Alan Wake review
If I ever hear the word ‘Darkness’ again, I will kill everyone at Remedy…
Alright, so Alan Wake came out recently, after an almost 6 year wait. I eagerly rented my copy, ran home, and popped it in the 360 [which had been gathering dust since I beat and wrote my review for Bioshock 2]. When I started playing the game, I was bothered by something right off the bat. I didn’t know what the *bleep* was happening. I had no idea why I was thrown into extreme darkness, or why I was running away from a random person that was surrounded by shadows. Well, you’ll probably be confused, too. And you’ll need to get used to it, my friend, because Alan Wake will confuse you at every step of the way [especially the ending]. Now for the detailed review…
Alan Wake is a very nice looking game. During the daytime portions, you’ll probably be dazzled and amazed at how gorgeous and colorful your environments are… but that’s the problem with this game’s surroundings. Alan Wake’s daytime portions are extremely scarce, favoring more the darkness and eeriness of the nighttime. That means, for the most part, you will have a hard time seeing anything in this damn game. I sure as hell had trouble knowing what was going on in the nighttime sections of the game. While everything in the nighttime portions [that I could actually see] looked gorgeous as well, I would’ve liked a little more gameplay based in the daytime. Perhaps something that let you converse with the side characters a little more. The light being checkpoints in the dark was a very smart move, but I would’ve liked a little more light than there was. I understand the entire storyline is about darkness, but it’s still a little too dark for my tastes. Another slight problem with the graphics are the character models. Character models are… meh. People’s limbs look cartoony at times, and the movements all look stiff. Most the time, the voice acting is desynced from the character’s lips. How the hell does that even happen? Remedy has 6 years with this game, and they just say *bleep* it when it comes to matching up lips to words? Alan looks like an old-fashioned cheesy Japanese karate movie when he talks for Christ’s sake. Overall, though, things don’t look too bad, but I would’ve expected a bit more from such a long development time.
I found the gameplay of Alan Wake to be pretty smooth for the most part. The game utilizes a very unique combat system that I had great fun with. This combat system requires you to flash Alan’s flashlight on the Taken until you remove the darkness that surrounds them, and then shoot the hell out of them to finish their dark asses off. You have a small variety of guns, varying from a Shotgun, Pump-Action Shotgun [my personal favorite], Handgun, and Hunting Rifle. The only guns you’ll really use most of the game are the Pump-Action and Handgun, as the other two guns are too slow to do really anything against a large horde of Taken. There’s also three neat weapons that utilize the light to screw up your enemy‘s day. These are the Flashbangs [which are awesome], Flares, and the super devastating Flare Gun. They work especially well against large hordes, so they may help out if you prefer the slow weapons to the good ones. There are also sections of the game where you will face badass possessed… GARDENING EQUIPMENT. While it sounds kind of lame, they actually pose a huge threat, so focus on the possessed objects before you take care of the Taken. Another form of enemy is most likely a nod at Hitchcock, being a possessed group of birds. These birds pose very little threat, as all they need is a slight flash from your flashlight to make them turn around [they do come back until you remove their darkness, but as long as you keep them away with your flashlight and flares, you’ll be safe]. Combat is definitely my favorite factor of this game.
There are also parts of Alan Wake which require you to perform a sort of puzzle to create paths to your goal. For example, the one that’s most puzzle-like requires you to hit different switches to make three bridges stay solid all at the same time. These puzzle-esque sections don’t take long at all, which is kind of upsetting. I would’ve enjoyed to see something like the Silent Hill games, where puzzles are crazy hard at times to add a nice amount of challenge. A couple more things bother me about the gameplay. Alan walks slow as hell. There’s no two ways about it. Even if you make Alan run, he’s still going slow as hell, and will most likely run out of breath right as the Taken are about to kick his ass. I’m quite certain this was done to make the game seem more tense and scary, but it just makes it annoying and slow-paced. Shining your flashlight at the Taken will stun them temporarily, but they’ll get back to running seconds after you rudely shine the beam in their shadowy faces. This gets hella tedious after awhile, and will make you want to quit the game to play something with decent movement [*cough*Borderlands*cough*]. And the dodging mechanic also pisses me off. You make Alan dodge attacks by pressing the run button right as an enemy is about to hit you. This poses a problem, because sometimes the game doesn’t register it as a dodge, and you end up just making Alan run right into an attack like a dumbass. I’ve died many times because of the shitty dodging mechanic, even after I learned how to use it properly. These are two things that the developers could’ve improved within the 6 years they had. There’s literally no excuse for such failed mechanics. Oh, and before I move onto other things that aren’t about this game’s gameplay, I need to give you a warning. Only play Alan Wake on Hard or Nightmare. This game is made much, much more fun and tense on Hard and Nightmare due to the raised difficulty. Normal is just there if you’re only playing the game for the story…
Music in this game is amazing, and just adds onto the small home-town vibe you get while playing. The music you hear playing on radios in the game has a very nice smalltown feeling to it, which enriches the experience of Alan Wake greatly. The end-of-the-chapter music will make you sit back in your chair, and just listen to it to relax from all the tense combat and narrow escapes you encounter during the game. The music is part of what makes Alan Wake a unique experience you probably won’t soon forget. The audio is also quite amazing [apart from the words and mouth desync thing]. Whether it be the sudden sound of a Taken running towards you, or crows chirping eerily off I the distance, it really adds to the creepy feeling you get from rummaging around in a darkness-covered farm-town. Not to mention the sound of a possessed object lifting itself up to hurdle at you. I’ve almost shit myself from hearing a possessed object jumping from the ground many times. The voice acting… could be a little better. While it’s not as choppy as Heavy Rain, it still bugged me from time to time. It just feels forced a lot of the time, especially the commentary from Alan as you go along. Oh, and yeah, the voice and mouth desync problem pissed me off pretty badly. Overall, nothing too bad about the audio or music…
Alan Wake does have a slight amount of replay value, while not really enough to keep you interested for too long. There are three different modes, Normal [for people who care about the story ONLY], Hard [recommended], and Nightmare [highly recommended]. Hard is the median of the difficulties, making the game both tense-as-hell, and slightly annoying. While Nightmare Mode is pretty damn difficult, allowing Alan to die in only two or three hits. I recommend playing on Nightmare Mode [after beating the game once] highly because you’ll be occupied far longer than if you playthrough once and quit. Not to mention, Nightmare Mode has the rest of the Manuscripts required to get every collectible. Speaking of collectibles, this game has a ASSLOAD of them. No joke. There’s signs, thermoses [a definite nod to Twin Peaks], TVs [which show a program that is very similar to another TV show inspiration for the game, The Twilight Zone] , radios, and manuscript pages [more about them later]. While you will probably find all the signs, TVs, and radios in one playthrough, the Thermoses and Manuscript Pages will take you a couple playthroughs to find them all. Thermoses are a tip of the hat to Twin Peaks, a very similar TV show and movie that mentioned coffee a plethora of times throughout its duration. The Manuscript Pages are very unique in that they provide a form of foreshadowment of what’s going to happen [without giving too much away], or what events led up to a certain event which would otherwise go unexplained. The Manuscript Pages are very innovative in storytelling in games, and I’d really like to see something like this in other games in the future. If you’re a collectionist, you will probably want to playthrough multiple times to get these collectibles, but you probably won’t give a shit if you’re just in to occupy a long, boring weekend.
