2nd June 2010 - In Alan Wake, darkness is your most fearsome enemy. The shadows are home to monsters who shun the light, growing more powerful as they slink through the jet-black unknown. You hear a noise behind you and spin around to examine your surroundings, pointing your flashlight from tree to tree, scanning the ground while you ready your trigger finger for the imminent attack. Be afraid of the dark, because if you're not, you'll be enveloped by the evil forces that dwell within…
The foreboding atmosphere that permeates every inch of this wilderness never lets you forget the dangers that await the unprepared, but the feeling of dread that defines the early portions dissipates as you get deeper into this moody adventure. Alan Wake doesn't offer enough surprises to keep you unhinged, but the storytelling is so enthralling and the combat is so frantic that you'll be sucked in until the thrilling conclusion.
In the game you are thrown into the suspenseful and very mysterious shoes of Mr. Alan Wake, a best selling author with a severe case of writers block. Off on a vacation to get his mind off his failing work and his creative juices flowing again, things go from bad to worse for Alan. His wife is kidnapped, he is battling what is appearing to be amnesia and to top it all off, is this all real, or is it in his head?
One question that's popped up whenever I thought about Alan Wake during its development is, "what kind of game is it?" I managed to avoid recent coverage, and started my play through only knowing that you wander the Pacific Northwest, and that a tractor tries to kill you at some point. So, after finally finishing it (about 14 hours of gameplay), I have an extraordinarily simple answer to that question: it's a Remedy game. It alternates between standard-shooting-plus-a-central-mechanic (for Max Payne, it was bullet time, for Alan Wake, it's the use of light) and delivering a story through extended dialogue and narration. The use of light is the basis for the majority of the gameplay as nearly all of the enemies in the game come shrouded in darkness and must first be absolved of this with a strong dose of light, either by your trusty flashlight or some other kind of light source - lamps, fire, floodlight, heck, even the headlights of a car (which you get a few chances to drive, by the way). Do this and you can then end their miserable lives. With your firearm in one hand and your flashlight in another; Alan Wake takes on the forces of darkness and evil as he progress’s through the story and solves the many mysteries that present themselves.
Another way to put it is if Max Payne was Remedy taking The Punisher and turning that concept into a videogame, then Alan Wake is what happens when Remedy takes Stephen King's The Dark Half and tries to make a game out of that (don't worry, that's not a spoiler -- though the two plots share some similarities).
As I said above, Alan Wake is very much a Remedy game and as a third-person game, Alan Wake does very well what Remedy are in fact famous for; shooting. It has managed to stay very realistic in the way Alan controls and shoots his weapons, again setting things up for the progressive horror story present. Don’t believe the hype that says this isn’t a horror game too, because it downright is. In recent years, with the remakes of Friday 13th, Hills Have Eyes, and the rising popularity of slasher films, ‘Horror’ has come to translate to blood and gore. Alan Wake is in its own way, a classic horror story. One of mysterious forces, states of mind, and deep character study. But the absence of monsters, zombies, buckets of blood and all numbers of creepy crawlies isn’t the only difference between Alan Wake and ’traditional’ Horror games. That’s right, because another thing you will notice is that in Alan Wake, you aren’t constantly trying to scour for bullets, health packs and all sorts of helpful collectables. This continues what every other aspect of the game does; make the story number 1. How you do it is second to what’s actually going on, so to be fair, you wont be dying every 5 seconds and having to perfect certain areas after tons of trying and trying. If that doesn’t sound like how you like to play Horror games, then maybe this one isn’t for you.
The graphics of Alan Wake are absolutely amazing: Everything from the lights to the scary darkness that surrounds the whole style and concept of the game. All the characters are detailed and animated very well and the environment is gorgeous and although it looks great even when it is night-time in the game due to some great lighting effects, looks fantastic when you can see all the detail that has been put into it when daytime hits during various parts of the game. I played this game in 1080p so I was able to get the best the game had to offer and let me tell you, if you play this in the dark you will really get the best out of the game due to the atmosphere that is created. There are a few minor issues with the frame rate and slight screen tearing, but nothing that will affect the gameplay in anyway.
With Dolby surround sound this game is absolutely stunning. When the final enemy in a wave is exterminated, the death transpires in slow-motion to signal a breather has been earned. It is an exhilarating experience that plays out multiple times as the story unravels and plays by far the best in a full 5.1 surround sound setup with an adequate subwoofer. If you have the setup and the money for a good system, the sounds alone in this game will absolutely scare you.
Alan Wake is getting additional episodes as Remedy plays their 'Lost' card by offering more questions in the game's conclusion than answers. The story is far from complete, more the end of a first season than a greater story. Some will salivate at the thought of additional episodes to keep Alan Wake's journey alive, the first of which is coming in late July. Both sides and new things are coming in the new DLC that is incoming but we will just have to wait and see for then. We only get season #1 but it is so very much worth it once you play through it once.
"We do know where season two is going to go," reveals Remedy's Oskari Hakkinen. "Season one will have a conclusive and satisfactory ending but we will leave doors open for season two and we know where we're going to take the story."
That's good and all, but are we really keeping up the whole "season" thing? Seems just a little bit trite and pretentious to me, but there you go. I just wish studios wouldn't keep trying to get away from making videogames and attempting to create the illusion that their titles are movies or TV shows. Oh well, videogames are serious business I suppose and at least they are extending our experience of this great game by going down this path.
Alan Wake offers a tense and suspenseful storyline that is fused together with excellent lighting effects and unique battle mechanics. Very few titles manage to create a palpable sense of fright and tension but Alan Wake does so with a vengeance. A few frame rate hiccups and difficultly balances knock Alan Wake back a step, but it is never a huge detriment to the game.
AAG SCORE: 9/10
- Excellent Atmosphere and mood
- Interesting take on the Physiological thriller genre
- Part of a larger story
- A bit too linear
- Not too scary after awhile
- Ending is a cliff-hanger
Reviewed and Written By Daniel Emmerson