Alias Review

| | Comments (0)
Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Acclaim

Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC
Reviewed on Xbox

When a CIA agent infiltrating the organization of Anna Espinosa (a former Russian intelligence agent) goes missing, Sydney Bristow is called in to investigate. With an assortment of high-tech devices and an alias that sets Sydney up as a cocktail waitress, she sets out to track a plot that will take her around the world.

Kyle Ackerman

Alias, just like the television series upon which the game is based, is built around Jennifer Garner as a super-sexy super-spy. Also like the show, there is more to Alias than Garner's character Sydney Bristow's looks, but there's room for improvement. You might ask why such an elite spy's non-reflective, black, neoprene stealth suit shows off her belly-button. Perhaps Sydney's abs help cloak her in shadow. Perhaps it's because young and adult males are more likely to play games and watch shows that sport Sydney's flat stomach.

Sydney Bristow clearly received more attention than any other single aspect of Alias. She looks good, and usually moves smoothly. Her animations, particularly while sneaking or fighting, are incredibly fluid. There are exceptions – she can only shuffle up and down stairs (despite running elsewhere) and grabs some overhanging pipes with her forearms, not her hands. Still, she looks slick, and often begins missions with different costumes, to help her better infiltrate targets.

In This Case, It's Easier Not To Avoid A Fight

The fundamental problem with Alias is that it's a stealth/action game in which stealth is imperfectly implemented. In some cases that's not such a big deal – Sydney can't press herself against walls nearly as well as Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow could, but she's also more attractive to the average gamer. Of course, sometimes Sydney will do things like press herself against a knee high object as she would a wall, leaving her back visible for guards to see. Also, Sydney can only jump or climb on the rare surfaces designated as appropriate for mantling or climbing – and it's not always clear where she should scale a pipe, and where the rafters are purely decorative. Stealth is simply difficult to execute – sneaking through a patrolled hallway could take quite a few tries. Sydney also has the ability to pull off some spectacular stealth kills. She can silently sneak up behind an armed guard, snap his spine over her knee and leave the crumpled corpse in a heap. It's just hard to do without being spotted.

Both stealth assaults and staying out of sight are really difficult. But conventional combat is really easy. For example, early in the game, you have the opportunity to leap off a ledge and silently knock out a guard standing below. You can take multiple attempts to line yourself up on the ledge silently, avoid being spotted by other guards and execute the attack. Or, you can stumble off the ledge, alert the entire room and pummel everyone into unconsciousness by button mashing on the first try. Many levels in the game are expansive rooms or sets of corridors filled with guards and hiding places. You could try over and over, reloading from save points to sneak past the guards or eliminate them stealthily. Usually, it's easier to walk in plan sight, beat them all senseless, and further explore the area unhindered.

Combat is reasonably cool looking, but is essentially a festival of button mashing, with only two buttons. You have a conventional attack that will launch quick jabs and kicks and a special attack that will initiate more complex routines such as a flipping kick, or allow Sydney to slam an enemy against a wall and clothesline him in the throat as he bounces off the concrete. Sydney can also grab a wide assortment of objects ranging from frying pans to bone saws to use as impromptu weapons. Most weapons will break after a few swings, but they allow Sydney to make several more powerful attacks before they disintegrate. She can also grab guns that will quickly eliminate potential threats. Because combat is relatively easy and stealth turns out to be so hard, you'll mostly kick ass with the variety of found weapons rather than sneaking about.

Sydney Packs A Mean Punch

The combat would be amazing as a supplement to stealth action. As the bulk of gameplay, it looks cool but ends up being shallow. It's not that the combat needs to be improved, it's that stealth needs an easier learning curve and to be a bit more generous in execution. Instead of inspiring you as you succeed in pulling off stealthy maneuvers and kills, attempting stealth feels like a struggle to meet obvious goals. The development team must have recognized the difficulty of stealth in Alias, as there is essentially no penalty for setting off alarms. If you trip a laser beam or are spotted by a camera, you'll hear an alarm, and one or two guards (that you can easily thrash) may arrive, but that's it. There's little incentive to even bothering to avoid security measures.

It's unfortunate that stealth isn't more user-friendly, because Alias introduces some incredibly cool dynamics. The slickest part of the game is when the display breaks into multiple windows, splitting the screen or breaking out windows comic-book style to show danger. The other windows show patrolling guards or security camera views, helping you avoid detection. Unfortunately, on one level (the asylum), I had already shot all the guards the split screen was intended to show, making it considerably less interesting. There are also some cool gadgets that let Sydney deal with security cameras, cross laser beams and genetically catalog the dead. Some of the gadgets have cool interfaces – the lock-picking interface is simple, cool and would add suspense to the process if you were trying to break a lock stealthily. Hacking into computer terminals involves a mini-game like the classic Mastermind board game. She also has thermal vision modes and an enhanced vision that's a sort of low-light vision that also identifies enemies and security devices.

Flinkman Rules! (And He Likes The Lion King)

Save the shortcomings of the game itself, Alias does a great job of bringing the television series to the Xbox. The characters and plot will be familiar to fans of the show, from the briefing room to the characters to the mysterious fifteenth century machinations of Milo Giacomo Rambaldi. The game isn't accessible enough to drag non-gaming Alias fans into the gaming fold, but will satisfy gamers eager to face off against Sark and Anna Espinosa. Most of your contact with the show's characters will be during cut-scenes and voice messages during missions, but the comic ramblings of geeky gadget guru Marshal Flinkman (voiced by Kevin Weisman) are engaging enough to convince gamers who haven't seen the Alias series to try it out. If the Alias game differs from the show, it is only that the game is even more action oriented, and that the Sydney character in the game is even stronger than the TV Sydney.

Alias does a lot of things right – it provides a lot of gameplay, a hot heroine, cool gadgets and interesting visual conventions; and it captures the spirit of the eponymous show. The problem is that Alias should be a stealth/action game, and it ends up using action as a crutch to prop up a merely adequate stealth aspect. All the components of a good stealth game are present, they just need more polish and refinement to compete with other stealth games.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 6, 2004 5:12 PM.

Nyko Wireless Air Flo Controller for the PlayStation 2 Review was the previous entry.

Total Extreme Warfare 2004 Review is the next entry.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Add to Technorati Favorites