Review by horror_spooky

"Where's my wife?!"

Before I go on with this review, I just need to say that despite Alan Wake not receiving a score as high as some people might have expected, it is still a brilliant game. Alan Wake is an example of video games as an art form, and it has plenty of qualities that make it worth the time to play. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from a few flaws that keep it from achieving its full potential, and these simply cannot be overlooked while evaluating the title.

Fans of Stephen King books will probably find a lot to like about the structure and storytelling qualities of Alan Wake, as the game feels very similar to a novel that the master of horror might produce. In fact, there are a decent amount of similarities between Alan Wake and King's novel The Dark Half, and King is even mentioned a few times throughout the game. The effect this novel-like quality has on the gameplay is astounding, as you really feel like you're playing through a book. In some cases, this makes the game feel a bit slow, but in other cases, it helps exemplify the storyline and will keep you from putting down that controller just so you can see what happens next.

Alan Wake works like a third-person adventure game with a decent amount of survival-horror qualities mixed in for good measure. You explore the locales of a town called Bright Falls, speaking to people, completing tasks to progress the story, and doing a bit of adventuring while you're at it. These elements of the game, that help build the mystery, really go a long way to hook the player and keep them playing; a quality that Alan Wake shares with many good books: you simply can't put it down.

However, like I mentioned before, this does result in a somewhat slow pace at points in the game. Alan Wake, despite feeling like a novel, simply isn't a novel, and I can imagine many gamers becoming bored with it fairly easy. This isn't just due to the way the game is paced, though; it also has to do with the rather boring environments. A lot of the time you will find yourself stumbling through the woods, and while the scenery is gorgeous, it can get repetitive really fast.

If there weren't threats to your life or obstacles to try to prevent your progress, it would be hard to classify Alan Wake as actually being a video game. The enemies you face in the game include ravens that attack you in vicious swarms and try to rip the flesh off your bones, shadowy human figures that taunt you while trying to decapitate you with a rusty axe, and floating objects like trucks and trains that are launched at you with tremendous speed by an evil supernatural force. And what does the titular Alan Wake have at his disposal to protect him from these dangers? A flashlight.

Light is your main weapon throughout the game, becoming more important than the shotguns and revolvers you'll find. You have to use light in order to disperse the shadows away from your enemies so you can finish them off with a few rounds from your revolver or a nicely-placed shotgun shell. Combat can be a rewarding experience, but there are control issues that can make it a tad frustrating at times. You shoot your flashlight beam at enemies by holding the left trigger, shoot with the right trigger, and then constantly have to monitor your ammo and battery life. You replace batteries by pressing Y and reload by furiously tapping the X button, and while this doesn't seem like a huge deal, during overwhelming combat situations, you will find yourself fumbling to get kills, or to even just get away from the monsters trying to end your life.

More important than the firearms, as I've already mentioned, is Wake's ability to utilize light. The flashlight is your main weapon in the game, but there are other light sources that most certainly come in handy. Spotlights are used at times to ward off your enemies, and flares are especially useful when you are surrounded to ward off the creatures. Flashbang grenades work like regular grenades would in a first-person shooter as the explosive light completely destroys all the enemies around it. And finally, the flare gun is the most powerful weapon in the game, and can be used to destroy swarms of enemies with a single pull of the trigger.

Exploring is a big part of Alan Wake, and players will be rewarded if they travel off the beaten path. Caches of ammo, flashlight batteries, flares, etc. can be found hidden in crevices, and there are also collectibles to find in order to unlock achievements. Many thermoses of coffee are littered throughout the town of Bright Falls for you to discover, and there are also television sets that provide more insight into the storyline of the game. Manuscript pages can also be found and read that foreshadow future events and dig deeper into the game's universe. The exploration elements also include mini-games that have to be completed to further the game's storyline and hazards such as bear traps that leave you susceptible to attacks from enemies while you try to free your ankle from their cold metallic jaws.

Alan Wake, like I've mentioned multiple times in this review, is largely a story-driven experience. The game is about a writer, after all, and the supernatural happenings he experiences while vacationing in the town of Bright Falls. Things quickly go from weird to horrifying for Mr. Wake, and while I'd love to get into the juicy details, it would most certainly cheapen the experience for some gamers out there, and that's the last thing I want to do. The game's plot is separated into episodes, and you are given a refresher of what has already transpired in the game at the beginning of each episode so you can understand what's going on without too much difficulty, and that's a good thing considering this game is full of twists and a lot of quirky, interesting characters.

If the sun is hot, then Alan Wake is beautiful. Not the dude, but the game's graphics. The attention to detail is amazing, and everything from the water to the trees have been crafted with so much attention and care that you will truly get lost in the world that Remedy has created. Character models are mostly good, except the lip-synching is noticeably off and a lot of the animations are weak, but there are still amazing set-pieces and gorgeous scenery that makes the visual experience of Alan Wake an absolute winner. Technical problems do exist, and this is unfortunate. At one point in the game, I was stuck in a bear trap and was unable to move, shoot, or use my flashlight. It wouldn't let me release myself from the trap either, so I literally had to stand there and wait for an enemy to knock me free of the glitch with their axe.

Another huge plus for the game is the audio quality. Alan Wake is a game that has mirrored the audio quality of big-budget blockbuster movies perfectly. All the sounds are nice and loud when they need to be, and the soundtrack is unsettling—in a good way. The voice acting is excellent, and the dialogue is even better. Alan Wake's narration of the game while you play is a nice touch, and I hope more game developers take note of how excellently done the audio is in Alan Wake and apply these practices to their titles.

The nail in the coffin that keeps Alan Wake from must-own status? Length and replayability. While Alan Wake is most certainly art, the developers have to remember that their major goal should be to create a video game, with the conventions to make a good game in the forefront of the designing process. You can complete the game in about ten hours, which is actually a decent amount of time, but in that ten hours you can unlock well over half of the achievements. In that ten hours, you will experience everything Alan Wake has to offer story-wise, and since the game follows such a slow pacing, multiple play-throughs probably won't be a top priority for gamers.

Alan Wake is excellent, and you should at least give this game a rent. If you're a huge fan of survival-horror games and are looking for a good game with just a few flaws, then don't hesitate in running to the store and picking this baby up. The creators of Max Payne have another hit on their hands, and hopefully Alan Wake becomes a franchise. There's a lot more story to tell, and there's a lot of uncovered potential for Mr. Wake.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/26/10

Game Release: Alan Wake (US, 05/18/10)


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