Review by SRR Capdown
"Who says games can't be art?"
The box of the game claims that Alan Wake is a psychological action thriller and that it is. The game effortlessly flows from media format to media format, combining elements of watching a TV show or film, reading a book and playing a game. All the while it tells the story of fictitious thriller author, Alan Wake, as he is seemingly plunged into insanity upon reaching the peaceful looking mountain town of Bright Falls.
One of the best things about Alan Wake is the brilliant use of cinematography and direction. Many people will claim that games are not an art form, but Alan Wake proves this wrong. The cut scenes do not play like you are watching a cut scene of a game, but more like you are watching a segment of a CGI film or television series. But this stylisation is not restricted to cut scenes alone, as the gameplay itself incorporates it. Whether dodging an attack, or blasting away the darkness enveloping the enemies, amongst other things, you can initiate a small slow down, along with a change in hue and camera angle, that helps make the game a more immersive experience.
The story is told in fantastic way; as a story. Rather than merely play out the plot line, and partly due to the psychological action thriller nature of the game, we are subject to much of the narration and inner thoughts of the titular character, often styled as if they are being read straight out of a novel. On top of that, there's also the (also narrated) manuscript collectibles that you come across throughout the game. These not only add further insight into the mind of the character, but can act as precursors to events yet to unfold, whilst also revealing more snippets history and plot information that are not available otherwise. The game is also set into chapters, but rather than chapters of a book, it plays more like a TV series. Each chapter is ended on a cliff-hanger, or a twist, possibly something that the character Alan Wake is not yet aware of, and each subsequent chapter opens with a previously on Alan Wake section. It may sound a little corny, but it works really well and helps tell the story in an interesting way.
Complimentary to the plot are the TV and Radio sequences. These can be found throughout the game, and whilst some do actually aid with the plot, many feature things that are purely supplementary. The TVs often play a Twilight Zone-like show called Night Springs, in which we get to see live-action mini-shows that feature tales of mystery, pseudo-science and horror. Whilst the radios act as a point to hear the locals take on events that are occurring in the small town of Bright Falls.
The gameplay is great, if a little repetitive. The main feature that differentiates the game from generic third person shooters is the use of light. It's not just a weapon, but a necessity. Enemies are invulnerable until they have their darkness stripped away from them, which then allows them to be shot. You have multiple light-based tools at your disposal; torches, flares and flare guns, flashbang grenades and the more event related, stationary lamps and search lights. Light is not only a feature of destruction though, but as a point of salvation, as light heals you, provides safe havens, and as the loading screens remind you, can prove as a point to follow.
Graphically this game is superb; one of the most impressive games I've played to date with that regard. The water effects, particularly in the opening sequence, are awe inspiring. The use of light and dark, as one would hope with a game in which they are a primary focal point, is brilliant. The forests and scenery are stunning, with a great deal of stuff going on and visible all at once. My biggest problem is that sometimes the characters faces look lifeless, which also makes it look like the game has been dubbed quite poorly at times.
The sounds of the game are also really good. The sound effects and score are great and work really well at setting the mood, whilst at the same time not being too intrusive. The game also has an excellent soundtrack, with the radios, hidden throughout the game, featuring a variety of songs, and with each End of Chapter sequence accompanied by an appropriate song.
Replayability and length of the game are probably the biggest let down. The game is easily completed in a single weekend, and the replay value doesn't really go beyond that of those who are completionists. There are loads of collectibles throughout the game; the manuscripts, TVs and radios already mentioned, but there are also the coffee flasks (of which there are 100), hidden chests, tin can pyramids, signs and probably a few other little things I'm forgetting, all of which vary in numbers and offer a variety of Xbox Achievements. It does however, include an unlockable Nightmare difficulty which you earn for completing the game. So as I said, short of completionists and Achievement junkies there isn't much replay.
A thoroughly brilliant game, and hopefully the first of many Alan Wake-based games we'll see. Whilst the slight repetition of the gameplay and the lack of replay value would otherwise hinder a game, I think that in the scope of things they are very minor problems. Alan Wake is one of the most artistic and beautifully told games I've ever come across. The combination of media formats and the ease of which they are implemented is genius.
This game is definitely a buy over a rental. Whilst it may be relatively short; like a good book, film or television series, you may not want to go back through it right away, but you certainly will sometime in the future.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/19/10
Game Release: Alan Wake (EU, 05/14/10)
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