Have you ever heard of Death to Spies? It’s a somewhat niche WWII version of Hitman, where players take up arms as a Russian spy doing his part in taking down the forces of the Axis. It’s a relatively little-known and relatively old series that has its loyal following but has never really grown enough to be considered a serious contender to Hitman, its only real competitor. Death to Spies (and its respective successor, Moment of Truth) was a very difficult game as well, with some strange design choices that sometimes went against the philosophy of gameplay, strangely enough. Now, it may well befuddle you to see me speaking about Death to Spies here but believe it or not, it is the predecessor to Alekhine’s Gun.

Predecessor or not, there are some major changes to the gameplay of Alekhine’s Gun compared to both of the developer’s previous outings. Whereas there were quite a few differences between the older Hitman games and Death to Spies – regarding gameplay in particular – Alekhine’s Gun sometimes handles virtually exactly like Contracts or, say, Blood Money. Easter eggs aside, there have been moments where I found myself wondering just how similar could these games get, as Maximum Games, the developers, have clearly been taking advice from Eidos’ book. And I absolutely mean this in a positive way, because Alekhine’s Gun delivers in a manner that I haven’t had the chance to see in quite a while, and is sure to thrill those who loved any of the older Hitman titles. Those who enjoyed the specific of Death to Spies, though? Hmmm… I’m not quite so sure about that.

Let me begin by saying that I’ve enjoyed playing Alekhine’s Gun quite a lot. There are a fair few foibles in the design and execution departments, sadly, and I’ll get to them soon, but I feel that it’s important for me to convey the fun aspect first. Having played, finished and played again several times over again every single Hitman game on PC, I was quite hesitant at first. See, the first level is very, very bland and simplistic and doesn’t quite work in the game’s favour, I feel. Thankfully, I persevered (not at all because that’s my job, no sir) and was rewarded with a really good second setpiece. Indeed, the game becomes fun only after you’ve taken down the Nazis… even though you keep killing them all over the world as the game continues. I’ve found the level design to be either really good or truly befuddling and about a third of the eleven stages the game has going for it are downright cumbersome. The third level, for example, begins good enough, only to eventually divulge into a series of rooms filled with guards – almost completely linear, at least as far as that particular section goes. As I said, though, I’ve had plenty of fun with the rest of the mini-sandboxes, so I can’t complain all that much.

Singing praise for the AI present here would be too much, but again, if you’ve ever played a Hitman game, you know what to expect. The one improvement I have managed to detect is that the entire level is NOT alerted as soon as you fire a weapon and/or kill a guard, as was the case with the aforementioned franchise’s outings, and that’s brilliant. Not only does this allow you more leeway in how you approach gameplay, but it also makes the game feel more intuitive and natural, which is a huge bonus in my book. Speaking of gameplay, it’s mediocre with a sprinkling of jolly goodness. Really, there’s not much new here, and there’re even a couple of features missing that were present in Death to Spies games. It’s a streamlined concept that very much looks up to Hitman – a phrase I keep repeating, I know, but it’s so painfully relevant that I must – but is that really a bad thing? I mean, Absolution is a solid enough shooter, but an awful Hitman title. Gameplay-wise, this is just about as close as it can get before the next Hitman title is released, and that’s a really solid compliment for Alekhine’s Gun.

You’ll be moving along intricate levels that are sometimes borderline beautiful, as suggested by one of the screenshots you can see here. My only complaint lies in these levels not being as interactive as they could have been. There’s not nearly enough random clutter spread around for us to weaponize. There aren’t enough ways to dispose of a body. It feels too gamey, and that’s my main gripe for Alekhine’s Gun. Had there been more interactivity spread around the stages, the score would undoubtedly have been higher, simply because it would allow for more player agency which is key in games such as this.

And yes, borderline beautiful – at times. This is how I would best describe the graphics of Alekhine’s Gun. There are moments where the game looks truly ugly, only for it to shine in the very next scene. I won’t complain about that all that much, though, simply because this allows the game to run phenomenally well on a wide variety of computers. There’s support for some cool stuff such as 4K as well if that’s something you’re into, but that’s pretty basic as far as today’s releases go. No, it’s not the graphics that bug me, but the animations. These are sometimes really unnatural and weird, which is sad because had this been done better, Alekhine’s Gun would have easily left a much better first impression. If you can ignore this, though, fret not, there will also be the horrendous voice-acting and stiff and annoying characters to bug you out as well. The audio is overall worse than one might expect, but the way cutscenes are handled is downright cringeworthy. Again, however, this is a game where gameplay takes precedence before anything else, and it’s easy enough to ignore a cutscene or two when there’s plenty of fun to be had taking the targets out.

And in the end, that’s what it boils down to. While technically Alekhine’s Gun isn’t that good of a game, it has that certain oomph that makes it more appealing than it actually is. This game will easily hook you up and have you replaying the levels you enjoyed the most just as Hitman did back in the day, and even though the score is solid if you’re a fan of the bald assassin, Alekhine’s Gun is practically a must. Perhaps stuck in the past a tad bit, this game will entertain those who give it a chance, and because of this trait alone, I recommend it easily.