Review by SolidFantasy
"Shine on you crazy flashlight"
Alan Wake is a psychological thriller with supernatural elements. It was also developed by Remedy. If that name doesn't ring a bell then I will remind you that this group of talented developers is responsible for the Max Payne games. Alan Wake is most known for being stuck in development for a very long time. I actually think the time was over 5 years. At one point many people thought Alan would never wake up. I am happy to report though that despite all the negativity surrounding the development process, Remedy has added to their impressive track record with Alan Wake. I would even go as far to say it is better than Max Payne.
Story: Remedy is known for their games having a strong emphasis on a strong narrative and story. In some ways Max Payne revolutionized story-telling in games. Alan Wake is no different. Often in times you will see video games compared to movies or try and replicate aspects of film. Alan Wake takes a very unique approach and uses books and a dose of television as its inspiration. We have often heard people say something along the lines of "Playing this game is like playing a movie". I should know, I have said it in previous reviews. Have you ever heard someone say that a game resembles a book though? I have not, and think that this is just the first of many reasons that Alan Wake's story is special and magnificent. Another interesting aspect of the story-telling is how it resembles a television series. After each Episode of the game, the following Episode begins with a recap of the previous chapter beginning with the Narrator always saying "Previously on Alan Wake". Remedy has even confirmed that Alan Wake resembles a television show along with saying that they want to do Alan Wake 2 and that Alan Wake is essentially Season 1 of the entire story. I'm all for it. Please though Remedy, shorten your development process a little for Alan Wake 2, or not if it is vital to your success. If Quentin Tarantino can spend 10+ years writing an ending for Inglorious Basterds why can't Remedy spend 5+ years creating another masterpiece?!
Alan Wake is a well known novel writer and is undergoing a serious case of writers block. His wife Alice suggests that that they go on a vacation not only to relax, but in hoping that Alan can maybe clear his mind, relax, and get rid of his writers block. They go to a small quiet town known as Bright Falls and rent a cabin right by Cauldron Lake. After arriving at the cabin Alice shows Alan a room with a typewriter. She thinks that in Bright Falls, Alan can possibly get the creative juices flowing again and pump out a novel (something he hasn't done in almost two years). Alan becomes angry and says that he went on vacation to relax and to try and forget about these issues. He leaves the cabin for a walk outside in the dark (knowing that Alice will not follow him as she has a strong fear of darkness). After a few moments Alan hears Alice screaming. He enters the cabin and heads around back near the lake to find Alice stuck in the lake. He attempts to save her but ends up waking up in a car accident. Apparently it has been a week since his altercation with Alice. The Taken (strong demonic beings resembling a possessed human) are after him during the silence of the woods at night. Apparently, events from a book Alan never remembers writing are coming to life. He also believes that the same entity controlling the Taken may have Alice. If that wasn't enough, Alan soon finds out that the cabin he and Alice rented was destroyed by a volcano years ago.
Throughout the course of the game Alan will cross the line between sanity and insanity. The characters are interesting and multi-layered. The entire story will keep you guessing and always trying to make sense of things. You will question Alan's mental health. Your mind will be a wreck once the game is over (The game doesn't hold your hand with explaining the plot and the ending along with the entire story can be interpreted in more ways than one). However, it will all be worth it if you're a fan of having your mind twisted, ripped out, and stomped on.
Game-play: While trying to solve the mystery you will encounter large numbers of the aforementioned Taken. The best way to describe these demonic freaks is by simply saying that they resemble the Necromorphs in the classic Evil Dead films. Actually, a lot of the forest and other environments give off that Evil Dead vibe too. The Taken come in many different flavors, such as your basic slow and non-threatening type, then you have big fat ones that wield axes and sometimes even chainsaws. There are also variants of the basic type of Taken that can perform a dashing teleportation like ability resembling the Houdini Splicer's dashing ability from Bioshock. There are also Poltergeists (possessed objects by the Darkness). The Darkness can possess objects such as desks to even a freaking bulldozer. One of my favorite things about the game was seeing what the hell the Darkness would possess next. Finally, there are birds that seem like they are ripped right out of the Hitchcock movie. They swarm you in masses too. Now that we know what all the scary monsters look like, let's discuss your basic ass kicking tactics. Your primary and best weapon IS...
