It’s taken five years and numerous delays for Remedy’s Alan Wake to finally see the light of day and thankfully, those long years have been spent creating one hell of a game. The problem with talking about it is that you have to be so careful as to not give anything away. This is a story about revelations and personal discovery but don’t expect to finish the game and completely understand what you’ve just done. Do expect to have a great time though.
Alan Wake follows a troubled writer of the same name. He and his wife have travelled to a remote mountain town in North America to get a bit of R&R while Wake tries to find his muse for writing. He hasn’t written a book in years and wants to keep a low profile in the town of Bright Falls but someone or something has other ideas. Soon after arriving, all kinds of bad start to happen and with his wife now missing, a nasty bash on the head and an pestering case of amnesia, Wake must figure out what the hell is going on. The game starts by throwing you right into the action with a tutorial section disguised as something more frightening. It’s dark and you’re lost. A light house in the distance seems your best bet of survival but as you head towards it, a rather grumpy, spookish chap decides he wants you dead. What’s worse is that you cannot harm him – not yet anyway. After fleeing, a bright light in the sky quite conveniently tells you about the maniac known as the Taken and that he’s not the only one. But also that these Taken can have their dark, ghost-like protective shield burnt off by a light source, allowing them to be disposed. Even better, the light gives you a torch and a gun to do just that. You’re also taught how to dodge out the way of melee-based attacks (Taken don’t use guns but can throw their weapons) which if done at the right time, slows down the action resulting in a highly dramatic near miss. Now Wake is set. He knows how to kill these things but doesn’t know what they are. That all comes later as do some other, larger less-human adversaries…
The game does feel a bit like you’re playing a video game version of a prime-time American TV show like Supernatural, – only without the ‘chalk and cheese’ siblings – it’s even separated into six episodes each with their own cliffhanger endings and ‘previously on Alan Wake‘ beginnings. Atmosphere and a general feeling of fear is always present throughout the game and is handled superbly. There are daytime segments but a lot of action happens at night in a world fantastically lit by one of the three progressively stronger torches Wake comes across. Remember, these are his first attack against the taken so the brighter the better. And the way Alan Wake handles lighting is second to none. On so many occasions I felt utterly uncomfortable in my surroundings, worried at what lay waiting for me behind the next corner or tree trunk. Being set in a mountain town means that a lot of travel takes place through forests and woodland that are so beautifully created by Remedy. Bright Falls could so easily be a real place as the level of detail is outstanding. The flora is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game with breathtaking views stretching out from certain elevated look-out points. Because of the rich believable environments, gorgeous lighting and eerie remote location, this game is really very creepy. At times I had to stop playing and take a moment out of it to insure I didn’t lose too much sleep. And I was given opportunities to do just that thanks to the episodic nature of the story telling but found it difficult to do so because of the gripping story. A story that may have captivated throughout the game but was left a little too open at the end. To Remedy’s credit, it was totally in keeping with the randomness of the plot and is very much a personal opinion but I would have preferred not to have so many questions once the credits began. You are warned early on that all good stories of this ilk should leave the recipient guessing and I wouldn’t say it’s a reason not to play Alan Wake, just something to bear in mind.
Whilst you’re at it, take not that this is very much a shooter at heart and has a neat way to line up your shots. There is no reticule on screen but instead, the torch light shows you where Wake is aiming. Simple and an effective touch. To start off, shooting feels good and the choice of weapons are well suited for the enemy. A revolver, shotgun, hunting rifle and flare gun have a real sense of weight behind them allowing for a satisfying victory. The Taken share this feeling of weightiness that make the violent swinging of their axes and mallets all the more deadly. When Wake stumbles into the middle of a taken get-together, the game makes you aware of their presence by way of the dramatic slow motion camera I mentioned earlier, panning to the Taken’s location giving you an idea of where to expect trouble. It’s not a luxury Wake is privy to all the time and as the game throws more enemies your way, it was something that I wished happened more often. Being swamped by enemies to the point of frustration became an all too regular occurrence in the final couple of hours and revealed the cracks in an otherwise decent control scheme. Wake couldn’t dodge quickly enough and could suddenly be struck from behind without warning. Granted some of these instances added to the fear-factor but mostly they made reloading from one of the numerous checkpoints a bit of a chore.
Despite the linear nature of Alan Wake, there are opportunities to deviate from the set path and explore the town or surrounding forest. Not as much as an open-world game however as you still must travel from point A to B in order to progress the story but at least you can meander the route. This is actually encouraged as there are hidden caches of weaponry to find or a radio and TV that play short stories when tuned in. The TVs even have full 2-3 minute short films on them in the same vein as the Twilight Zone. Scattered pages from a manuscript Wake has written (but no recollection of doing so…) are littered throughout the levels, telling more about the story but not necessarily essential to the plot. Most are found along the set path and some are only available on the hardest difficulty setting (of which there are three). The hidden treasure of Alan Wake adds replay value to the 10-12 hours of gameplay though some more than others will find this a true reason to go back and play.
What Remedy have crafted is a gorgeous, engrossing psychological thriller, blending action and drama into a phenomenally intense experience. The combat does begin to crack towards the end and some gamers may be left feeling a bit empty when it ends so abruptly but that is the nature of these kinds of tales. Alan Wake provided me with some of the finest environments and satisfying adventures I’ve played in a long while, even if I am one of those who was miffed at the lack of resolution and cursed one too many times at the combat system. Still, I’d recommend Alan Wake to anyone looking for a scarily good time but just remember, don’t turn off the lights.
A highly commendable game with some truly exceptional moments.