Let me start this review by first stating that to the best of my knoweldge, I am fully awake right now, and not under the influence of any supernatural forces. Though if I were possessed, chances are that I’d have no clue, and therefore, neither would any of you.
Anyway, this review is written by someone who has never played a full game of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or any survival horror based game for that matter. So if that’s a turn off for you, I suggest you start hauling ass in the other direction. The truth is, the idea of pacing around in the dark while waiting for something to pop out and attack/scare you over and over again, never really appealed to me as a gamer — at least not enough to buy or rent any of those titles at the time of their release. Now, that’s not to say they were bad, I simply occupied my time with other games, and never really felt like I was missing out by not playing them.
In comes Alan Wake, after a five year long wait surrounded by more hype than an NFL Favre Watch initiated by Justin Bieber while on set the set of a new Twilight film. You might say that my willingness to purchase Alan Wake has to do with a change in my gaming taste over the years, or that I gave in to the hype surrounding it. Regardless, Alan and I were about to embark on a very personal journey together. “Be gentle,” I said as I looked into his eyes. “It’s my first time.” He of course shined a flashlight in my face and said “Stop acting like a little bitch. Let’s get going.”
[click here to pick up and read a missing manuscript page]
Alan Wake asks you to play the role of an extremely well known writer (named Alan Wake) who is suffering from a severe case of writers block. The game starts with you and your wife making your way to a small town in the mountains for what you initially believe to be a couples getaway. Secretly though, your wife had arranged the trip with hopes that escaping the city for a brief stint in a more peaceful setting would help you get your creative juices flowing again. In other words (sing it with me):
“When the typewriter “chings” we can buy more things. So unblock your brain before our pockets drain.”
Unfortunately, when your wife suddenly takes a dive into the lake from the second floor cabin window, you jump in to save her with less than stellar results. The next thing you know, you are waking up at the wheel of a broken down car in the middle of the woods. You realize that several days have passed, but you have no recollection of what you did during them, or how you ended up in your current location. The rest of the game is spent running around in the woods and talking to various town folk with the hopes of piecing together what happened.
Your time spent traversing through the wilderness (or anywhere after sundown for that matter) requires you to almost always have a source of light near by, because Alan Wake features a whole host of shadowy things that go bump in the night, and none of them take kindly to light. However, in most cases, the light alone won’t kill your source of bodily harm, and for that reason, I’ve broken the game’s arsenal down into three categories; “flash” (weakens them),”thrash” (finishes them), and “mash” (saves time by doing both at once). The “flash” grouping consists of various types of light sources like flash lights, flares, flood lights, and even vehicle headlights. The “thrash” ensemble is a little less diverse, but offers up a shotgun, hunting rifle, and revolver to help even the odds when things get out of hand. Last but not least, we have “mash” — both the flare gun and flash grenade combine light and firepower for a powerful result that often finishes off whatever ails you.
Alan Wake’s controls, gameplay mechanics, and enemy AI are solid. The third person shooting dynamic is smooth with a mild auto assist feature that works the way you’d hope in most cases. There are times when you find yourself trying to target a canister of explosive gas only to have it select the nearby villain instead, but it otherwise does the job well, allowing you to focus more on running for your life and less on targeting baddies.
And while we’re conveniently on the topic of running, Alan Wake has got to be the most out-of-shape healthy looking guy you’ll ever see. The man can’t run for more than what seems to be ten yards at a time. The logic behind this mechanic is understandable, in that you don’t want the game’s main character to be able to sprint away from every scenario — especially when you factor in the slowing effect flares have on your enemies. However, there are times where you are simply trying to get from point A to point B with no adversarial pursuit, and it’s at these moments when Alan’s lack of stamina really kicks your ass.
The overall game play and platforming (if you want to call it that) in Alan Wake is fairly linear when you get down to it, though I found that the designers did an outstanding job of minimizing the obviousness of it all. In fact, the game feels far more open and explorable than the most recent Final Fantasy XIII release. Part of that could be attributed to the overall darkness of the game, but the other aspect I believe helps make things feel more open is the lack of an on-screen mini map. The yellow dot does clue you in on the general direction you want to be heading, however when compared to the mini map used in FFXIII it is far less detailed and segmented.
In terms of classic style “end level boss fights”, Alan Wake does it’s best to accommodate. Though as you’ll hear me say a few times in this review, the designers are limited by the constraints of the story. Varied locations are used to their fullest when presenting new enemy types and scenarios, and you’ll walk away from the game feeling like the makers really did try to throw as much at you as possible, while staying true to their initial vision. But in the end, you might ask yourself (as I did) what the game might have looked like with a slightly broader vision and approach to the shadow entities.
[click here to pick up and read a missing manuscript page]
Fans of in-game extras and collectible nicknacks won’t be disappointed, as Alan Wake has got a few things to keep you busy along the way. Notable extras include entertaining radio segments, television shows, thermos collecting, and pyramid can shooting, but the most important things you can pick up along the way are missing manuscript pages. These not only act as achievement fodder, but also reveal key plot elements that you would otherwise be oblivious to. Now, this could have been seen as potentially bothersome for someone who wanted to know everything without having to chase them down, but the story does a decent job of explaining their existence, so you’ll just have to suck it up and seek them out in the name of sticking to the script.
The environments in Wake are rich in detail and diverse while still remaining true to the blue collar reality of the small town setting you find yourself in. The game at times makes you feel like John Rambo running for your life through a maze of trees, as blue and red police lights pierce the forest. Other moments make you feel as if you are trapped in a Friday the 13th sequel that Jason Voorhees boycotted. In other words, the game benefits from a a well executed backdrop, but lacks the extra layer of suspense you’d get from the addition of an iconic “franchise quality” villain.
Alan Wake’s musical score, sound effects, and voice acting were top notch from beginning to end. The character assortment was colorful and believable enough, with dialog that helps revive your interest in the game after repeated exposure to shadowy villain laden trails all but diminish it at times. The game is purposely void of almost all musical accompaniment during actual game play segments to help build suspense. However, when the game does make use of music during episodic intros, segues, and cinematic sequences, you’ll find it a fitting compliment.
Despite desperately wanting to feel for Alan Wake, the more I learned about him, the less I liked him as a person — fictional or not. This made it hard to relate to him, let alone sympathize for him and the loss of his wife. Alan, through the use of flash backs and other reveals, eventually came across to me as a rich city snob who lacked appreciation for his wife until she vanished. And in many ways, his relentless search to find her seemed driven more by guilt than anything else.
The climax of Alan Wake was confusing at worst and unsatisfying at best. In fact, the episodic delivery of the game left me feeling much like a dedicated fan of a television series might feel if their favorite show’s series finale ended with more questions than answers. The kind of ending that requires you to buy the series box set for additional information that wasn’t in the finale — or in this case the DLC soon to follow.
I’m sure there will be a slew of gamers out there who have already begun to formulate theories surrounding it, and for that reason, I will simply leave things at this:
Alan Wake is graphically superb survival horror game with excellent controls. While it shines in many areas (both literally and figuratively), it suffers from a somewhat unavoidable drab selection of baddies and a plot twist that is very much hit or miss. If you believe that you can live with the game’s aforementioned downfalls, Alan Wake is certainly worth an addition to your video game library. If not, go ahead and give it a rental first. Either way, the game is definitely worth playing.
[click here to pick up and read the final missing manuscript page]
Alan Wake was developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360 and PC. The game released in the United States on May 18th with a retail price of $59.00 USD. The copy used in this review was for the Xbox 360 and purchased by Ripten. The game was played to completion on normal difficulty mode for the purpose of this review.