I followed Alan Wake from when it was announced. I thought the first E3 trailer was awesome and constantly waited to hear more about it. Then it game out and, though was a bit different than it was initially, finally overcame its long development cycle. I decided to wait to purchase it (since I don’t think $60 on a normal length single player only game is justifiable) but managed to pick up the limited edition for $40. And what a surprise I got – Alan Wake is one of the single most memorable games I have ever played. And though there are a couple minor hiccups, overall this is one of the best experiences you can get on the Xbox 360, and there are a lot of reasons to pick up this game which didn’t get the attention it deserved.
This is easily one of Alan Wake‘s strongest points. It’s split into different episodes, each of which provides a recap of the previous one just as a typical TV show would. There are 6 of them and each is about 2 hours long (more if you want to go searching for hidden items). The way these episodes are paced is phenomenal – you’ll get a long stretch of gameplay followed by what is essentially a movie in which you move the main character. Most of the important plot points are revealed not through cutscenes, but gameplay. So every little trippy event that happens in Bright Falls will generally be one that you interact with. This adds to immersion incredibly, and makes Alan Wake the memorable experience that it is. Sometimes you’ll be running through the woods killing Taken (the enemies of the game) and sometimes you’ll be walking around with a character as an interesting scene unfolds around you. The eventual trippy nature of some of these moments is what makes them so special, and makes Alan Wake‘s presentation shine, as every single note it intends to hit, it does so with grace and style.
The technical aspect of the graphics in Alan Wake are strong, but not among the best I’ve seen on the Xbox 360. However, artistically, this game is an absolute sight to behold. I don’t know how long the developers spent on lighting, but to call it merely gorgeous is doing them a disservice. As you run through woods that appear to have black, nightmarish wind blowing through them, you constantly see a bright light in the distance like a beacon to your next checkpoint, almost blinding but reassuring when you know that you’re running to a safe destination. And then sometimes that light will simply shatter once you get there and leave you in the dark once more. Objects poisoned by the Dark Presence will shimmer like a TV’s static (even your enemies) and every location, despite looking similar in style, feels completely different as you’re running through it searching for the answers to what happened to your wife. There’s even some strategic slow motion, like when you dodge an enemy attack, that makes the moment just that much more awesome. Again, the technical side of the graphics is great but not exactly on the level of Bioshock or Mass Effect. There is occasional screen tearing and a frame rate drop here or there. But the artistic merit owed to this game’s visuals easily kicks the crap out of most other artsy attempts on consoles. Absolutely wonderful.
This is definitely a strong point of Alan Wake too. The music definitely keeps up with the game without ever getting in the way, but I wouldn’t exactly listen to it in my free time. Some of the voice acting is kind of silly, but usually some characters are meant to over-exaggerate their words to seem ridiculous. Still, whenever there’s some sort of darkness following you, you know it by both crazy visual cues and sound effects. There’s not much to say about the sound otherwise, but it gets the job done and gets the job done right.
This part of Alan Wake is by no means bad, but it’s not one of its strongest aspects, mostly because the game is very simple. It is, however, original in that you can shoot no enemy until you shine enough light to destroy the darkness in them. This makes for an interesting dynamic as you try to focus on shining the flashlight on closer, faster enemies first while a maniac with a chainsaw slowly makes his way towards you from another direction. It’s definitely intense, but not necessarily scary, which brings up probably the biggest flaw in Alan Wake. It’s not a horror game as much as a psychological action thriller, but clearly most of the game is meant to scare you when you’re running through the woods in the dark trying to fend off the Taken. Still, it kind of hurts it own cause when it attempts to do that because it often clearly indicated to you when enemies are coming by showing them approaching in the distance. Similarly, there’s a slow motion final shot to usually indicate when you finished off the last enemy in the group. There are a few jump scares, but even those aren’t particularly freaky. I’m actually fairly easily scared by horror games, but this one didn’t do it for me in that category, though for most of the game I really don’t think that’s the point. Scary or not, the gameplay is still fun, if sometimes a bit repetitive. Every encounter has you shining the flashlight at enemies, though sometimes the game mixes it up by sending birds or possessed objects after you. And though you’re mostly doing the same things during these moments, sometimes, based on whatever’s happening with the story, you’ll be forced to run into a group of enemies unarmed or have some other strange disadvantage, which makes things more intense as you’re forced to adapt. Still, later in the game especially a lot of enemies just sneak up behind you as you’re focusing on enemies in front, and it comes to the point where this can get a little annoying.
Another thing that keeps the gameplay from getting repetitive, though, is that while some is filler, most is completely story based and is clearly happening for a reason. You’re not always running through the woods, sometimes you’re out during the day and some of the most interesting parts of the game take place at that time, when some freaky scene occurs that you get to interact with (and trust me, there are tons of memorable ones). Though the gameplay is fairly simple, much of it acts as a vehicle for a great story, which is just fine with me.
Speaking of the story, this is the reason you’ll want to purchase the game. It’s fantastic not only in its content, but in the way that it’s told (through the gameplay). It’s impossible not to feel completely immersed in it, and every time you get to a new chapter you won’t want to put down the controller because it’s just so interesting. The game focuses on Alan Wake, a writer who has writer’s block and is trying to get away from his work for a while. He goes to a town called Bright Falls, where one night the power goes out and his wife is suddenly sucked into a mysterious lake. He wakes up a week later not remembering what happened, and having to run around trying to find her, finding pages from a manuscript he apparently wrote (yet doesn’t remember) which describe exactly what is going on around him. The story has a couple minor hokey conveniences and plot holes, but mostly it’s just an incredible tale that will keep you immersed until the very end. I will warn you though – this game continues a very bad trend in gaming in that the end of the main game is not the end of the story. Some games come out and add on to the story once it’s done, but Alan Wake leaves big chunks of it for downloadable content without solving some very important points, which I think is not right. For those wondering, the first DLC is out now for $7 (free if you buy the game new, though), and the second one, which will finish the story, will come out soon. As much as I love the story for this game, I don’t appreciate a developer not solving it for the sake of making extra money in downloadable content. But still, there’s a lot to love here.
My decision to not buy Alan Wake at release was based on the fact that I thought it’d be a 10 hour game for $60, and that’s simply too much money for something like that these days. Know, though, that Alan Wake is actually quite long and warrants a lot of reasons to replay it. Each chapter, once again, is about 2 hours (and if you get the DLC free that’s another few hours added on for the price), so without the DLC, Alan Wake is easily 12 hours. And in those hours, you get some very entertaining moments, most of them incredibly memorable. There are also some collectibles, including extra manuscript pages found around the environments. I’d like to play the game on a harder difficulty (I played on normal, but it might have lacked scares because it was too easy and ammo was usually plentiful, though so far the first DLC is plenty difficult). Definitely a game worth replaying, and certainly worth the price it is now.
Overall, Alan Wake is an experience that any avid gamer that likes a good story can’t afford to miss. It’s incredibly original and gorgeous, and though a few flaws occasionally hinder the experience, they are few and far between to the point where the game really doesn’t suffer from them. I’m not quite through the first DLC called The Signal, but I will give a full review on that when I’m done with it also. Definitely check this one out!