Written by sPINDARFT 4/8/13
Alan Wake was my introduction into the genre of horror gaming and it turned out to be a game changing experience for me. I had spent many years sorting through the mountains of fantasy RPG’s always looking for those games that offered that one unique twist, no matter how subtle. I was thrilled with quite a few of the offerings out there regardless of the varying degrees of disdainful remarks heaped upon the majority of these for one senseless reason or another. I played countless games that recieved varying reviews and it seemed to me that there was always some reason to point out a fault with each one, from high tech game mechanics to things as simple as paragraphs devoted to the disliking of the outdated textures. To me each game offers something unique and it is most times something easily overlooked in the effort to compare each release to the latest model of greatness or technological advances, or just plain ole flash as I have noticed on several occasions.
Alan Wake did not recieve bad reviews, in fact it was very well recieved, and even those few that tried to pick apart it’s sometimes choppy dialogue or the rare moments when the story seemed to stray way out into left field were unable to damn it on any level as a bad effort on the part of Remedy Games. Alan Wake stands well on its own two legs and snares the player from the very beginning into one writer’s nightmare come to life. The game builds great momentum at just the right pace to keep the player hooked and ever more determined to get to the bottom of all the strangeness.
One element that I thought was very well realized was the shooter aspects of the game, especially as my background was coming from fantasy games and I had always shunned shooters. I even have some colorful pet names surrounding that genre but in Alan Wake the combat is given to creative use of your arsenal. My experience with games that offered guns as a main weapon was to get the biggest, baddest, fastest projectile slinger you could find and let it rip. Here your gun was a handy tool but simply relying on it alone would usually get you dead, it would just take a little longer sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I relied heavily on my pistol and rifles but believe me I kept a ready count on my flares and flashbangs, especially the flashbangs as they seemed to be a little more rare.
Flares were a touch more common and served as an awesome way to re-take control of a fight; these little light sticks fit neatly into that category I was always searching for in fantasy games, that one unique thing. You could get ambushed, completely outnumbered by the Taken (those pesky bad critters from the shadows that the Dark Presence keeps throwing at you) and with the flick of the wrist you snap off a flare; which immediately inhibits the closest Taken allowing you to sidestep into the open and engage the peripheral threats still advancing on your position. This maneuver allowed me to thin the ranks and even the odds a bit, it quickly became one of my favorite methods when confronted with large groups of bad guys.
Alan Wake does a masterful job of forcing you to manage your arsenal, ammo, attack and defense tactics without making it seem like a frustrating chore. You feel elated when you find the winning combination in a battle and walk away victorious. You feel more sure of yourself, stronger, unafraid, ready for whatever the Darkness has in store for you next, that is until your actually confronted with it.
You become tuned to the warning signs of impending disaster, the change in sounds and visuals causing you to search the shadows, whipping around in all directions, peering hard at every nook and cranny of your surroundings. You know its coming but you don’t know what exactly or how many or from which direction; you start to sweat and then it happens – three quick blows from behind. You try to turn and get your flashlights beam on your attacker, you need to buy some time but it was all so sudden, and in your frantic efforts to pin a target you take another devastating blow.
You are now outnumbered, out of control and dying. In a last ditch effort at survival you run but this only seals your fate, the Taken quickly overtake you and you die there, alone in the dark shadows. You may die here several times before you have managed, or become aware enough, to have surveyed the situation as it unfolds before you thus allowing you to formulate a plan of attack and defense. I always include defense with the notion of attack because in Alan Wake it will require mastery of both techniques in any given fight in order to survive. And then again there are times when you may just need to run for your very life, it is possible, and you will need to become adept at deciding when these moments have arrived.
