Alan Wake Review

  • Platform: Xbox 360, PC
  • Developer: Remedy Entertainment
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Release Date: May 18, 2010
  • Price: $19.99
  • Official: Alan Wake

“Buy this game, give me a sequel!”

You read that line up there? Its not some cool tagline explaining this game, its not a failed attempt at a witty remark, oh no, this is my demand! My hopes and dreams for all the world to see! That’s me begging! Alan Wake was originally announced way back in 2005, but it would not see the light of day until 2010. Remedy Entertainment, known for the original Max Payne and its sequel, would eventually throw away all of the work they had completed for Alan Wake and start from scratch. Leaving behind the open sandbox nature of its original incarnation, the game would become a much more story focused and linear experience, but one that is still a great experience. I want my damn sequel…at least real sequel, although American Nightmare was good too.

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Alan Wake was a much talked about title before its release, being one of the more exciting Microsoft published projects at the time, but Remedy Entertainment fell victim to awful timing. The 2010 release date of May 18th would come and be known to gamers not as the day Alan Wake was finally made available after six years of development hell, but as the day Rockstar Games released another massive juggernaut upon the gaming world: Red Dead Redemption. RDR came out of nowhere to most and blew people away, deservedly so, but it is a shame Remedy Entertainment had to take the blow.

Alan Wake takes the writing of Stephen King, the bizarre world of Twin Peaks, and the style and flair of Remedy Entertainment, and combines them all into a unique action thriller. Being a fan of all three, this game holds a special place in my heart, in fact its one of my favorites of this generation, right next to Dead Space and its arch nemesis, Red Dead Redemption.

Alan Wake is a third person title that takes place in the small fictional city of Bright Falls, Washington. Wake and his wife Alice are vacationing to this beautiful mountain retreat so that he can get away from his work and the stresses of the big city. Alan is a popular suspense writer but he has been suffering from a two year writers block, a problem that is beginning to add strain to his relationships. Unknown to Wake his problems are about to become much more serious than being unable to finish a novel. Alan’s wife Alice goes missing, the town is threatened by a mysterious darkness, and the events of a book he can’t recall writing are coming to pass.

The beginning of the game does a solid job allowing players to form a connection to Wakes wife, Alice. This is a women that truly loves Alan, and wants the best for him, but his issues and distance are beginning to be too much for her. Seeing this bond in the early stages of this title is critical, it makes her departure and the earnest fear Wake has for her much more believable and relatable. You as the player wish to find her alive and unharmed just as much as Wake, and the flashbacks that pepper the rest of the experience continue to flesh out their relationship.

The rest of the game is a tense filled journey into darkness as both the player and Alan attempt to uncover the mystery of Bright Falls. What dark history does this small town hide? Why are there creatures in the darkness? And what is this novel that Wake doesn’t remember writing?

As you begin venturing into the dark forests of this Washington town you will discover manuscripts written by Wake himself. These pages are perfectly voice acted, as is the rest of the game, and they provide hints as to events that have yet to unfold. In the early parts you will find one such page that explains the arrival of a madman with a chainsaw, shortly after Wake runs into such a man. These pages provide players with both back story and the ability to prepare for the future.

I try to stay away from even minor story spoilers in my reviews, so to sum it up, Alan Wake’s story is fantastic. This tale has exactly the right amount of realism, the bizarre, intensity, and heart. As for gameplay, that is pretty intense as well. The majority of this title has its feet in old horror mechanics. Wake is always outnumbered, most events take place in the dark, and you often times wish you had just a little more ammunition. The isolated treks through tall forests, claustrophobic cave systems, and torn apart buildings is always harrowing and you always feel you are in constant danger.

The one mechanic that truly sets Alan Wake apart from its contemporaries however is its light system. The enemies in this game are touched by true darkness, thus any form of light is hazardous to their health. This means throughout your quest you must make sure you have enough batteries to power Wakes flashlight, and then you must burn the filth off of the creatures that wan’t you dead, before you finish them off with rounds from your gun.

This light system also forms the base of Alan Wakes save system. When you are wandering the wilderness alone in the dark, you will often times find generators that you will have to turn on, thus starting up a light nearby. Standing within this light will mean initiating a checkpoint and saving your progress, as well as banishing away any nearby enemies. This system is used quite well and in itself will lead to many intense situations. Often times you will be forced to kickstart a generator while there are enemies attacking you, or you may see a small distant bulb and make a run for it after you fired your last round.

