You don't really hear the word 'clone' anymore when it comes to games. Well, on consoles at least: gone are the days of describing new open-world games as GTA clones, for example. On iOS and Android, though, stores are awash with titles that run the gamut from 'inspired by' to straight-up 'I wonder if the original devs know about this'. Alekhine's Gun is very much the latter: the distinction being that it's not a free or 49p mobile game but instead a PC, Xbox One and PS4 title which flagrantly rips off IOI's Hitman series, to such a degree that it's one of the most fascinating games I've played in years.
That fascination, of course, is not predicated on Alekhine's Gun's quality, because for the most part it is terrible. The graphics are astonishingly poor, rife with low-res, boxy environments, terrible texture and shadowing work - sometimes those shadows appear as geometric shapes - and some of the most bizarre graphical corruption I've ever seen. Despite its shoddy presentation, it nevertheless conspires to also run as badly as any game I can recall: sometimes it appears to hit 60fps, but most of the time - especially in open or crowded areas - it tanks into Mattel View-Master territory.
Other problems include (but are by no means limited to): It controls poorly. It's buggy, with reproducible clipping issues - not handy when you're accidentally dropping mission critical items outside of the game world. The voice acting is just horrendous. Cutscenes go on forever, which is hardly ideal seeing as they are barely animated greyscale sketches. On about two dozen different levels, Alekhine's Gun fails. The one it succeeds on is that it does actually feel like a Hitman game, albeit set in the Cold War and with a fifth of the budget and none of the imagination.
As with Hitman, players have various targets and objectives, and it's up to them to sneak in, get the job done as well as possible, and get out. There are basic similarities: enemy uniforms can be changed into, with disguise effectiveness being governed by a basic hierarchy of NPCs. Accidents happen, and are encouraged. Bodies are best left in wash baskets and wardrobes. NPCs have routes and suspicion mechanics and issue basic instructions to players. Titles are handed out post-level - maniac, saboteur, assassin. It's Hitman, then.
Elsewhere, it's even more brazen. Alekhine's Gun's 'homage' runs not just to top level mechanics but also to taking screen furniture wholesale: the compass and point of interest markers are near identical to the ones found in Blood Money. Character movement is suspiciously similar. One mission, in a Chinatown opium den, strongly recalls Hitman Contracts' The Lee Hong Assassination, and by strongly recalls I mean is so similar as to appear to be little more than an extension of it.
So it's no surprise that it resembles a Hitman game, then: it is one. What is surprising is that, once you've tuned out the rank awfulness of most of it, how much it plays like one. Which isn't to say that it is anywhere near as good as IOI's output. But Hitman games have a certain rhythm, a cadence to their play, and Alekhine's replicates that. It feels like a low-budget, unofficial remake of a Hollywood blockbuster which, while lifting most of it, also manages to grab some of its spirit in the process.
That said, if Alekhine's Gun was an actual Hitman game, and not a genuine Panaphonics version of it, it would be the worst version in years. The HUD and accident systems may take their cues from Blood Money, but the rest of it feels straight out of the Hitman 2 era, and not in a good way. Despite all its many problems, however, its similarities to the source - and it really is impressive in places - mean that while playing it you'll probably enjoy what you're doing, mostly in between moments of sheer disbelief at how Maximum Games has had the gall to even think about making it. Stop playing, though, and it melts away: there's nothing memorable about Alekhine's Gun on its own terms, because it doesn't exist on its own terms.
Version Tested: PS4