Genre : Action
Developer: Acclaim Studios
Release Date: April 5, 2004
ABC’s Alias, while critically acclaimed, has received only mediocre ratings recently. This didn’t stop Acclaim from snatching up the license and giving a videogame version a shot. Acclaim isn’t known for always picking up the hottest licenses around (see Turok, Shadowman), but every once in awhile, they can put together something special from these obscure comic books, television shows, and movies. Of course, looking at the developer’s track record, it is plain to see that these occurrences are extremely rare. Alias lands somewhere in the middle. It’s not the instant classic that the first Turok game was, but it’s worlds above the quality presented in the horrific Armorines. The game is mediocre for the most part; there’s nothing special about it at all. Of course, there’s nothing extremely wrong with it either, and looking at the majority of the most recent releases, that (sadly) says a lot.
Alias is not a videogame crafted for the masses; it is definitely meant for fans of the show. Decidedly, I am not. I don’t watch too much TV in the first place, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to get into a show like Alias. This makes following the storyline a bit difficult, since the script (written by series creator J.J. Abrams) connects directly with the complex happenings of the television show. Even understanding the importance of events, items, and people is somewhat difficult not being a fan of the series.
The basic storyline: players control Sydney Bristow, a CIA agent who formerly worked with an evil organization called SD-6 that led her to believe she was working for a splinter cell of the CIA. Her main nemesis, Avrin Sloane, murdered her fiancé, yet seems to consistently protect Sydney for reasons evident in a recent season of the show. Sydney’s supposedly late mother has somehow returned, and aided Sydney and the CIA for a time. These details will help players new to the series to keep up with the events of the game a bit better, but even this isn’t enough. The story of the game takes place just after the second season, between episodes 19 and 20. It features Sydney traveling all over the word across nine missions, tracking down an old enemy, Anna Espionsa.
Alias plays like a more action-inclined Splinter Cell, though its presentation is not nearly as polished as in that game. When either running and gunning or hiding in the shadows, the game controls passably; nothing is counter-intuitive, though the “smoothness” of games like Metal Gear Solid 2 is not present. The standard stealth actions are all present: backing against walls with the ability to look around corners, and a special stealth attack that allows Sydney to swiftly and silently take out a passing enemy, most of which involve snapping the poor person’s neck. To help with all of this, standard gadgets such as heat and night vision are available. Sydney doesn’t have as many abilities as Mr. Sam Fisher, or even our friend Solid Snake, to be sure, but she does have more than enough actions available to her for players to make it through the game without feeling too deprived from the multitude of movements available in the better modern stealth games. What’s there doesn’t feel as polished as it should, though. This is forgivable, since stealth isn’t required at all for the majority of the game.
The fighting engine is simple and to the point. If Sydney is caught on camera or spotted by a guard, and auto-lock system is made available to her, allowing players to target enemies quickly and efficiently. You can block, though this will still take a considerable amount of damage. There are only two different attack types when engaging your enemies: a quick attack and a special attack. The quick attack chooses a punch or a kick at random. The special attack does the same, but adds leg sweeps and grabs if used in combination with the block and crouch buttons. This makes hand-to-hand fighting a little too random; I’m sure most players will end up mashing the buttons quickly until their opponent has hit the ground. This is so easy to handle, it makes using stealth almost pointless.
The variety of weapons available is the highlight of the game. Sydney can use everything from broomsticks to machineguns to pummel her aggressors to death. There is a weapon degradation system in place; for example, after a few whacks with a broomstick, it will almost definitely break. In one of the more eccentric design choices in the game, guns work similarly, becoming unusable after their clips are emptied. I’m not sure why Acclaim chose to handle the weapons system this way. If this had been handled in a more standard format, the quality of the action portions of the game – about 95% of the experience – would have been much more enjoyable to play through.
Alias focuses on the gadgets quite a bit, especially lockpicking. Unlike Splinter Cell, which made such gadgets both fun and challenging to use, Alias’s gadgets aren’t very interesting to use. Lockpicking specifically is a mundane, mindless task. That’s what most of Alias really is – a series of mindless tasks.
Alias doesn’t look special at all. The game released simultaneously on the Xbox and PS2, so, as with most multi-platform titles, was developed with the lowest common denominator in mind. The animations are fluid and stable, but the rest of the game’s visuals sit on the line between average and bad. The facial recreations are especially irritating, leaving much to be desired for fans of the series – hey, aren’t those the only people who can play and understand this game in the first place? At least there wasn’t a single instance of slowdown in the time I spent with the game. Even the biggest AAA titles can’t always say that.
The voice acting is fantastic (mostly), since the majority of the cast from the television series has reprised their roles here. A few sound bites sound a little off, and one or two characters seem to be consistently off emotionally. The majority of the voice work is of the highest caliber available to this game, though.
The environmental sounds are on the other side of the spectrum. Actually, they almost aren’t there. Alias supports surround sound, but doesn’t make much use of it; it doesn’t help you perform the game at all. Of course, the game is so easy, you won’t have to worry about anything like that being detrimental to your performance.
Alias is a mediocre game, through and through. Some of its facets are good, some are not, but nothing (except perhaps the amateurish weapons system) is really bad. The game is really meant for fans of the show. As a game, it isn’t as challenging as it should be. The best reason to play is to keep up with the story development. Simply put, if you’re not interested in the television series, you don’t want to play this game.
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