Yes you read that correctly. The Taken always have a dark aurora around them so your number one goal in battle will always be removing that darkness by shining your flashlight, torch, or lantern (done by aiming with the Right Joystick) on it. Once the darkness is gone (The time you must keep your light-source on an enemy varies based on the enemy type and the current chosen difficulty) you can damage the Taken by shooting them (RT) with a pistol, shotgun, or rifle. Poltergeists and birds obviously don't need shooting at as once you light away the darkness they burst into light. You can boost your light by holding down LT and recharge the flashlight with any Energizer batteries you find by pressing Y. One interesting thing about the game is that there is no traditional aiming reticule. Your light acts as your reticule. Aside from the aforementioned ways of shining light there are also numerous other ways to light up your foes. You will find generators scattered around the environments which you can turn on by playing a little mini-game where you must press A when a needle circling a wheel in a clockwise motion reaches the area lit up in green. You also receive a giant section of light that refills your health an unlimited amount of times upon starting these generators. There are small search lights you can turn on; including a huge search light that seems like it was stolen from Gotham City. The huge search light can mow down hordes of Taken in seconds. Flash-bang grenades, Flares, and Flare guns will also be great resourceful uses of crowd control. The Taken aren't just going to sit around and get their asses kicked though. They also have some great offensive moves. They all use melee weapons (except Poltergeists and birds obviously, they just hurl themselves at you in a violent whiplash of aggression) and sometimes even throw them at you. You can perform cinematic dodges (a period of slow motion reminiscent of Bullet Time from the Max Payne games) by pressing LB+LS in any direction (although sometimes the dodge mechanics are a little wonky and you end up cornered somewhere). Often times you will be outnumbered though so running is a wise choice. Holding down LB causes Alan to sprint for a short period of time. I feel that the sprint duration could have been a little longer though. As you fight your way across Bright Falls, sometimes you can hop in a vehicle, turn on the headlights, and mow down everything in sight. There are two different controls schemes for driving (there are also two on-foot control schemes). One is your basic LT/RT=Reverse/Accelerate and the other is the dual joystick control scheme made popular by Halo. Regardless of control scheme, mowing down the Taken in vehicular fashion is a cakewalk.
The only flaw in Alan Wake is that sometimes the pacing of the game can be off meaning it seems like your killing hordes of Taken forever before something story-related happens. This problem only really exists in Episodes 2 and 3 though. After Episode 3 the level design is greatly improved and combat gets shaken up a bit. Some examples are running across bridges that are collapsing by themselves due to being possessed by the Darkness, no flashlight segments, and more interesting level design choices. Alan Wake is for the most part a linear game. There are many paths that branch off from the main objective though that usually leads to one of the many collectables the game offers. There are 106 Manuscript pages to find from the novel Alan doesn't remember writing, Manuscript pages serve a big role in teaching you about the town of Bright Falls and characters of the game, much like Audio Diaries taught you a lot about Rapture in Bioshock. An even better example of describing the Manuscript pages is by comparing them to the numerous sections where Max Payne would narrate in the Max Payne games. A unique aspect of Manuscript pages though is that sometimes a Manuscript can be a detailing narration of an event (not a major plot twist, but usually always something interesting) that hasn't happened in the game yet. This effect is pulled off very well considering the psychological roots of the story and the idea that anticipation can sometimes be a very effective story-telling technique. Another interesting aspect to the Manuscript pages (that isn't really new to Remedy because we've seen this in the Max Payne games) is that around 20 of the 106 Manuscript pages only appear while playing the game on Nightmare difficulty. Don't worry though, Manuscript pages aren't vital to the story, they just offer a better understanding of characters and events within the game. Alan Wake is a truly innovative innovative experience that is a game with a detailed and well written book within the game that further fleshes the entire experience out. That is a huge accomplishment for Remedy and gaming. Aside from Manuscript pages there are 100 coffee mugs to collect that do absolutely nothing. Much like in the Max Payne games there are short TV shows and radio segments that offer even more insight to the events and characters in the games. There are also signs to read that lecture you on the town history of Bright Falls. All of the above makes Alan Wake one of the most innovative and gripping games of the generation.
Graphics/Sound: Alan Wake is the best looking game on the 360 in terms of sheer graphical power. It runs at a constant 30 frames per second, has 4X Anti-Aliasing (a feature only possible with the 360's hardware) and has a maximum resolution of 720p. The scenes have great cinematography and are very engaging. Everything is highly detailed and the environments truly give off a terrifying vibe. The game has the best lighting effects I have ever seen in a game. The Taken look very demonic and menacing. The effects of Poltergeists and birds storming towards you in a hurry will constantly startle you and won't be forgotten. The last boss is pure astounding graphically. During the final confrontation there is so much going on at a fast and fluid in-depth pace that it is beyond remarkable. The sound is some of the best I have ever heard in a game too. Everything from the sound of the unsettling wind to the twisted and demonic voice of the Taken is perfectly executed. The game has outstanding voice over work with great lip-syncing. The game's soundtrack including the numerous licensed songs is fantastic and adds to the always unsettling and creepy atmosphere. Lead Script Writer Sam Lake has stated that "War" by "Poets of the Fall" has a strong connection with the game's plot). Overall, everything isn't just excellent in this department; it's currently the best the Xbox 360 has to offer.
Re-Playability: The game is around 10-15 hours and gives you Nightmare difficulty upon beating it. Nightmare difficulty contains new Manuscript pages that cannot be obtained on any other difficulty. There are over 400 collectables in the game and 2 planned Episodes of download-able content, with the first of the two coming on July 27th. There are also some time consuming Achievements. I would say the game takes anywhere between 30-40 hours to achieve the prized 1000/1000 in Gamerscore. Most importantly, the game has such a complex story that it may take more than one play-through to fully grasp.
Mind-bending psychological story
Refreshing and intense game-play
Numerous homage's to classic horror stories
Awesome vehicle segments
Good amount of re-playability
Best game graphically on the 360
Some early parts drag
Iffy dodge mechanics sometimes get you cornered and killed
Sprint duration could have been longer
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/20/10, Updated 06/01/10
Game Release: Alan Wake (US, 05/18/10)
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