Developer: Remedy Entertainment | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios | Release Date: 2010 | Genre: 3rd Person Action / Adventure | Website: Official Website | Purchase: N/A
Bright Falls, Washington is an idyllic little town on the Northern Pacific Coast. It is to this tranquil setting that author, Alan Wake is dragged by his wife in the hope of helping him with his writer’s block. Alan has written a few bestsellers in his time, but in the two years since his last book hasn’t managed to pen a word. With his marriage on shaky ground and pressure mounting to write another book Alan agrees to the vacation, but what he finds in Bright Falls is not what he expected.
Alan Wake is a very hard game to review, not because it’s bad, but because the story is integral to the gameplay. Brought to us by the talented folks at Remedy, makers of the Max Payne series, this game was five years in the making and had a lot of expectations riding on it. Taking the form of a third person action thriller you get to see the nightmarish events in Bright Falls unfold. Initially everything is fine and the town seems just like any other, with locals that are excited about the upcoming “Deerfest” and impressed by the famous writer that has arrived. In the dark, the town takes on a whole new character and while its not as dramatic a shift as something like Silent Hill it is still a startling transformation.
The game is split into six “episodes” and each has a day and night cycle. The day parts give you a chance to catch your breath and watch as the plot unfolds while the nights are filled with action and terror. Alan’s wife is seemingly kidnapped shortly after they make themselves at home in their new cabin on the lake. Alan sets off in pursuit, but wakes up a week later with no recollection of what happened in the meantime and scattered pages of a manuscript all over the place. These pages detail the events that took place and even ones yet to happen, but Allan has no memory of ever writing them. These manuscripts have been a source of controversy as some people feel they spoil the suspense by revealing too much. I found them to be fascinating and blundered off into the darkness on many occasions to make sure a flash of whiteness in the distance wasn’t a page. More often than not this led me straight into the clutches of the “Taken.” These wretched souls serve as the main enemies in the game and while they were once human they are now filled with darkness and shrouded by shadows. Fortunately Alan has the foresight to carry flashlights or lanterns with him at all times and these can be used to “burn” the shadows away making the Taken vulnerable to conventional weapons.
This can lead to some tense situations where you have to not only reload your gun but flashlight as well during battles. Enemies wield axes, hammers, chainsaws and other unpleasant instruments so allowing them get up close is not a good idea. At times I found myself sprinting to the nearest light source like a moth to a flame just to escape the onslaught. Light acts as a safe haven, but Alan is not very fit and the game sometimes cruelly snatches away the light when you reach it which results in even more tense situations. Running through a dark forest, at night while being pursued by armed assailants spouting gibberish is tense, no matter what other people might try to convince you.
While very linear the town of Bright Falls and its surroundings are quite big and you always have the sense of vastness. The free roaming aspect has been axed in favour of plot and pacing, but this didn’t feel like too much of an issue to me. The feeling of seeing your destination far off in the distance and knowing you have about an hour of running, dodging and swerving before you reach it is quite cool. The story is rounded out by some memorable characters like Barry, Alans editor and friend who comes down to help but is as ill equipped for the situation as can be. The sections where Barry joins you are quite funny and ads a bit of comic relief to things. Occasionally you also get to hop in a car and go for a joyride making the Taken easy targets when caught in your headlights. Relish these encounters as the tables can quickly turn and all I’ll say is that heavy vehicles and machinery make for formidable foes. You’ll visit plenty of locations like a trailer park, old coal mine, lake and even abandoned town, but take your time to explore and soak it all in as you only get one chance to experience the mystery of the plot. You’ll play through it again for the achievements, but it will never be the same as the first time.
The visuals in Alan Wake is outstanding and the attention to detail immaculate. The contrast between day and night is startling and makes the locations previously seen in light look even more menacing in the dark. Scattered throughout the game are radios and televisions that give you deeper insights or just plain creep you out. “Night Springs” is a recurring television series you’ll find when switching on TVs and it shares a lot of similarities with the “Outer Limits” and “Twilight Zone.” The game itself plays like a tv show and each “episode” offers about two hours of playtime. The “Previously On Alan Wake” segments at the start of each episode gives a nice recap and the cliff-hanger endings will entice you to keep on playing. The audio is very good and the game features a couple of songs by artists like David Bowie, Poe, Roy Orbison and Poets of The Fall that fit it like a glove. The sound effects are sure to creep you out if you play the game at night with the volume on high. The voice acting is also pretty good, but there’s plenty of complaints about the lip syncing. Considering the game was made by a Finnish team I’m willing to overlook this.
Alan Wake isn’t as original or groundbreaking as Max Payne was, but it’s still a damn good game. The character models might not be state of the art but the animations are top notch and the environments superb. Using light as a weapon and battling foes using things like flare guns and flash bangs is also a novel experience. I was also glad to see the complete absence of quick time events and the controls were spot on. Achievement hunters will find a lot to aim for as the game is packed with collectibles
Playing through the game was an engrossing and entertaining experience. New episodes in the form of DLC has been made available and we will definitely be checking them out to. Alan Wakes story might become a bit too tangled for those that dislike complicated plots but that’s their loss. I was hoping for a few more puzzles to round out the running and killing, but this was not to be. PC owners with no access to an Xbox 360 has every right to be upset about the loss of this game. (Alan Wake has since made its PC debut -Ed.)
*Review originally published in 2010.