After years of delay, Alan Wake is finally available for the world to experience and it’s about time. Remedy first announced the game back in May of 2005 alongside the Xbox 360 unveiling; yeah, it was that long ago. This game could have easily fallen victim to long development-cycle-syndrome like Too Human and Duke Nukem Forever. Fortunately for us, the opposite happened. The years of hard work over at Remedy have resulted in a truly great game that delivers an experience to the player unlike any other title that I can think of.
This game had me glued to the TV from 9:00 pm when I started until about 9:00 am the next morning when I finally finished. The episodic structure of the game works very well as it sets defined story arcs within the game. It also offers a natural rise and fall of action within the game and the breaks between each episode gave me a chance to have a short breather. If you happen to not play the entire game in one sitting, the episodes would be great times to turn the game off as the next time you start playing you will be greeted with a “Previously, on Alan Wake” to get you back up to speed.
I should mention that the introductory episode is about as perfect as I could imagine. The game actually starts you in a nightmare that Alan is having where a mysterious talking light instructs you on how to use the flashlight to remove the darkness from one of the “Taken” enemies which then leaves it vulnerable to bullets. This nightmare sequence is ended by having the player frantically running away from a giant tornado that is chasing down Alan. It is at this point that Alan wakes up on the ferry just in time as they arrive in Bright Falls.
The basic story of the game is that Alan Wake is a famous writer that is suffering from writer’s block so his wife suggests going to Bright Falls in hopes that it will inspire him. Needless to say, crazy shit happens, people die, and Alan wakes up in his car a week after his arrival in Bright Falls with no memory of what happened. What you soon find out is that he spent that entire week writing a book, and everything he wrote is coming true.
The way the story unfolds throughout the game is quite enthralling. In all the different areas Alan will find pages from the manuscript, many of these pages detail events that haven’t happened yet, while others describe events that you’ve already experienced. One thing that I love in this game is how the story can jump back and forth and you, as the player, have all the same information as Alan Wake; nothing more, nothing less. At different points in the game I wondered if all the thing happening were real, if it was all a nightmare, if Alan was just insane, or maybe some combination of those possibilities. One thing is for sure: the game will have you wondering these things all the way through to the end.
Aside from the story, the game has some really good gameplay. I love how this title uses the flashlight. When you aren’t fending off the seemingly endless supply of Taken that the game throws at you, the flashlight helps you find secret stashes of batteries and ammo. I also found the use of the flashlight in battle more thrilling than using guns in most other games. The variation of enemies forces you to balance focusing the light between different Taken to maximize your survivability. Where some Taken will try to get in close, others will throw hatchets from afar and they will often come from a different angle. I quickly figured out a strategy where I would blast one enemy with the flashlight to momentarily stun it while focusing the light on another enemy until the darkness dissipated so I could give a couple of shots from my gun to finish it off. The game can get extremely intense when you are facing four or five Taken and you only have one or two batteries to work with.
The flare is the real hero though. Everything about it amazes me. The game will tease you with a Safe Haven in sight only to have the generator die as soon as you get close with four enemies following close behind. The sound of lighting the flare is one of intensity and momentary relief for the few precious seconds of safety that it brings. Since I played the game in the dead of night in a dark room, the sudden burst of light from every flare that I lit would cause just the slightest amount of pain in my eyes, but that only added to the experience. In the most dire situations, I would even throw out three flare that I had saved up until that point in hopes of making it to a Safe Haven alive.
I also can’t forget to mention the gun reloading mechanic in this game. This may sound silly, but hear me out. When you reload your gun in Alan Wake you have two options; you can press the button once which will cause Alan to reload the weapon, or you can tap the button repeatedly to have Alan reload the weapon faster. This subtle mechanic had me tapping the button so fast when an enemy quickly approached me when I was out of bullets. This simple game mechanic has since been imprinted into my mind. I have found myself continually tapping the reload button while playing Red Dead Redemption, even though it has no effect. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until about five hours into the game.
While Alan Wake gets almost everything right, it isn’t without a few faults. The biggest problem with the game is the facial animations, in my opinion. I have no idea what happened during development that no one realized the characters’ faces looked like shit. It really is a shame because the voice acting is solid, but faces look like they’re dead and being moved by wires.
The second problem with the game is that of re-playability. The game took me just under twelve hours to complete, which I feel was just the right length. But the game is done after those twelve hours. There are certain manuscript pages that you can only get on the Nightmare difficulty, which is unlocked after initial completion of the game. If you are going for achievements I can understand playing the game again but other than that, I see little point. It might be a game that I will want to revisit in a year’s time to experience again, along with the DLC episodes that will be out at that time.
tl;dr: This game is spectacular from beginning to end. If you have an Xbox 360, there is no reason on Earth that you shouldn’t be playing this game. Alan Wake is my second favorite game so far this year (Mass Effect 2 being my favorite). I can understand that most people might buy Red Dead Redemption because it has more game for your dollar, but I think Alan Wake is easily better in every way.
Obligatory Score: 9.5/10