Alan Wake – Review
Written by Karl Carpenter.
Almost five years ago I saw the original trailer at E3 2005 and thought to myself, wow. I placed my pre-order immediately. Over those five years Alan Wake has changed in many ways. So, I hear you asking, what the Alan of 2010 is like? Through its development cycle I kept close tabs on progression and changes, always remaining happy that, in the hands of Remedy, the game would be taken in the right direction. So, cue May 2010, and my pre-order had finally matured and arrived at my door.
Alan Wake is categorised as a Psychological Action Thriller, taking influences from many authors and television series such as Stephen King, Twin Peaks as well as the occasional poke from Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone. Sometimes these influences are discreet, while at other times they are overtly spelt out to the nth degree, even going so far as quoting the author. These quotations come via the form of the narrator – only Alan is narrating his own life. This becomes a distraction at times but, for the most part, aids and gives clarification to the plot, as well as giving pointers as to where you should be looking.
Alan is a very popular writer; his fame comparative to a Hollywood B list celebrity (that’s not quite as famous as Brad Pitt, but more famous than Katie Price). Alan seems to be under immense pressure to perform as a writer, and this is reflected in his moody, snappy character. Alan hasn’t released a novel in a long time and it’s feared he has lost it – whatever “It” may be. The story follows Alan as he has been whisked away for a relaxing break in Brightfalls, a rural town in the hills of North America, in attempt to get his creative juices flowing. He is accompanied on this trip with wife Alice. However, this picturesque town holds a deep, dark secret; one that will affect Alan’s stay at Brightfalls and gives the premise for his next works.
It’s not too long before you encounter your enemy; a darkness that overpowers and controls anything it comes into contact with. The darkness has taken Alice to the depths of a lake. Alan wakes (no pun intended) and he cannot remember writing a manuscript, but the pages he is finding reflect his work. Alan will realise the pages of his manuscript are becoming reality. You are soon accompanied by Barry, Alan’s over-exuberant agent whom is fat but funny at times. Barry is the comic relief to Alan’s unlikeable character, and the duo balance out quite well.
For the most the setting is forestry, and sometimes this becomes a little samey. However the game is set in a mountainous small village, so what can really be expected? Forestry is broken up with several areas of the town which all resemble those towns that most have only seen in Hollywood films or documentaries. The type of town that hasn’t moved on from the 1950s, but is happy remaining in its backward state. You sometimes see the throwback that was the sandbox before this, seeing how the game could have been huge but, for the most, the linear format helps build the atmosphere that this game is so very good at creating, and this would have been lost if the game remained sandbox.
While graphics are not comparative to most blockbuster games that are being released at the moment, they are by no means shabby or lower end. If the general graphics are a disappointment, then lighting effects more than make up for this as they simply amaze. Light is an integral part of game play as you cannot simply shoot at a darkness possessed enemy named a ‘Taken’. The ‘Taken’ are various towns folk that the darkness has affected and come in various shapes and sizes, but always with the same darkened appearance.
Alan carries a torch that you use to drain the darkness from the ‘Taken’, allowing to finish the enemy with a pistol etc. The torch has two settings, normal which is basically pointless, or high power, the real means to drain the darkness, although this setting consumes batteries at a much higher rate.
As the torch does not have an omnipresent power source, you have to collect batteries to power the torch and ensure you don’t waste all the power before suppressing the ‘Taken’. The in-your-face advertising for the type of batteries is a real gripe as it takes away from what should be a mundane task.
The torch is not the only source of light throughout your time in Brightfalls . There are many means from high voltage generator powered lights, known as safe havens, to flare guns. Flare guns are by far the most spectacular of light driven events, killing the ‘Taken’ hit by the projectile and those within the general vicinity outright. These kills are made all the more spectacular as the game determines certain moments are worthy of a slow motion. These events look rather amazing, however sometimes, as you find yourself ducking and dodging ‘Taken’ in a desperate dash to escape, the constant slow motion triggered by the escapes gete rather frustrating, adding to the built tension of trying to get to a safe haven.
As mentioned previously, the darkness does not only possess the human form. Any object can become a poltergeist. From drainage pipes to JCB’s and from freezers to birds, the darkness posses them all. You do not have top waste ammunition on these objects as light will suffice. A well placed flare will protect you from the onslaught as you duck and dodge out of harms way, or a well placed powerful beam of light to an attacking flock of birds soon shuts them up.
The game is very story driven, and it engrosses you within. Most games of this generation can only dream of captivating the player with its story rather than captivating them with the generic shooting person x in the face x amount of times with no real plot or reason for doing so. I do not want to go into the story in any depth as even the slightest hint may spoil it for you. It is simply a story that does the game justice with the episodic chapters a bonus and it really feels like a TV show with high production values such as Lost (although I didn’t get on with that show). It gives the option of breaking the game up into manageable chunks but, if you are like me and are a box set session kind of guy, you’re not punished for this. All I will say about the story is that some of the collectibles can sometimes spoil a certain scene, so I suggest avoiding reading them until the completion of the game, otherwise you may know what’s coming.
The major downside to the telling of the story is that FMV characters seem to jerk and lip syncing is out. I have no idea as to why this would happen and my only possible explanation is that the scenes had to be compressed so much to fit on the disk that it threw everything out. Maybe we are finally seeing the size limitations of the DVD on the 360
The story is aided by the absolutely awesome atmospheric audio, adding so much depth to the game with what must be the most apt soundtrack in a videogame to date. (A personal favourite track is “War” by Poets of the Fall – give it a listen.) Playing the game through a standard TV speaker is fine. But my suggestion is wait until its dark, draw the curtains, switch off the lights and either put on a good set of headphones or turn up the surround sound. The game’s audio will get you questioning if you’ve locked the back door as you don’t want the bogey man getting in – it’s that powerful.
Give the game the respect it deserves and you will reap the benefits. Fly through it as if it’s the latest Call of Duty, not taking in the surroundings and the atmosphere, and this game will not tick the boxes for you. If you aren’t interested in storylines and white knuckle gaming, then this title isn’t for you. But if you want a throwback to when survival horror was survival horror and not another unelaborated shooter, then this game is for you. Remedy has yet to disappoint me as Alan Wake is amongst the best games I have experienced on this generation of consoles. Five years in the making, and worth almost every minute.