Alias is a study in contrasts. It is a stealth-based game with a deep hand-to-hand combat engine, featuring a wide variety of improvised and otherwise melee weapons, but it's not like any other game that meets that description.
It is, of course, based upon the ABC television show, and its production values are appropriately high. You'll be controlling CIA agent Sydney Bristow, with backup from Dixon, Vaughn, and Marshall (I haven't seen "Alias"; am I supposed to want to hit Marshall?). All of the characters are voiced by the actors that play them on the program, and animated to look almost exactly like those actors. This isn't like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a given character might or might not look like their real-life equivalent; Sydney in Alias actually does look like Jennifer Garner.
Over the course of nine missions set across the world, Sydney must race against time to prevent her nemeses, Sark and Anna, from acquiring a prototype laser that can be turned into a mind-control device. This will require her to subtly infiltrate a number of concealed locations, beat up everyone inside, usually steal something, and get back out.
Alias would like to be a stealth-based action game, sort of like Splinter Cell if Sam Fisher had more hand-to-hand combat moves, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer with an additional stealth component. Instead, it's a brawler, and a very easy one at that.
Here's the thing. Alias, over the course of its nine missions, sets up a number of scenarios where stealth is supposedly the most accurate solution. If you intend to play the game like that, then you've got your work cut out for you, because it's very easy to be detected.
However, since being seen by the enemy (whether you're disguised or not; Sydney's disguises appear to only be there for the sake of being there, and do not actually matter) or triggering an alarm, really only starts a fight, you can be as blatant as you want and it doesn't matter. With the exception of the occasional opportunity for a stealth kill, Sydney might as well go in like Rambo. If nothing else, it's faster.
When a fight starts, Sydney has a surprisingly fluid and cinematic moveslist. She's got lots of special moves, including a really cool grab-and-disarm throw that turns a weapon against its wielder, and can pick up virtually any stray object--brooms, tools, poles, pipes, nightsticks, baseball bats, bone saws, knives, swords, spears--to wield in combat. The game is very good about providing you with plenty of things to hit a guy with at any given time, although they're all made out of balsa wood or something; I refuse to believe that Sydney "Skinny McStickarms" Bristow possesses the raw power to actually break a lug wrench over some guy's head.
This sounds good on paper, but it's very, very slanted in your favor. For one thing, Sydney automatically regenerates any health she loses over time. If you're wounded, find someplace quiet and just stand there until you're back at full health. While this makes a bit more sense than having her carrying around medical kits, it still means that taking damage in Alias means next to nothing.
The other problem is that the guys you're fighting are all apparently extras from a Steven Seagal movie. You can win almost any fight by simply holding the block button, then mashing on both attack buttons. You'll counter incoming attacks while throwing anyone who comes into attack range. It might not be elegant or cinematic, but it'll work.
The exception is when you run into somebody carrying a gun (specifically, a H&K 9mm SMG, which appears to be the only gun available in the world of Alias). Then things get trickier, because bullets might knock Sydney down, but unless you're caught in very close quarters with the gunman, you can simply run around to his flank and throw him. Then you take his gun, turn it on the next gunman you find, and start a vicious domino effect that can last for as long as the rest of the level. Four to six bullets can drop just about any enemy, so with a bit of backtracking and precision, you can shoot an entire level dead with no real problem.
That's the funny part, actually. The only occasions in Alias where your cover actually matters are a number of pre-scripted events. During these, if someone sees Sydney, they'll automatically penetrate her disguise, realize something's rotten, and blow the entire operation. The game tells you when this happens; Dixon is particularly fond of informing you that if, say, Sark sees Sydney, the mission will be over.
However, in order to see Sydney, Sark will usually have to stroll through an entire intricate subterreanean complex strewn with spent shells, bullet holes, and the unconscious and/or dead bodies of his subordinates, who I have pummeled viciously with everything from machine gun fire to a broom. "If that fifteen-minute running gunfight I won just now hasn't blown my cover," I often say to Dixon, because I am a sad little man who talks to his video games, "then my cover cannot be blown."
Alias has a few other, smaller problems. The controls are fine, the graphics are surprisingly decent, and the sound's okay, but the camera's not very good. In the middle of a fight, Sydney always seems to wind up partially or mostly offscreen somehow, pounding on an enemy that can't be seen. If the camera was simply anchored behind Sydney, like in most other third-person action games, it wouldn't be a problem.
Depending on where you are, you'll probably run into approximately fifty thugs, all of whom have the same texture set, what sounds like the same voice actor saying the same lines, and fight in precisely the same way. Sometimes the game will change it up with a female opponent, or a gunman in body armor, but for the most part, you're gonna be boppin' clones.
Most of your missions tend towards busywork, as you backtrack most of the way through a complex for the sake of grabbing a key or chasing an enemy. Alias would've been a lot more interesting had it been a more tightly-plotted game, with fast-paced and intense action. Instead, it has a bad habit of dragging, as you go all the way across an area to grab a key that unlocks a door all the way back across that area.
Finally, save points are way too frequent, especially in a game where so little of actual consequence happens. There is actually a large garage, very early in the game, that contains three separate and accessible save points, as though Sydney might trip, fall, and break her neck on her way across the room.
The real problem I have with Alias is that it has all the ingredients to be a decent brawler, like the first Buffy game without the controller-chucking insane difficulty. What brings it down is, simply enough, that not enough work went into it. It's way too easy, its puzzles are so shallow as to be nonexistent (the "hacking" puzzle is almost embarrassing), it's got some pretty serious camera issues that could've been solved by anyone who's ever played a third-person action game before, and its stealth component simply isn't worth bothering with.