Reviewed: June 11, 2004
Released: April 6, 2004
I can still remember watching the series pilot for Alias, and I can still remember being totally blown away by the concept - super-sexy, female, kickass, secret agent, master of disguise, martial arts, and looking hot even with dirty orange hair and missing a few teeth. Unfortunately, Sunday night is not a good TV viewing time for me and before I knew it the first two seasons of Alias had slipped by me.
When Acclaim announced the Alias game I decided to do some homework and sat down with the first two season box sets for a marathon viewing session of epic proportions. Four discs (16 episodes a week) later I felt like I was either dating or stalking Jennifer Garner, but I did have a good idea of the visionary storytelling that is going on with this franchise, not to mention the theatrical production values – each episode is movie-quality.
Games based on movies or TV shows have the luxury of a built-in audience, but they also have the responsibility of remaining true to the established elements and the expectations of the fans. The thing that really impressed me the most about the new Alias game is how much the designers (working with the TV production staff and show writers) all tried to make this game as true to the series as possible, not only from securing the entire voice cast, but in its presentation style and even the story that is woven into the existing mythos of the show.
Ultimately, you aren’t required to have seen a single episode of Alias to play this game but it will certainly help if you have, if nothing more than to identify with the characters and the situations. Fans of the show will smile knowingly when Rambaldi artifacts come into the picture or when Marshall goes off on some odd stuttering tangent during a mission briefing. The fact that all of the actors have lent their voices and faces to the game characters helps seal the transition from TV to console.
To briefly recap the core premise of the show, you play as Sydney Bristow, a CIA agent recruited from college, turned double agent to infiltrate a evil organization posing as a splinter-cell of the CIA that she (and her father who is also a double agent) is working for. Confused? Welcome to season one. Anyway, the evil organization known as SD-6 was taken down in season 2 and Sydney, her father, and a few cast favorites from SD-6 all became agents for the “real” CIA and are now hunting a few rogue agents like Sloan, former mastermind of the U.S. office of SD-6 and Sydney’s mother, a double-agent from the cold-war KGB sent over to infiltrate and kill CIA operatives. Believe me – it makes more sense when you don’t compress 50 episodes into a single paragraph.
Alias (the game) takes place in a post-season one environment where everyone is working for the “real” CIA and still tracking down those elusive Rambaldi artifacts, which are being used to create unspeakable weapons of mass destruction. Just like the show, Sydney gets to travel the world, kicking butt and taking names, while using all the latest op-tech that would make “Q” drool in envy.
Alias is a clever blend of stealth and action with equal parts of both, or at least that’s what the designers intended. I’ve heard comparison made to Splinter Cell but that’s not nearly the case. Sam is 95% mandatory stealth and 5% action and even his action isn’t that exciting. Sydney’s actions are dictated more by mission design than game design. In some cases you go undercover in one of many disguises, other times you slip on your operative suit and stealth your way past guards, and other times you go in full-tilt kicking, punching, and flipping your way to victory. Most of the time you can do either.
Just like the show, firearms play a very small role in the game. Sydney is the only lethal weapon you need in this game. Sure, you can pick up random objects in the game and use them as makeshift melee weapons, and you can even relieve guards of their guns, but in a brilliant move of realism, you only get the ammo that is left in that weapon. This means that if that guard has already unloaded half a clip taking shots at you then you only get half the ammo. Nice!
Sydney has all of the standard action and stealth moves we’ve come to expect from this genre. She can crouch, stick to walls, run, jump, shimmy along ledges and pipes, and even do that cool Jackie Chan move where you run up the wall and flip over your pursuer to end up behind them. She has all sorts of cool martial arts moves that can be chained into random combos. She even has a nice corner stealth kill much like Wolverine had in his game.
Combat is fairly random given that you only have two attack buttons, a Quick attack and a Special Attack. Mashing these in combination with the analog stick movement will generate unpredictable yet ultimately satisfying kicks and punches. Fights are also context-sensitive to the environment, so Sydney might spin a guy around, slam him into a wall then clothesline him when he bounces back, WWF-style.
To complement the gameplay, Sydney is given a varied assortment of high-tech gizmos that will aid her in completing her mission objectives. These include; traditional lockpicks, night and thermal vision, reflective mirrors to bypass laser security, and a splicing device that allows Marshall to hack into security systems and update you via PDA.
