I thought it would be a treat to open up the write-up with a comic – even if it only makes sense to those familiar with the game.
Massive thanks and all credit to hatebreeder for supplying the awesome art.
The story is the focus of Alan Wake and that is where the game excels. It’s a thrilling ride, dripping with atmosphere. The characters, with the exception of the plot device wife, are well rounded, likeable and given just enough depth.
The clever and engaging writing is great, in the dialogue (save a few off moments) and even in the ingeniously prophetic manuscript pages. The game is consistently funny, not laugh out loud, but little moments to make you smile, balanced perfectly against the tension and scares.
For all it’s references and inspiration to and from other media there’s nothing quite like Alan Wake in video games. Feel free to correct me with an obscure PC adventure game from the ’90s though.
The tutorial, however, was a misstep for the story and meant that Alan falls into his heroic shooter role all too easily. But the biggest flaw in the plot was the disappointing ending. It’s vague, confusing, unexplained and leaves you with more questions than an episode of Mastermind. Nobody knows what it meant. Although it will at least be interesting to see where they go from there in the free DLC announced for summer.
The episodic structure of the game helps break it up and will fit well for that DLC, but the immersion break doesn’t seem worth it. (The “Previously on Alan Wake” also leads to one particularly glaring flaw late in the game)
Nevertheless, with Alan Wake, Heavy Rain and Mass Effect 2, I have to wonder if 2010 is the year for story in video games.
Fingers crossed for Red Dead Redemption.
The game is densely packed with details (I could write thrice as much about it and I still haven’t seen everything it has to offer) and many references to and similarities with Remedy’s previous games in the Max Payne series. The game takes a cue from Max Payne 2‘s exposition as well. As well as the aforementioned manuscripts, TVs and radios can be found to flesh out the story and characters. A good portion of the gameplay is much like the police station in Max Payne 2, you get to harmlessly wander around and eavesdrop on extra – usually comical – dialogue etc. It’s brilliant.
The focus on story does not just mean lengthy cutscenes – it’s well blended here.
The main gameplay with the exploring and the shooting is enjoyable and designed with variance, despite unvarying foes. Unfortunately, it does get tiresome and repetitive by the third act. It’s also not very accessible and the difficulty spikes. Finding manuscript pages, TVs and radios encourages exploration but unfortunately the coffee thermoses serve no purpose.
Furthermore, the camera is poor in tight spaces and the constant shoulder switching is annoying. The combat can overload you too.
Balancing your nonsensical torch power, your battery supply, your pistol, your two handed weapon, your flare gun, your flares, your flashbangs, your current ammo and total ammo for all of these, your health, leaning on the dodge button while moving, aiming and being flanked by dark enemies in the darkness…Can be a little much.
The original sound track is forgettable, but the licensed music is used well. The sound effects and voice acting are quality, even with Alan Wake’s voice actor doing his best impression of Raphael Sbarge.
The graphics are breathtaking and the lighting effects are possibly the best I’ve seen in a console game. It really needs to be seen in motion – whether it’s running past rustling trees under flowing dark clouds or just marvelling at shadows expanding and contracting with the movement of your torch.
There are curious signs of what Alan Wake used to be, when it was announced five years ago. Hints of the open world game it was going to be. From the lighthouse in the tutorial, to the frequent references to specific times. The game seems like it wouldn’t have been any better for this, but you can’t help but wonder what could have been – more interaction with the towns inhabitants and seeing more places in daylight is an intriguing concept.
Overall, Alan Wake is an experience. One worth your time and attention. It deserves success but given its (expectedly) short length and limited replay value, I can only recommend renting it or waiting for a price drop.