Ah, now it’s time to touch up on perhaps the strangest thing about this little game… its ridiculous story. Alan Wake starts out with Alan running down a dude with his car by accident, and not finding the body. So, Alan walks out in front of his car a couple metres, and turns around to see the dude he hit standing up with shadows surrounding his body. So, without missing a beat, Alan runs like a pussy, then beginning the tutorial. This just gives you basic game mechanics, and not really much else. Alan then wakes up after entering a lighthouse [kind of reminds me of Shutter Island], realizing that he was just having a very bad [and foreshadowing] dream. You then find Alan on a boat [insert song quote here] with his wife, traveling to their new home, Bright Falls. Alan was a successful writer at one point, writing a book series of a man named Alex Casey [who’s story is similar to that of the protagonist of Remedy’s other successful game series, Max Payne], but then he decided to branch out from his popular series to write something new. After two years of writer’s block, he decided to move to Bright Falls with his wife [and that’s where you pick up the story]. However, this is where everything starts to go horribly wrong. I’ll let you find out the rest of the story, because it’s waaaaaaay too twisty for me to explain much of anything to you. I will warn you now, this game will confuse the living hell out of you with its story, so be prepared. Myself being a fan of LOST and Twilight Zone, I enjoyed how confusing and open-ended the story was. There’s supposedly 2 DLCs in production right now, with rumors of a third being tossed about, so be ready for a couple more hours of having your mind blown with confusion.
There are some moments where you will actually be scared, and your heart will pound faster at every turn. The reason I felt like mentioning this is that I’m a die hard Survival Horror fan. I love the greats like Silent Hill and Resident Evil [as most of you know], and it’s refreshing to have a game that actually scared me at times [unlike the disgrace to the horror community that was Dead Space]. Alan Wake can definitely be considered Survival Horror, as it combines occasional psychological scares with a nice amount of jump scares. Dead Space always went for jump scares only, and never focused on really freaking out the player in any way shape or form. While Alan Wake may qualify more as a ‘Thriller’, I still had a blast with it because of its Silent Hill-esque atmosphere. A peaceful town that gets deranged because of someone’s mind? That happens in both Silent Hill and Alan Wake, and I say they both do it masterfully [I’ll be bold enough to say that Alan Wake does it far better in comparison to the newer Silent Hill games]. If you like Horror games, this is the perfect next gen game for you.
Now, I need to touch up on the light and darkness system! What would an Alan Wake review be without covering as much as I possibly could about the game? The enemy of the game is always darkness, so the Checkpoints come in the form of light posts shining a bright protective beam over you. This is also used in the combat [as mentioned above] very well. There are generators all over the place that require you to perform a quick-time event to turn them into checkpoints, and I feel that this was a nice touch for the game. Sometimes this can be highly annoying, though, as the light can and will *bleep*ing blind you a the most inopportune moments. A group of birds chasing after you right as you’re about to reach a checkpoint? Ol’ checkpoint doesn’t take to kindly to Alan in this situation, so he *bleep*ing blinds you, and gets you killed by the weakest enemies in the game. And transitioning from complete darkness to shining light is murder on your retinas sometimes. I’m probably the only person who had this problem, because the other reviews I read on the game mentioned nothing about this other than ‘the lighting can be too bright sometimes’. Let me know what you think about the bright-ass light to darkness ratio in the comments below.
Alright, I’ve covered just about every feature in the game, so it’s time to wrap it on up. You will likr Alan Wake if you enjoy crazy-but-good stories, unique aiming, interesting gameplay, and catchy music. You will probably dislike the game if you don’t like any of the above, and/or you don’t like jump scares, tense combat, tons of collectibles, or unfamiliar enemies. I really liked the game myself, and I didn’t play any other game until I beat it and found a majority of the collectibles. There were a few minor glitches here and there, like framerate issues and some rough textures, but it all smoothed out for the most part. Overall, the game is worth a rent if you prefer Gameplay over story, and is worth a definite buy if you like good Gameplay, but mainly focus on the story. Also, be sure to check out the new DLC for the game once it’s released.
Alan Wake for the Xbox 360 gets a 3.5 out of 5.0.
About the author
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