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Posted on: May 05, 2010

Alan Wake

WORDS BY: Francesca Reyes

You can approach this axe-wielding, boogeyman-dodging thriller in two ways: as a literate, sophisticated mystery told in the form of a videogame, or as a frantic, pulse-pounding actioner about rationing ammo and light sources. The two paths sometimes cross with great effect, but in a game that’s all about balance — light and dark, choice and fate, literal and figurative — for one of them to succeed, the other has to stumble a bit.

First, meet Alan Wake. A wildly successful fiction writer with a penchant for dipping into darker territory like crime novels, Alan’s also madly in love with his wife, Alice — even if he’s sometimes too big of a crank to show it with any consistency. With Alan facing a bout of writer’s block, the couple toodle off to the scenic smalltown-ville of Bright Falls to take a break; and maybe in the meantime, the author can get his money-making, novel-penning mojo back as well. Bonus.

Naturally, their best-laid plans go crazy-wrong. Alice vanishes under what can only be described as very mysterious circumstances, and Alan blacks out, only to wake up in a wrecked car several days later. What happened? Where’s Alice? And why the hell are black-cloaked lumberjacks trying to decapitate you in Bright Falls’ forest at night? Oh, and could someone please explain why pages of a manuscript you don’t remember writing are scattered across town…and even worse, why the events covered therein are coming true?

If it all seems strangely familiar, we can see why. Pop-culture-y, psycho-thriller flicks like Flatliners and Jacob’s Ladder have explored plot-twisty, “Is it all a dream?” terrain like this before, so it’s to developer Remedy’s credit that their immensely talented writers do the exact opposite of phoning it in. Alan Wake goes deep into surprisingly literary territory, pulling from a dizzying grab bag of influences: David Lynch’s cinematic dream-logic, Mark Z. Danielewski’s meta-meta House of Leaves, the brain-teasing TV series Twilight Zone, and even…wait for it…a little Faust? Wake lovingly wears its references on its sleeve, but it ends up delivering a slam-bang stunner of a tale that’s compelling yet deliciously original. It’s also a clever and exacting mystery that’s as much about the craft of writing as it is about…well, whatever you want to read into it.

In Alan Wake’s dreamworld, there are no red herrings. Nothing’s left to chance — only interpretation. From every poster in town to the very specific licensed songs that cap each in-game “episode” to the choice of words in Alan’s voice-over narrations, Remedy leaves you very deliberate, very purposeful clues for unraveling the question at the heart of Alan’s dark, sometimes comical (yes, it’s really funny in parts!) fairy tale.

But games aren’t books or movies. They’re not static; they’re packed full of movement, interaction, and player involvement. And Alan Wake delivers a heavy helping of breathless, sweaty-palmed thrills that leave you fumbling to reload flare guns and flashlight batteries between mad dashes from faulty light source to light source. Using light to banish darkness-tainted enemies, called Taken, works two ways: Daylight and any area bathed in light keep them at bay, and so does your trusty flashlight, whose blazing beam you’ll need to focus on Taken to “burn” the darkness off of them. Until you do this, they’re invulnerable. The same applies to pretty much any of the inanimate objects that become possessed by darkness (Wake calls it the Dark Presence): you’ll have to hold back lunging barrels and airborne cars with only a flashlight.

COMMENTS:

I also sense a bit of "In the Mouth of Madness". Which I always thought needed a vidja game.

Cool, I look forward to playing it.

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