Alan Wake PC Review

Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Saturday, February 25th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/alan_wake/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Horror game Alan Wake was released nearly two years ago on Xbox 360. Though initially shown off on PC extensively prior to this, with plenty of hype surrounding its technical features, this version of the game was scrapped -- it seemed publisher Microsoft found it wasn't a good fit for the platform.

Developer Remedy Entertainment has a strong PC heritage however, and repeatedly asked Microsoft for permission to release the game there, eventually securing the deal last year. Self-funded and with the help of Nitro Games over a five month period, Alan Wake is finally on PC.

The story unfolds

You play Wake himself, a novelist with the age old affliction of not being able to write. In an attempt to clear your head and get away from it all, you set off to the remote town of Bright Falls with your lovely wife. As with most horror stories, things are not what they seem, and it doesn't take long before your lovely trip becomes anything but. Once ordinary townsfolk transform into literally shadowy figures bent on your destruction, all controlled by a greater force.

Without going into too much detail, Alan Wake features more "meta" layers of story than you can probably keep track of, fueled by the writing thematics. While things get pretty hairy at times, it manages to steer more or less true in the end. The game is divided up into "chapters" or "episodes" appropriately, with each serving up a self-contained but also continuous story, as you'd see in many TV shows or books, which proves very effective.

Gameplay & combat

Gameplay sees you traversing forests, caves, farmhouses, and other such token horror environments and slaying the "Taken" (those shadowy figures mentioned earlier) by shining your flashlight on them for a bit then blasting away with a pistol, shotgun, or rifle. When too many enemies get a little too personal, it's time to bust out your flare gun or flashbangs and clean them out in groups.

Though of a completely different genre, combat continuously reminded of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in its extreme fluidity. In a typical encounter you'll face 3-5 foes and in many cases they'll attempt to surround you. As such, the ability to think quickly and string together actions will help seal their fate and let you live to fight another evening. For example, two larger axe-wielding Taken may come at you from the front, while two more agile guys with knives come from the back. In a situation like this, you'll want to possibly drop a flare to keep them from swarming you, shine the light on the weaker, more agile guys in the back and take them out first. When your flare burns out, hold Shift at the appropriate moment while attacking one of the larger Taken to avoid being hit by the other in the process, and throw a Flashbang in for good measure (those big ones are tough). Usually when you fail you'll understand why, and when you succeed you'll feel like a master.

While gameplay is quite varied over the pretty lengthy play time (expect a couple of weeks of regular play, including the free DLC), combat often suffers in the last quarter, becoming somewhat monotonous. There is always the occasional surprise and creative section, but too often I found myself thinking "Oh, this again...", shooting a few guys and moving on Resident Evil-style -- quite contrary to the first three quarters of the game where combat is relatively sparse and always tense.

Additionally, around this point mission objectives begin to feel somewhat like filler intended to extend the game's length, much like in Dead Space where you're basically an errand boy, running from place to place to place before you finally see something seriously advance the plot. This doesn't ruin the game by any means, mind you, and you'll always be intrigued enough to found out what happens in the end, but it is a damper on an otherwise extremely well paced game.

Difficulty

Normal difficulty, excepting a few incidents, feels perfectly balanced. Accommodating the few hiccups you're bound to have along the way, restarting at checkpoints will see you start with a set, minimal amount of supplies, so you can always make it through to the next one. Not realistic, no, but it's about the best setup in this context, and doesn't make the Taken any less terrifying, really. Checkpoints, however, are integrated in a semi-realistic way: making it to the next major light source will save your progress there. The feeling of making it to one by the hair of your chin is doubly relieving, and serves as a fine example of how to integrate traditional and convenient design systems with actual gameplay.

PC features & performance

In terms of graphics, Alan Wake is clearly not all it could've been on PC -- this is based on the 360 build, after all. Nonetheless, for the most part it is thoroughly impressive and engaging, benefiting obviously from higher resolution textures, but also a load of additional effects, and some downright incredible lighting. AMD power users should note Eyefinity is supported for even greater immersion.

Almost tragically, textures suffer from what I call RAGE-itis, in that while most are of high caliber, you'll see quite a number which are downright ugly, low resolution, and very distracting -- not what you want in a horror game designed to keep you fully immersed. One patch has been released for the game already, however, and while it's not currently on the list, I'd hope Remedy and/or Nitro Games will get on this eventually, as it's a top issue in my book.

Cutscenes -- which are frequent -- suffer from that godawful super squished aspect ratio where half your screen is filled up by black bars and pulls you out of the experience. They also occasionally suffer from the terrible texture. In the end it's forgivable and more easily ignorable than the previous sin, but there's no question full 16:9/16:10 scenes with high quality textures would increase the immersion significantly.

Controls match the combat in feeling very natural, fluid, and responsive. Alternate setups are available if you're not entirely comfortable with default, and of course you can rebind keys if you want to go about it manually.

Options are aplenty, both in the controls and graphics departments: you get everything from FXAA to draw distance to FOV. There's also an option to play the game more or less HUDless, which I can't recommend enough. Wake already features a very minimalistic HUD, and the elements it does represent are all indicated in game in one way or another, so if you really want to get deep into it, absolutely go for it. Smartly, necessary notifications (E to pick up ammo, for example) pop up when appropriate even if the HUD is disabled, so you don't have to worry about missing out.

Performance on a 6950 2GB GPU and X6 1055t CPU at 1680x1050 resolution with all settings maxed (excepting 2xAA and FXAA low, and with V-Sync off) is a mostly very steady 50-60fps. Aside from the rare bit of jerkiness, it feels very smooth. Note that unfortunately AA can't be disabled completely due to the inherent nature of some game engine features.

Final thoughts

Alan Wake is a superb horror game that borrows more from film (The Shining), television (X-Files, Twilight Zone), and novels than it does games, though takes just enough from them to make it work near perfectly. For that, it deserves a good, hard look by anyone a fan of the genre or even just the mediums. At times it does feel like it gets a little too close to its inspirations for comfort (particularly Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King and Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane), but proves an enjoyable experience regardless with its own dash of style. As compared to its console counterpart, it's more immersive than ever, to the extent it'll be worth purchasing twice for some, especially with its $29.99 price point.

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