third-person game from the 2000s should be familiar with.

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Plenty of games of that era were flawed in serious ways, but made interesting because of… well, because of how interesting they were. There are too many of these rough diamonds to name—everything from Hitman, to Deus Ex, to Boiling Point. Even the 7/10s—Prisoner of War, anyone?—were sort of interesting. All tried to achieve things beyond what the technology of the time could contain. Boiling Point is the most notable example. Systems are laid upon systems, into an open world shooter that feels far more ambitious than the Far Cry series has ever been. It's also more broken than any Far Cry game has ever been. That, often, is the trade off.

If Alekhine's Gun commits a cardinal sin it's that it's not trying anything new. That lack of ambition—of pushing systemic play beyond breaking point—mean its faults feel less justified.

Even then, its graphics don't really bother me. I think it's because I spend the majority of my gaming time on a PC. (This may sound ironic to anyone used to those bores who feel the need to drone on about the PC's superiority over consoles, but bear with me.) If I'd loaded up Alekhine's Gun—a boxed, retail game—on a console, I could imagine being horrified that it could be considered as part of the same generation as The Division, et al. But on PC, there's extensive backwards compatibility. Alekhine's Gun looks like it's around 10 years old, but it sits in a Steam library that contains games that go back to the '80s.

All of which is to say that if it's going to fit in anywhere, it's going to fit in on PC. And part of me appreciates how old fashioned it is. Its archaic to the point that you could accurately call it broken, but there's some decent environment and mission design on show. NPCs are hilariously awkward, the voice acting is pretty bad, and the social stealth is too forgiving. Nevertheless, there's an undeniable satisfaction to scaling between balconies to reach a target. Earlier, I murdered a hotel guest for his access card and stuffed his body in a toilet cubicle. These are the sort of gaming experiences that I enjoy having.

I managed to get stuck in this cubicle for five minutes, despite the door being open. Bugs!

I managed to get stuck in this cubicle for five minutes, despite the door being open. Bugs!

Despite the woeful—and in many respects deserved—review scores, I'm still enjoying myself. With IO taking Hitman into an incredibly polished, but also extremely intricate and busy direction, I think there's a space for a more old-school attempt at a social stealth shooter. It's derivative, but I'm still having fun.

Alas, £30 is too high a price to recommend. It's an ideal Steam sale game, though. Just make sure that, if you do play it, you pretend it's 2006. You might like it more than you'd expect.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.