Alan Wake Special One: The Signal
Developer: Remedy Entertainment | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios | Release Date: 2010 | Genre: 3rd Person Action / Adventure | Website: Official Website
If you have not yet played and completed Alan Wake, then stop reading this review and go do so immediately. It’s impossible to talk about this first DLC episode for the game without giving away anything about the original plot.
If you are still reading then congratulations, you’ve played and completed one of the best titles on the Xbox 360 (or you haven’t and you are just determined to spoil the game for yourself.) Either way, the conclusion to Alan Wake left a lot of unanswered questions and I was eager to find out if “The Signal” would provide some answers. If you live in a country where Xbox Live is officially supported and you bought the game new, then you will get the chance to find out yourself using the free DLC code. If not, it will be 560 MS Points (at the time of writing) which isn’t too bad considering you get a whole new episode.
The game picks up straight where the last episode ended and as expected you get a quick recap before being thrown into the game proper. If you thought Alan Wake was going off the deep end in the main game, then in this episode you’ll find him splashing around without a life jacket. Without the purpose of rescuing his wife, Alan is left floundering around in darkness and a part of him wants to give up the fight. Help is at hand in the form of Thomas Zane, who urges the tormented writer to follow his signal in order to prevent a slow descent into madness. Alan’s already not so cheerful disposition has worsened however, which won’t endear him to players who already found him to be surly and unlikable in the main game.
The Signal takes place in a Bright Falls that has dropped all pretensions of reality. The locations are the same, but twisted by Alan’s disturbed imagination. This means familiar areas often combine in strange ways and there’s no logical progression through them anymore. The pacing feels a bit off however, and the combat sections rarely take a breather for a story section. Instead, you are left fending off hordes of Taken with little respite and even less ammunition. Allan hasn’t learned any new moves and his fitness levels haven’t increased one bit from his late night forest jogs. This, coupled with the increased difficulty and emphasis on combat, can make the game feel more frustrating and less rewarding at times.
More use has been made of the floating words encountered towards the end of the main game and the landscape is now littered with them. By shining the flashlight on these words they are given form so “tools” will turn into battered and flares dropping from the sky. It’s a bit more tedious than simply collecting the stuff from supply caches, but paves the way for one new gimmick. “Bad” words can now also be found strewn about and illuminating one of these can result in a mob of monsters turning up to whack Allen around like a piñata. The upside is that words like “Boom” and “Flash” can be activated to help you out in a tough spot. There are no manuscript pages, but upcoming events are still revealed via television sets. Like in real life, these are never good news. Collectors can still hunt for objects, this time in the form of clocks and cardboard character stands.
Weighing in at about ninety minutes, this episode never overstays its welcome, but by the time that the credits scroll by, not a lot of questions has been answered. More of Alan’s character flaws is revealed during the course of the game, but the story feels more like it is progressing sideways and not forward. If you enjoyed the action more than the story in Alan Wake then this special episode will thrill you. If, however, all that running and gunning was just to get to the next startling revelation, then “The Signal” will be disappointing. There are a few new ideas but for the next episode some answers will be appreciated.
*Game originally reviewed in 2009. There is a “Collector’s Edition” version of the game that is now available which contains the game and both DLC episodes.*