Game play tends to follow a precise linear format that moves along directly with the story line but again Remedy has solved the problem of mundane boredom setting in by implementing explorable areas throughout the game world that come to serve two additional and equally important aspects of game interaction. First the designers have placed trunks, boxes and chests in isolated or well hidden locations (actually you will learn that Cynthia Weaver was behind all of this) in which much needed ammo and weapons can be found. They are not extremely common but they are there and your desire to survive will have you seeking them out. The other use of the explorable spaces in game, and the one I absolutely love the best, is tactical positioning in preperation for a lopsided battle with the Taken. There were countless times I would be walking down a trail in the Washington forest not paying any particular attention to my location in relationship to walkable spaces, just kind of following the trail and bam, shadowy death is suddenly coming from multiple directions faster than I can account for them. It became hugely rewarding to learn how to use the landscape to my advantage right from the beginning, though certain death was the usual precursor to this knowledge. I applaud Remedy for leaving the game world and game play open enough to consider this sort of strategy, it is always a thrill to discover these small gems of interaction within a virtual realm and become savvy in the execution of timing and space.
Even the story is good in Alan Wake. From the intro nightmare alluding to the writer’s fiction taking on a real world impact, the step back in time to New York which gives Alan and Alice a more personal and real sense of being, to the introduction of various characters along the way who play pivotal roles in the undercurrents built into the plot. You feel a part of this world as you become more and more familiar with its characters; you sense yourself mentally deciphering behaviours and wondering how you would deal with folks like that jacked up FBI agent in real life. You wait for the moment when you will have to fight a friend who has been Taken, you become numb, hating the Dark Presence more than it hates its prison at the bottom of Cauldron Lake. You vow to win this struggle, set things on their proper path and free your kidnapped wife. Your fear slowly resides as other emotions begin to rise to the surface and this is yet another fascinating accompishment of the game, to peak your nerves as well as raise your hairs.
No review of Alan Wake, now or then, would be complete without complimenting the grand work that went into delivering a believable landscape for the story. Whether you are at the diner in Bright Falls or trekking a lonely mountain path in Elderwood National Park there is no shortage of authentic touches and details displayed at every turn. It seemed that very distant mountain tops were a bit blurry (maybe it was the settings on my machine) but other than that the world is meticulous. Everything from building exteriors, automobiles, forests, rivers, flocks of birds, walkways, posters and signs, character dress and myriad other details were expertly displayed.
My absolute favorite visual was near the beginning of the game. Alan and Alice are on the ferry, crossing under a railroad bridge, coming into the idealic Washington town of Bright Falls. You gaze out at the peaceful little town as an amphibious plane lands on the water ahead of the ferry, the setting is mesmerizing. I wanted to find this place on my map and go there, it looks that inviting. There are others on the ferry with you and after talking with them you get the feeling that you have been introduced to a notable aquaintance but you are so taken by the panorama unfolding about you that the uneasy feeling is easily dismissed. Every location I visited in the game felt authentic, from the old logging camps, to abandoned mining companies, it felt like I was there . The isolated and ruined places were especially scary and quite capable of perking up every hair on the nape of your neck. There is nothing like being chased down by a possessed piece of heavy equipment and physically dodging out of its way all the while willing your character to do the same before either one of you are crushed by the huge beast. Absolutley superb!
There were also two DLC episodes created for the game and both of them are included in the PC version download. The first one is called “The Signal” and the second one “The Writer”. Both DLC episodes continue Alan’s journey to a final showdown with the Dark Presence at Bird Leg Cabin and both of them offer expanded versions of the game play that has become hallmark to this point. They are not merely repetitive interpretations of the same game. Remedy has once again done a fine job of mixing it up and offering more of things you saw little of prior to the DLC or completely new variations of older tricks. In “The Signal” automobiles played a bigger role than previoulsy imagined and the combat gets harder, requiring more strategy on the players part to succeed. In “The Writer” there is a larger purpose placed on using the text from Alan’s manuscript (or avoiding it as sometimes is the case) with some quite inovative moments where you must learn how to use the text to set in motion secondary actions that achieve a desired result. The end fight is exhausting and when it is all said and done …. well, I will let you come to that conclusion.
I will also leave to other writers to find fault with this game, as for this writer’s opinion Alan Wake is superbly crafted and authentically delivered. During the course of game play, over twenty hours, I was treated to an array of emotions and found myself quite often at the end of a three hour run physically exhausted, it does not get much better than that. Alan Wake scores high marks in game play, story, combat/fear, graphic presentaion and inovative interaction. The game is a spooky, anxious, catch your breath thrill ride available via Steam download for $29.99. HAAG definetly recommends this notable game from 2012.
HAAG Score – 9.3