How many licensed games does the world need? Well, apparently one more, as Acclaim introduces Alias as the newest TV-show-turned-videogame. You play as the star of the show, Sydney Bristow, a young woman who works as a spy for the CIA. Every week, Syd has to go undercover to gain information or retrieve some sort of device that will bring absolute ruin to the free world if it gets into the wrong hands. And, of course, there is intrigue, betrayal, a handful of double agents and a plot twist or two. Too bad none of these things are explained in the game.
Ironically this lack of an explanation, which is seldom a problem in the TV show, is one of the most noticeable issues with its videogame counterpart. Players are presented with all of these characters but not given any context in which to place them. There’s not even a background story, making things a bit confusing because players are never really sure whom they’re are fighting for or against. Unless you are a big fan of the show, in fact, a good portion of the story will be lost on you.
Alias is a fairly simple game to play, almost to a fault. The supporting characters are always popping up at the bottom of the screen, telling you which way to go or how to get around an obstacle. There is one scene in which you are surrounded by four men in the kitchen, and Vaughn comes on screen to tell you that there are too many to fight and you must get out of there. As soon as you take his advice and leave, you are assaulted by five more guys waiting for you on the other side of the door. Once you defeat these enemies, you must then wander around the room to find the “trigger point” that will start the next cut scene and open the blocked exit. Until you find that magical spot, the enemies respawn and come at you again.
These “puzzles” that you are left to solve on your own seem to have been created for the most inept person who could possibly pick up the controller. There is a bit of computer “hacking” in which you have two or three slots in which to find the right combination using the letters A, B, C and D. Basic enough. But then the very computer system you’re trying to decrypt will actually let you know if you have any of the letters in the correct position. There is no limit to the number of guesses you get, but sometimes there are time constraints placed on you.
With such “hacking” in place, you’d think the game would have a serious bend toward stealth. In theory, that’s correct. But Alias ends up being more action than stealth because the game repeatedly plunges you into situations where your only option is to fight. The ability to crouch behind objects, press against a wall and peer around a corner does not a stealth game make. If this were a true stealth game, you would be able to shoot out the lights and hide in the shadows. Otherwise, why have heat vision? This is an action game through and through; even stealth action is pushing it along, since sneaking about isn’t in any way required or even beneficial. It’s just as easy to fight the enemies as it is to sneak around them. At best this is an action game with a few novel stealth elements.
The game does provide you with a nice assortment of weapons and gadgets, including all of the necessary spy gear like a lock pick, mini-cam and fingerprint replicator. There is no aiming system to the weapons, though; just pointing them in the general direction will do the trick. Well, sort of. It’s not aiming that’s the problem, it’s the damage you end up doing. You can shoot an enemy in the face three times, at point blank range, with a semi-automatic machine gun, and he’ll miraculously pop back up and continue fighting. Good thing you don’t have to really aim at him, because you’ll be too bewildered that he even got back up to worry about matching the targeting reticule with his head.
The fighting controls are rather poor as well, and it’s difficult to control Sydney’s action at times. The controls just don’t seem intuitive enough and will leave you kicking at air more than enemies. Sometimes, no matter how well-placed a punch appears to be, you will only connect with empty space. The combat style feels similar to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except for the fact that BtVS features tighter controls and is much more polished. Plus, it’s much more satisfying to turn a vampire to dust by plunging a wooden stake into his chest than it is to punch a guy a few times and watch him fall to the floor.
The graphics are average, and there isn’t anything visually stunning that will blow you away. The character modeling is decent, but there are small details that somehow make things seem just a bit off. One is Sydney’s hair, which looks like yarn. Honestly, when you’re trying to re-create one of the most recognizable women on TV, you shouldn’t make her head look like a arts and crafts store. Most of the movements are fluid as well, but again, she does one weird sneaking pose that throws the rest of the game off by making her look like she’s wearing high heels for the first time.
While the environments are pretty typical for an action game, they are not interactive, which is somewhat disappointing. In this day and age, with all of the advances in technology, I have come to expect that if I shoot a bottle, it will break. And it would be fun to be able to take a spin at the roulette wheel once or twice.
For the most part, the camera affords you a fair bit of control; however, as is the case with many third-person action games, the camera can take on a mind of its own and position itself in some inconvenient positions, especially during fight sequences. The developers introduced one interesting use for the camera, though, and it actually succeeds at mimicking the production values of the TV show. This is the use of a split-screen in certain tense moments, keeping one camera on Syd, while the other cuts to show you approaching enemies. Most of the time this is rather extraneous, but it can add a slight sense of urgency when you’re trying to pick a lock and the screen splits to show you approaching guards.
The sound presentation in Alias is average (are you sensing a theme here?), with the characters well-voiced by their real-life counterparts but grunt enemies voiced by the same two people who repeat themselves over and over. The most interesting thing about the enemy voiceovers, in fact, is that no matter where in the world you are, they all have the same accent. The soundtrack fits the theme and seems to mimic what you would hear in the show, but there just isn’t any ambient noise to really put you in the game.
And that’s really just how it seems to go with Alias. For every thing the game does okay, there’s another game that does it many times better. This game is truly average in every way, and that’s ultimately the game’s downfall. There are so many other choices available these days that it’s difficult to recommend this title over any others. If you are looking for a good TV license, go with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you want a true stealth experience, check out Splinter Cell. If you’re looking for an action/adventure game with a fantastic female lead, check out Beyond Good & Evil. Alias doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and in a market flooded with the action genre, it’s not going to grab your attention unless you’re a serious fan of the show.
- Gameplay: 5.5
- Graphics: 6
- Sound: 6
- Replay: 4
- Overall: 5.5
- If you want a really good game, buy something else.
— J. Paradise