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Alan Wake Review

September 15 2010

Alan Wake Review
by Lodur

Alan Wake is a survival horror video game developed by the Finnish Remedy Entertainment and published by Microsoft Game Studios.  It was released on May 18, 2010 exclusively for the Xbox 360. This game is a true psychological thriller in every sense of the word. Atmosphere and the musical score do wonders to bring the game’s menace to the forefront. Controls are smooth, though not entirely which lends a sense of terror to your movements in the world.

You play the part of Alan Wake, a rather famous New York Times best selling novelist. Alan has come under a recent bout of writers block, and in an attempt to escape the pressure of his fame and the creative expectation therein, he’s decided to go on a vacation with his wife to the picturesque location of Bright Falls. The problem is this romantic getaway vacation quickly takes a turn towards Twin Peaks. Alan’s wife goes missing, and his search to find her is swiftly shifted into the realm of the paranormal as he is attacked by voices and creatures of darkness. Alan is forced to pick up a gun and pull the trigger to stay alive. Alan is not a seasoned soldier, but rather just a man trying to survive and find his wife. You can see the heavy influence of television shows like X-Files and Twilight Zone, as well as horror fiction from Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft throughout the game as locations, mood, lighting and characters you interact with all change.

Presentation wise, the game is divided into six episodes. Each episode is crafted like part of a TV miniseries. Each episode ends with a cliffhanger as the screen fades to black and music plays.  The next episode begins with a plot recap. It feels very much like a novel presented as a TV show, and the effect is quite welcome.

The lighting and the mood of the game play a big part in the success of this title. Dark forests, shadowed buildings and characters that you aren’t quite sure are friend or foe give you a definite sense of dread. The score of the game also helps to keep you from shattering the fourth wall. Unlike other survival horror games, there are very few musical crescendos to indicate a lurking enemy. Instead, as a player you have to listen to the ambient sounds of the game. Sometimes the only indicator an enemy is near is the sound of boots scuffing on rock ever so lightly. The game is hand made to make your skin crawl, and I am not too proud to say there were several times I was unwilling to play this game without anyone else in the house.

From a control perspective, the game can sometimes feel slightly bulky. Unlike other games however, this lends to the charm of the game. It is smoother than say the first Resident Evil on the Playstation, but just unwieldy enough to remind you that your character is not a combat oriented personae. This helps add to the terror and anxiety of the game as you are waiting for the next baddie to jump from behind the boulders to get you.

The game is very detail oriented, and players who are brave enough to stray from the beaten path between check points are rewarded with many different and interesting sights. Players may be inclined to avoid straying too far from the main pathways, but I encourage you to do so.  Radios and television sets can found in spots like wooden lookout towers and construction site trailers. Take the time to listen and watch everything you can. The details that Remedy packed into the various radio transmissions and TV shows are just amazing. Traveling beyond the normal pathways also yields access to more manuscript pages . These are like the audio logs in BioShock, and serve to provide perspective from other characters not otherwise possible… foreshadowing events to come, as well as explaining bits of the back-story. The twist here is that these pages are written by Wake himself, and he has no recollection of writing them. The more you find, the more the story has a chance to fully develop and the more the game takes on an erie other-worldly twist blurring fact from fiction.

The game offers a sort of duality as well in the parity, quite literally, between day and night. Each episode has a day sequence and a night sequence. During the day players are free to walk around the town and talk to the NPCs. Everything seems normal, and in some cases you can overhear conversations about other NPCs that may be missing after the previous episode’s exploits. When night comes and the moon is high, it is a completely different animal. Shadows crawl across the ground like living creatures when a threat is near. The lighting effects can be stunning. Moonlight pours from above, streetlamps and construction bulbs indicate the way forward, and Wake’s all-important flashlight is a tool for exploration and, more importantly, to vanquish threats.

Returning to the games controls, though they may be slightly bulky, the effect is largely intentional. For the most part the game’s combat system is fairly rewarding. Wake’s arsenal isn’t very large, but everything you find is useful. Coming at you from all directions are humans infected with darkness, voracious birds, large pieces of possessed machinery and automobiles that get tossed around like toys, and even massive construction vehicles that burst from their resting places to flatten you.

The first thing to do in any combat with the darkness is to hit it with light. Wake’s flashlight is the most direct method. Point it at a dark target and a shower of sparks, like a circular saw on sheet metal, go flying off. Sound effects shriek like banshees and with continued exposure to light the darkness surrounding a target is evaporated. Follow it up with a shot from a pistol, shotgun or hunting rifle and you’ve got a kill. It’s a simple interplay that’s helped along with some smooth animations and weighty sounds that give firearms and collisions a realistic feel. Flares can be sparked and held in hand to keep enemies at bay, or you can drop the flare and run like hell. Flare guns can also be used like a rocket launcher, exploding large packs of darkness blighted enemies. Your flashlight will run out of batteries as you use it and you will be forced to find more or be left in the dark, and your ammunition for any firearms you find is finite. There are a few heart in your throat combat moments that I won’t go into detail for fear of spoiling them, but if you win, they are hard earned victories that grant you a sense of accomplishment.

The Signal DLC for Alan Wake was released on July 27th 2010. Players who purchased the Alan Wake game received a code with the game to get it for free… a little present for those willing to spend the cash up front on the game.

The Signal continues the story as Wake takes a trip through his one dark psyche. There are glimpses of the real world that show Wake in the care of Doctor Hartman, who we met in the original six episodes. This lends an sense of reality to the nightmare, but the story itself is a journey of self-exploration through Wake’s mind.

The DLC starts at the Bright Falls diner, a place most players should be familiar with by now, and runs piecemeal through the settings of Bright Falls which we saw in the original episodes. This time however, they are warped and twisted into a dream and house only enemies and ghostly visages of the game’s core characters. This also allows the game to take an interesting twist on the combat, and gives it even creepier environments. Barry returns to help you through this adventure and continues to deliver fantastic lines.

The evolution of the combat really starts with the flashlight. It now has the power to transmute words into the objects they represent whether it be ammunition or fireworks. This adds another level of complexity to the game beyond simply resupplying yourself with ammunition and batteries. You can trigger fireworks in the middle of a large pack of baddies to buy yourself precious running time, or create a distraction big enough so that you can run away. The Signal is very heavily combat oriented, which fits the idea of Wake battling his own personal demons.  This also creates a more difficult game-play. There are copious amounts of ammunition and batteries though, and that allows you to keep things pretty manageable.

This is a great DLC and shows how much can be done with a simple twist to continue a story worthy of the boxed game.

The game doesn’t re-invent survival horror or psychological thrillers by any means, but both the game and its first DLC prove that the genre isn’t dead. It is worth every penny to purchase both the original game and the DLC and you will be very happy with the time invested. Very few games really bring home a cinematic experience, but Alan Wake brings the home box office feel to your home… and your adrenaline will be pumping. Oh, and if you have a surround sound system, I highly suggest using it for this game. You may, however, have to sleep with the lights on for the next few nights.

Filed under: NewsReviewsXbox 360Action

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Buddha's avatar
Buddha 08:37am, 09/15/2010

You forgot to mention my one beef with this game so far… the facial animation sucks!  It’s the one thing that completely takes me out of the experience.  Whenever anyone speaks, their mouth does not move properly with the spoken text and it is distracting as all hell.

malagaj's avatar
malagaj 05:57am, 09/16/2010

Well not everything can be perfect. Still I have to say kudos to the makers of alan wake. They haven’t done THAT many games and they have way too small group of making this game so I hope that counts on something. Plus still waiting for the time I can play this game. T_T

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