For this week’s Halloween special, we’re taking a look at a game that’s going to be very hard for me to review. We’re looking at Alan Wake.
The reason I say this game is going to be hard for me to review is because I absolutely love it, but I have to be fair as well and that means I can’t just gush over the game. Well, not completely anyway. It’s easily one of my favorite games from the current generation and certainly deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten since its initial release. The game was developed by Remedy Entertainment (the guys behind Max Payne!) and originally released as an XBox360 exclusive in 2010, but came to PC in early 2012.
The game’s format is pretty awesome. It runs like a television series, in the vein of Twin Peaks and just about any Stephen King mini-series, in episodic installments and even has two “specials” which were originally DLC.
Alan Wake is a fairly normal guy. He’s got a lovely wife, he’s a best selling author, and his best friend is his agent. Unfortunately, he gets a serious case of overexposure and it grinds on his nerves. His wife, Alice, decides that he needs to escape from the city life and fame for a while and plans what’s supposed to be a relaxing two week get away for just them in the rural town of Bright Falls, Washington.
Everything’s fine until Alan encounters a strange woman who has the key to their cabin. After this, things start to get weird.
Don’t Turn Out The Lights
One of the game’s unique features is its play on light and dark. If you weren’t afraid of the dark, this game will cement the fear of it into you.
I’ve talked about atmosphere in other reviews, but Alan Wake takes not only the cake, but the cake box and all the candles. Even after I got to a point in the game where I felt comfortable due to my weapons and tools, the game still had me on the edge of my seat every step of the way.
I love collecting things in games, and in Alan Wake one of those things happens to be a set of coffee thermoses. Now, they’re easy enough to spot but a little out of the way, of course. Some require a bit of hunting, which I’m more than willing to do in most cases. The one case, however, where I refused to was when I returned to the diner from earlier in the game. I figured there was something hidden down the hallway where the bathrooms were, but even with a gun and a flash light, I wasn’t about to go down there. It was just too creepy and I got a huge sense of dread just looking at it.
Just a little example of the atmosphere and how well it can grip you.
Another thing to note with the collectibles are the radio and TVs you come across. These enhance the personality of the game’s world a thousandfold. It’s obvious that Remedy put a lot of work into making Bright Falls a living, breathing world, and it shows. Watching episodes of Night Springs is awesome. They’re like little five minute episodes of The Twilight Zone. The radio broadcasts are great as well, giving you a link to the outside work that you feel so isolated and disconnected from. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear a friendly voice after trekking through the forest and fighting Taken for two hours.
Another great example is when you come across a certain house and enter its basement.
Yea, sure, that’s not creepy at all.
Dunno about you, but I’m getting the hell up outta here.
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
One of the things that makes Alan Wake such a unique game is its beautiful, sprawling landscapes and breathtaking visuals. Bright Falls genuinely feels like a real place with real people.
I mean, c’mon, look at this.
It’s gorgeous. Beautiful, mystical, haunting, and if that picture isn’t enough for perspective, let me lay some down for you. See that little wooden tower in the bottom-right corner? That’s where Alan’s standing, and it’s worth taking note, that I had to actually traverse a bit of the visible countryside to get there.
In short, the game looks amazing. That said, the game does have a bit of a well-founded reputation for unsynced lips and dialogue. I didn’t notice it enough to be drawn out of the experience, though.
Through The Darkness It Creeps
I swear, Alan Wake needs to take out a patent on the phrase “total package” because the sound design is every bit as awesome as the visual design.
The guns sound about how you would expect, I mean they’re guns, they’ve been sounding like themselves for nearly 20 years in video games.
The voice acting is great and really helps give each character a unique and definitive personality. Alan can be a moody, volatile bastard, but he also loves his friends and it shows when you can hear the anger or worry in his voice. His wife, Alice, is loving and worries about him, and that shows as well. Alan’s agent, Barry, is a cocky, narcissistic, tubby fellow who puts on a facade of being tougher than he is. Again, the strong voice acting make these traits shine through.
It isn’t just confined to the main characters either, even minor characters show great personality through awesome dialogue and voicing.
Enough about the voice acting for now, though. Let’s talk about the music, enemies, and the Darkness.
The music is as atmospheric as it could possibly be, giving you a sense of dread when enemies are around or elation when you manage to barely make it to a safe spot. It’s very subtle and works wonderfully.
The enemies, or Taken, themselves, while not incredibly visually varied, definitely have their own personalities. Hunters will reference hunting and it’s the same for loggers and miners. They’ll all cough and spurt lines that give you some insight to the life they led while they were alive.
Now the big cheese – the Darkness. No, not the band.
The Darkness is the main baddie of Alan Wake and while you don’t get to see it, you spend a lot of time hearing it. It tears through forests, screaming and howling. It makes unnatural and unearthly sounds that are supremely chilling.
Only In The Light Will You Live
Alan Wake’s combat is definitely something completely out of the ordinary. It isn’t exceedingly deep most of the time, but what it is, is heart-pounding.
I don’t think I got into a single fight, short of one involving me in a jeep and the Taken in a field, where I wasn’t praying, or swearing, under my breath that I had enough battery power to take out the enemies. What’s that? Oh, right. The only way to actually damage enemies in Alan Wake is to shine your flash light on them to cleanse them of the Darkness, and only after doing that are you able to kill them.
Most enemies aren’t too difficult, but in groups of three or more they can become a serious problem. In those cases, you can use flares or a flare gun, which functions like a rocket launcher, to give yourself some breathing room.
Knowing when an enemy is about to finish being cleansed is shown by a thin ring that closes until the Darkness pops and explodes from the enemy.
In some instances you meet some Big Hoss types who take a lot more abuse from the flash light than normal Taken. These guys hit like trucks, which is fine, because during a few of the driving segments, which actually work really damn well, you can run the big bastards over!
Are You Really In Control, Alan?
The controls for Alan Wake are responsive and do a wonderful job of getting you through the intense action sequences. They’re comfortable and just flat out awesome.
The only thing I had an issue with was the dodging, and even then, I’m willing to bet it was because it was somewhat awkward on the PC.
Alan Wake Up!
So, in the end, is Alan Wake worth your time? Ok, we all know I’m going to say “yes.” Pretty dumb question.
Ok, ok. Yes, the game’s definitely deserving of your time. It’s got an amazingly well written story, superb visuals and music, top shelf atmosphere, and some killer fun. It’s got all kinds of twists and turns for psychological thriller fans, and gameplay for people who are leaning a little more towards that.
You can get the entire franchise which is Alan Wake, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, and Alan Wake: Collector’s Edition Extras (developer commentary videos, Illustrated PDF, and the soundtrack) on Steam for $40USD. It even comes with the two DLC specials!
If you’re looking for something to draw you in with an awesome story, amazing scenery, and great gameplay then look no further your quest is over.
Occasionally, you’ll come across some black tar-like spots of Darkness. I have a bad habit of completely clearing them out. One thing I noticed was that when the puddles explode, they turn into what look like torn up pages of a manuscript. Now, if you’ve played the game, you probably understand what I’m getting at here, if not, well, go buy the goddamn game already!
As many twists and bits of craziness as this game has, these only add to the mystery and intrigue. Even more-so when you’ve completed the game and know what’s going on.
That’s all for now.
You folks have fun, take care, and I’ll see you next time.