Since Wake is just a normal man, he doesn’t have expert use of firearms and he cannot run without becoming tired. Throughout the game you only have a short burst of stamina before you will begin to jog and then have to stop running altogether. This makes the times you must retreat extra suspenseful and those blips of light extra heavenly. This aspect of the game could be extremely frustrating and problematic however, if it were not so perfectly balanced with the dodge system.

When enemies or objects take a swipe at Wake, and you time your counter correctly, he will duck and run, just narrowly avoiding the ax or saw, and in awesome slow motion. During this event the camera will pan around the action showing you just how close you came to defeat and calling back to Remedy’s Max Payne series. These mini moments are complemented well with several larger set pieces sprinkled across the game. Music and sound are used to perfection within this game and they help create experiences that you will recall years later as some true standouts in gaming.

The world of Alan Wake is brought to life perfectly by the talented folks at Remedy. While the graphics and animations are well and good, its the lighting and attention to detail that are the high water marks here. The use of shadows and light are handled perfectly and look fantastic, but its the small touches that helped make Max Payne such a hit that do the same for Wake. The town of Bright Falls feels like a living breathing place, with historical landmarks and hiking trails that have plaques that you can read and give further insight into this unknown town. Radio’s in the environment can be turned on and listened to, even television sets can be switched on and you can watch episodes of Night Springs, Wakes version of The Twilight Zone. These smart touches help to immerse you in this world and further heighten the sense of peril.

Alan Wake is broken down into six episodes, each with their own credit sequence, ending song, and even a previously on opening. This television setup allows you to take smart breaks from the game, and keeps you up to date on important information you may have forgotten. The conclusion to Alan Wakes story is a solid one, but like any good Stephen King book, it does leave some questions unanswered, allowing players to fill in those blanks.Some however, can be answered by the writers themselves. Alan Wake had two downloadable chapters after its release, the first free with a copy of the game.

These two episodes serve as the true season finale of the title, each combining into a few more hours of content. The first episode, titled The Signal, is further setup and action while the final chapter, The Writer is the true epic conclusion that the game deserves. The Writer is one of the most exciting and unique episodes of the entire package and also answers some of the lingering questions left over by the previous “ending”. This DLC shouldn’t be forgotten by any player of Alan Wake and is included by default in the PC version of the game. (which also features enhanced graphics)

This review started out as a “lil review” which it should be, as this game is quite old now, but as it grew in length I just felt weird giving it such a title. Alan Wake is a unique game these days, one that takes a psychological thriller approach to storytelling, and one that adds a new mechanic to the action of horror titles. In this day and age, where horror games are increasingly turning to daylight and action over dark thrills, Alan Wake stands tall as a sign that horror can still be exciting and intense. I usually don’t play games more then once, but I have purchased Alan Wake and its DLC on both 360 and PC, and I have beaten it four times now, with more sure to come as the increased difficulties make the game even more intense. As an avid fan of Stephen King and games that take risks, Alan Wake is a true joy. If you want a story that will keep you guessing, characters you will come to care about, and action that will leave you with sweaty palms, then Alan Wake may be the game your looking for. -Chuck

The Rundown

  • + Story is thrilling
  • + Voice work is solid
  • + Combat is exciting
  • + World feels alive
  • + Soundtrack is fantastic
  • – Lipsync issues during cutscenes
  • – Story DLC may irk some

Final Score

9.0 / 10

“Incredible”

5 thoughts on “Alan Wake Review

  1. Great review. This was my first horror game, it freaked me out quite a bit! I agree with you about the story and setting being strong points, and the episodic style made it feel more intense. Personally, I did not at all dig the combat — not enough variety for me, which is probably why survivor-type games and shooters are not my thing — but I agree that the light system was innovative and worked well for a scary game like this one… playing on that old fear of darkness!

    1. The combat can drag a bit towards the end, which some reviews complained about, but then the DLC chapters began to mix it up with a crazy system I didn’t want to spoil.
      The side sequel thing that is American Nightmare added more variety to its combat, but then in turn it became more combat focused as well.

  2. The light combat always smacked a bit of being a shield system and I never really felt the weight of the shadow-light dichotomy, despite its prevalence in the game. I think that was just me, though, because on a critical level, it’s quite well implemented. On a purely cerebral level, the atmosphere and metaphor were truly engaging. For me, Alan Wake’s narrator was the best part. It could have been an audio book and I would have been just as happy. I can’t help but agree with your tag-line; I loved this game and still hold it up as a title that people should all try. It really commits to its pacing, even if the episodic nature sort of alters the feel of the flow, it’s pure gold on an analytic level. Then again, as Ashley ^^^^ said, it can lend a certain intensity. As a big fan of the series, it’s nice to see someone else’s take on it. Cheers!

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