Alan Wake most certainly places its narrative on the table as the focal point of this thriller (read: not horror, stop calling it that!) experience, but the whole package itself is just so soundly put together from the environments, to the solid voice work, to the angry farm combines. The minor deterrents that took away from my experience might be variable bits of mileage, i.e. many cliche story points from previously experiencing a couple of Stephen King works, so read on to find out if this Xbox 360 exclusive is worth your dime.
Since the story element is the focal point of Alan Wake, I’m sure it would be fair to make it the first point to touch upon in this review. Heavily, heavily inspired by Stephen King and Twin Peaks, you are put in the shoes of Alan Wake, a best-selling author who’s experiencing a lengthy spot of writer’s block. Alan and his wife, Alice, decide to take a vacation to the very small town, Bright Falls, in an attempt to find inspiration to continue with his craft. When Alan’s wife is captured by the darkness, Alan Wake’s real journey begins as the pages he himself has written begin to come to life before his very eyes while trying to rescue Alice. The story has some twists and unsure areas where you will want to know what’s really going on, which will propel you to want to learn the true story behind everything.
Unfortunately for me – most of it was less of a surprise and more of something I’ve seen before. Alan Wake’s plot shouldn’t be said to be “inspired” by Stephen King and Twin Peaks, but almost completely strewn from. A ton of plot “twists” for me were let downs and because I had seen the same exact twists and “surprises” in other Stephen King movies or stories. Luckily, Alan Wake’s story plays out in an extremely enjoyable episodic format. Each chapter opens with a “Previously on Alan Wake” recap just as you’d expect from a weekly TV show – sans the week-long, nail-biting wait – and concludes with an ending theme song unique to each chapter of the game. This really helps to pace the story well, and if anything, it’s just an enjoyable form of presentation. Despite the story throughout the journey for me being fairly predictable, the ending leaves an interesting and unsure feeling of how to take in everything you just witnessed. Once the credits roll as well, a line will roll across your screen at the end from Remedy that clearly lets you know: There WILL be a sequel. From what I’ve heard already – the storyline has already been whipped together for the sequel! Even though I was able to predict the plot elements, the ending was still… interesting, if anything, and left me wanting to know where things will go from there. DLC is already planned to further the story post-ending.
The graphics are as clean and polished as could be, with not a graphical bug in sight, but don’t expect to see anything above and beyond what you’ve experienced thus far with the Xbox 360. And I’m definitely sure that was exactly what the developers at Remedy intended. In an effort to not distract you with over-the-top visuals, Alan Wake brings you something else to immerse and lose yourself in. What Alan Wake comes dressed to impress with above everything else is a truly living, breathing environment. This is certainly the most stunning element of Alan Wake, or actually I might even classify the environment as a character in its very self. Alan Wake’s environment, from start to finish, is alive. So alive that I found myself becoming as delusional and paranoid as Alan Wake might be as I fell deeper into the story’s woven path. The sounds are so real; the animations hardly feel like “animations” but real forest-like movements. Everything is very much in place between the dark, foreboding trees you will become rather acquainted with throughout your experience.
The biggest part of the world and environment of Alan Wake is the role of light. The beginning of chapters will start you off in the safety of light, because light will always be your safe haven. Expect to quickly transition into the madness of the afterhours, with nicely-crafted lighting elements throughout. Your flashlight, flares, flash bangs and flare guns will be your way to shine the darkness off of the enemies before you can wreak havoc upon them with firearms. Once you burn away the darkness, you’ll use the various guns you find such as a shotgun, a hunting rifle and a, uh, revolver. All of these guns are the most criminally slow reloading weapons the developers could have possibly given you, so expect to get a little anxious at times when nine shadowy hillbillies with axes are storming your way, as there’s also no melee ability for some odd reason. They probably wanted to increase the tense anxiety given to players but with the slow reload times it would have been nice to have some kind of fist or item melee ability in the least, so you don’t feel cheap when tossing a flash bang to get out of fighting a mob. Oh and also expect possessed farm equipment, cars, or train parts to be launched at your head. Enjoy the dodge button, it’s great for enemies, but a little head tuck hardly spans the width of a flying train, so be good to those flare guns, they will be your lord and savior at times like those.
I have three gripes with these darkness-encrusted hillbilly enemies that you need know of – one, they get repetitive and boring as heck just fighting the same enemies over and over for a solid 10-12 hours. Which leads me to two, they’re all male hillbillies! The small town of Bright Falls had plenty of ladies lined up for… Deerfest… Can we have some representation here!? And lastly, roaming the trails in the forest definitely lose the eerie factor when every time a group of enemies appear you are given a visual cue where you are literally shown where every spot that each enemy has appeared in. Now I’m not saying Alan Wake should be scary, it would surely take away from the way the story is laid out for the player, it’s a clear cut thriller. Some people are calling it a horror game, but I don’t want anyone to go into this game thinking that they’ll be terrified. Anxious, maybe, because of slow-reloading, old-fashioned weapons and the shadowy hillbilly brigade.
Worth mentioning of course is the real quality of the music sprinkled throughout the game, as well as the eerie sound effects of the world you explore. Environments are nicely crafted but expect to be familiarized with it quickly, as you spend a loooot of time in that there unfriendly forest. Voice acting is for almost all characters full of talent that is helpful is enjoying the ride of the story, except Barry and his movie-scripted unrealistic New York accent – Can we do away with these already!
For those of you that are collectible fiends, you’re definitely covered, even though it felt kind of random. There are 100 coffee thermoses, for some odd reason, scattered throughout the world for collection sake that you’ll find yourself easily risking your life over. There are also manuscript pages to collect, which are little extra story tidbits narrated to you by Wake from his novel work. Lastly you’ll also come across some radios that will give you a little Bright Falls culture immersion and better yet, an interesting TV show that parodies The Twilight Zone to a tee called Night Springs to find on various TV sets in the world. The show is worth watching and enjoyable every time you come across it, I just wish you could full screen it when you come across them because seeing it on a little TV screen … on your TV screen kind of takes away from fully enjoying the genius of it.
Alan Wake will easily make you a bit anxious, or crazy and paranoid at times with axe-laden shadows bursting through doorways or coming out of the ground, though it keeps away the scares by giving you plenty of visual warnings. What I’m really happy to say about Alan Wake is that, in my experience at least, it was completely flawless in terms of bugs or graphical mistakes, so there was little to disjoint my experience aside from the plot itself, which as I said earlier I found predictable since I’ve experienced several Stephen King works with some of the exact same story elements. It’s definitely not a horror game, and it wasn’t intended to be, it truly lives up to the thriller genre it’s billed as and the role that light plays throughout the game makes it for a really unique experience worth experiencing. You’ll likely get all the experience in one go, but if you’re willing to take it to the next level on the Nightmare difficulty there will be tasty new manuscript pages to be found along the way that are only discoverable on that difficulty.
|Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: May 18, 2010
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
|Doin’ It RIGHT:
- Environment feels TRULY alive.
- Lighting system is the best you’ve seen yet, and uses the system very uniquely.
- High quality voice acting from the main cast.
|Doin’ It RONG:
- Repetitive enemies.
- Should have melee opportunities.
- A lot of super cliche plot points.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5 / 10