Review – Alan Wake
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Survival-Horror, Third-Person Shooter
ESRB Content Descriptors: Blood, Language, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco, Violence
The Scoop: Ah, Remedy. The famed creator of the fantastic Max Payne are finally back in the GOTY arena, and boy, do they have a strong contender for you bloodthirsty gamers. Announced back in 2005, Alan Wake has been sleeping in development limbo for a whopping 5 years, and it was damn well time to wake the bastard up and bring him into the light. I guess the extended beauty sleep did him good, though. Alan Wake is an absolute gem that every 360 owner should have in their library.
The Setup: Famed writer Alan Wake has woken up and entered a nightmare. His wife has gone missing, possessed townsfolk are trying to chop him up into pieces, and a manuscript he doesn’t even remember writing seems to be predicting all these events as they happen. Weird, huh? Prior to all this craziness, Alan was a simple man who wore a tweed jacket and was suffering from a little case of writer’s block. This led to his wife, Alice, suggesting they take a vacation to the quaint town of Bright Falls, which turns out to be the worst decision ever made. That’s as much plot as I’m going to reveal, but suffice to say Alan Wake sets up the stage incredibly and soon you’ll find yourself caught up in a whirlwind of plot-twists and cliffhangers that will leave you breathless and wanting to continue playing. Yeah, it’s that good.
What’s Hot: I’m a firm believer in compelling narratives for videogames. It’s like driving a car through a beautiful landscape. Sure, you can ignore the scenery altogether and focus on driving, but sometimes it’s nice to stop and get sucked in by the world around you. Of course, this is all useless if the car is a broken-down piece of crap, but you get the idea. Alan Wake has it’s narrative crafted in spades. Presented in a television show-like manner, with episodes and “previously on” segments that kick each one off, Alan Wake’s story has been expertly stringed together to provide a sense of immersion that doesn’t break until the credits roll. It also helps that the writing is excellent and that the characters are all compelling enough for you to genuinely care about their fates.
But like I said, this is all useless if the gameplay that drives through the narrative is crap. Luckily, Remedy knows how to make a solid action game just as much as they know how to tell an amazing story. The basic components for Alan Wake’s gameplay are simple, with a mixture of gunplay, exploration, and some driving portions. Shooting in Alan Wake is fluid and never feels cumbersome, even in the most intense situations. Exploration, although minimal, is fun mostly due in part to the highly-detailed forest environments that you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of. The driving portions of the game, while not as exciting as the on-foot action, is easy to control and avoids feeling forced since they’re served sparingly.
Now, you guys must be asking “well that’s nice and all, but what’s the catch?” Well, the catch is that all these solid gameplay elements are flavoured with a unique light and dark mechanic Remedy has implemented into the game. You see, the world around Alan has been flooded with a dark presence that possesses whatever it touches. In order to battle this darkness, Alan must use light. Flashlights, flash-bangs, flares — all these items must be utilised in order to effectively combat the enemies that assault Alan on his journey. For example, If a Taken (the name of the enemies) jumps out of the trees, you must first “burn” away the darkness that surrounds them. Only once these black flames are totally extinguished will you be able to damage the enemy with Alan’s firearm at hand. This one-two punch style of combat is extremely satisfying and manages to stay that way throughout the 12 hour-long campaign.
Another thing I thought was really cool in the game was the whole element of collecting Alan’s scattered manuscript pages. These little sheets of gleaming white paper can be discovered lying around the environment, some being more well-hidden then others. Each sheet contains it’s own little excerpt from Alan’s forgotten project, which foreshadows events to come. So, if you come across a page that says Alan is going to be attacked by a demonic bulldozer, you better be damn well ready for some construction vehicle combat!
On a technical level, Alan Wake manages to be on par with some of the graphical beasts that have been released lately. The lighting is unparalleled, environments are packed with little details, and the animations are fluid. The daytime levels make more noticeable some of the low-res textures and pop-in, but they’re minor and don’t detract much from the overall package. Remedy has created an atmosphere that must be experienced.
What’s Not: There’s only one thing that robs Alan Wake of a perfect score: the ending. The games narrative takes you on one hell of a roller-coaster ride, so it’s extremely disappointing that the final moments of the game don’t match the quality of the previous episodes. I usually don’t complain about cliffhangers, but Alan Wake’s was just way too anticlimactic and unsatisfying. I hear some DLC is going to be released to tie up the loose ends, but I’m reviewing the content that comes on the disk, and what’s here, while brilliant overall, comes just short of reaching something truly masterful.
Final Verdict: Intense action, brilliant atmosphere, and a superbly told story elevate Alan Wake onto the top of my “Games that took a long ass time to make but were totally worth it” list. Sure, the ending sucked, but that fault is almost eclipsed by everything the game succeeds at. It’s something that should truly be experienced and is the reason why Remedy is so respected in this medium. To all the 360 owners in the world: buy this game.Review - Alan Wake ,