Speaking of hacking, Sydney will have to hack a variety of computer during her adventures. This is handled in mini-game style where you have to decipher a code made up of four possible buttons, each assigned to a face button. You input a guess and are told how many letters are in the correct position, but not which ones. It’s just like the old “Mastermind” game. It’s moderately fun the first two or three times but quickly gets annoying and even frustrating later in the game when you have to guess the codes under the stress of a time limit.
It’s easy to see that Alias has been created primarily for the fans of the show rather than diehard gamers. If you happen to be both then you might be slightly disappointed at the overall lack of challenge with this game. The missions are linear and the puzzles are virtually self-solving with the exception of the hacking. There is never any guessing which item to use since the one that works is always highlighted in your inventory.
Your enhanced vision not only tells you the location of every enemy in the room, it also color-codes them to show their threat level. And while stealth might be fun, you can just as easily fight your way through most levels and do so in half the time. The enemy AI is not terribly brilliant. Sound doesn’t factor in, so sneaking up on guards is easy as long as they aren’t facing you, and even when you are outnumbered five to one there is little threat of dying.
Alias delivers a visual presentation that adheres to the style of the show. Each mission begins with a briefing then transitions into your destination with the level appearing inside a random letter of the location’s name. There is even some moderate use of split-screen to give Sydney that extra sensory edge in moments of tension. Peek around a corner and spot a patrolling guard and a window will pop-up showing another perspective of that guard so you can learn his pattern.
At the core, the level design is modest with some levels looking fantastic (the museum) and others looking a bit sparse (the nightclub). Character models are nice with particular attention to the Sydney model that is wonderfully modeled and animated. Her combat moves simply flow together and even when she is just walking, sneaking, or peeking around a corner, it all looks very natural.
The actors’ faces have all been scanned and mapped onto their respective characters with mixed results. Sydney and Marshall look great while Vaughn is almost a caricature of his real-life character. Since you only see most of the supporting cast during cutscenes or in portraits in Sydney’s PDA it’s not a huge issue. Sydney is the primary character and she looks and moves great.
The menus, and in-game interface is pretty good. The HUD is non-intrusive and your tool belt only appears while you are selecting something. The PDA gives you access to mission goals and objectives and even a map when available. This comes in mighty handy at times, as some of the levels are quite large and require a bit of backtracking.
Alias (the show) has some of the best music on TV and Michael Giacchino and Alien Breed continue this same standard of excellence in the game, from the wonderful opening theme music to all of the environmental and techno tunes that support the action and the tension of the gameplay.
The game was scripted by the show’s writers and the original cast was assembled to reprise their roles so you have a game that sounds every bit as good as an episode of the show. You can often tell when characters have trouble acting to a microphone rather than a camera but everyone here does a fantastic job. The Vaughn character can get a bit “stiff” at times and Marshall seems to be over-emphasizing his trademark ramblings, but it all works.
The Dolby Digital mix delivers a nice 3D sound package but the sounds aren’t terribly exciting. You have standard punch and kick sounds and realistic environmental noises for each of the unique levels. Guns sound appropriately realistic, and subtle effects like breaking glass, footsteps, or the hum of a computer are all here, but nothing really stands out as original or exceptional.
Alias is short, and you can probably finish it in about the same time it would take you to watch a single DVD from the season box set, or about 8-10 hours. Of course that was my time after I realized stealth was neither required nor that useful. If you prefer to sneak your way through the game you can probably add 3-4 more hours for being cautious.
There’s no branching story, alternate endings, or secret unlockable rewards so there is no real incentive to replay the game anytime soon, but much like fans who watch their favorite episodes over and over, I’m sure many will play and replay this game just for the experience.
I was pleased to see a TV-based game that arrives while the show is still on TV. Recent games like The X-Files and Dark Angel debuted after the shows were cancelled or at the end of their run, and while these shows live on in syndication and DVD, Alias has a much stronger following with at least two new seasons ahead of us.
Alias is a fun action game that desperately wants to join the ranks of Bond, Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, and while Sydney is certainly more enjoyable to look at than Sam Fisher or Solid Snake, the simplistic gameplay, lack of stealth, and TV-targeted visual style is likely to appeal only to fans of the show.
Consider this game a great introduction to the stealth-action genre that could very well spark an interest in other more substantial games. Hardcore gamers should probably rent, but for those sweating through the summer waiting for season four to kick off, this should be a nice Alias fix or at least a supplement to watching season three reruns.