Review by Parasitic
"Remedy returns with another impressive title that was worth the wait."
Alan Wake has had an interesting development cycle. First announced in 2005, and with on and off news about the game over the years, most people were ready to consider it vaporware. But here we are, five years later and Alan Wake is alive, ready, and released to the masses. After all the ups and downs, was Remedy's newest creation worth the wait? Absolutely.
Wake is a famous writer suffering from the the typical writers block as of late. He and his wife take a vacation to a small town called Bright Falls to get away from everything including writing. All is well as they enter this lovely town filled with fresh air, beautiful vistas, friendly small town folks and that oh so quiet countryside. What's not to love, right? How about a town that harbors its share of nightmarish secrets and horrible tragedies that come to life when the lights go out? Soon enough, things turn from pleasant to miserable as Wake's wife, Alice, goes missing and Alan himself can't remember the events of the previous week. It isn't long before Alan is in his own living nightmare.
Alan Wake takes a fairly interesting approach to storytelling. It was touted to have heavy influences from Stephen King and David Lynch. While it does feel heavy on Stephen King (and there are quite a few references to him), the game itself doesn't carry that Lynch-ian feel (although the Bright Falls prequel clips do). So if you are expecting that odd Lynch style approach, you will be disappointed. Even without that, the story itself is highly interesting and is the core reason to play the game. How it's presented brings a refreshing change to a somewhat tiring genre. The story is split up into six chapters and after each chapter you will get a rehash of what just happened in the way of, Previously on Alan Wake. These little touches, along with Alan narrating the story on the go, add a storytelling experience that just feels fresh.
Remedy seems to enjoy creating interesting gameplay mechanics. Max Payne utilized the bullet time effect to give that series a different feeling to third-person shooting. It worked, very well. With Alan Wake, we are presented with another interesting mechanic the use of light. Your enemies (known as The Taken) are engulfed by darkness and they have no remorse for the things they'll do. Shoot as you may, you simply cannot kill them that is, unless you burn away the darkness. In Alan Wake, light is the weapon of choice and it comes in a few flavors such as flashlights, spotlights, flashbags, flares, and the BFG of the game a flare gun. Don't worry, there are some non-light weapons such as a pistol and a shotgun which are used to put to rest those enemies after you have burned the darkness away. It presents a unique, frantic, and somewhat challenging combat style to its third-person setup.
While the combat is great, the game does follow a very linear path which does convey some small repetition issues. You'll find yourself moving from point A to point B in similar surroundings, such as the woods, a bit too often at times. On a similar note, the enemies aren't very diverse. You'll mostly be up against similar types of foes wielding axes throughout the game. This mostly works though, and I imagine throwing in some crazy demon monsters for the sake of variation would actually hurt the game more than it would help it. Repetitiveness aside, Remedy manages to keep you involved by its storytelling, pacing, and its excellent combat system. You'll use lights, solve very minor puzzles, find collectibles (the manuscripts add a great touch to the story), and even drive vehicles (high beams included). After all is said and done, the repetitive issues become minor and take a back seat.
Sometimes the audio in a game is forgettable. Sometimes you'd rather listen to a cat clawing a chalkboard, and sometimes it just takes the game to a different level which is the case in Alan Wake. Okay, I won't get too carried away. While I think the voice acting for Alan Wake himself is pretty solid, some of the others can be a bit rough at times. It's manageable though and most characters are tolerable. There does tend to be some really b-movie style dialogue at times which is laughable, but I think that depends on how you are viewing the game. This is Alan Wake's world to an extent and it is stated in the game that he isn't the best of writers. So maybe some of that dialogue is to reflect the not-so-amazing writing ability of the Alan Wake character. One thing that does stand out though is The Taken. The voices for them are excellent and they sound devilishly evil. But the problem comes with some of the lines they say that kind of seem just awkward and out of place. Omega 3 fatty acids are good for your heart? Well thanks for the health tip you harbinger of death, now it's time to obliterate you with my hardcore flashlight! Yea, it's just a bit out of place.
Awkward dialogue aside, Remedy has nailed the musical side of the audio department. The original score feels dead on in delivering its eerie piano tones when you feel like you're alone in the woods and changes to a tense anxiety-ridden medley when heavier action sequences are taking place. Add that in with excellent use of environmental sounds and we have ourselves a winner. Not only are the original score and environmental sounds great, Remedy has included some licensed songs that are fan-friggen'-tastic! Artists such as Poe, Nick Cave, and even David Bowie compile this amazing list of license tracks that just work so well with the game, you'll almost feel that they were arranged for it. While these songs may not be the latest top-chart hits (Thank you Remedy), they are the perfect pieces for this psychological thriller.
The graphics are an interesting breed. Alan Wake's main focus is its darker environments and this is where the game shines (slight pun intended). These environments create a very eerie atmosphere that will raise tension and anxiety and it's pulled off extremely well. The lighting effects as you make your way through various environments really excel as it should, considering this game is based on light. A lovely spectacle to watch is when you burn away the darkness on an enemy. The burning' effects are just perfect and when you light a flare or shoot the flare gun, you will be impressed by the way the darkness lights up, shadows are cast, and sparks are flying. Generally, I always find the darker scenes in games to be less than spectacular. But in Alan Wake, it completely works and you'll be convinced that the graphics are something to behold. That is, until you reach the daytime environments.
This is where you start seeing the ugly side to the graphics. Let me be straight forward they aren't horrible, but they aren't pretty at times. You would just think with such a long development time that they would be more up to par. But alas, this isn't the case. A lot of the textures are rather ugly and you'll wonder if this game was meant to be released a few years ago instead of now. It definitely appears dated. Not only that, but there is quite a lot of pop-ups happening in the distance that is easily noticeable. Add that in with some rough looking facial expressions and mouth movement and you'll wonder what was going on during the development cycle. It doesn't necessarily take anything away from the experience (we all know perfect graphics don't equal a perfect game), I would have just expected better after all that development time. Even with these issues, Alan Wake still comes off as a good looking game in a lot of areas.
Although the game is a great first time experience, there is very little replay value to be had after you originally venture through its 10-15 hours of gameplay. This game is about the story, and after that there really isn't much to go back to unless you want to collect all the coffee mugs and manuscript pieces for now. With the promise of episodic downloadable content, there will be reasons to return to Bright Falls and see where Remedy plans on taking Alan Wake. However, in the meantime, if you did manage to grab the Limited Edition, it does include some cool video commentary that will play in the corner as you progress through the game. That's a really, really nice touch and a clever way to add some replay value to an otherwise slim game.
Even with the little gripes I had, Remedy has impressed me by pulling off another shouldn't-miss title in their small catalog. Yes, the wait was worth it and it deserves your attention. If you have the extra cash, pick up the Limited Edition as its one of the better Limited Edition sets I have seen. So turn the lights off, the volume up, and immerse yourself in what I feel is one of the better atmospheric gaming experiences you'll find this generation.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/26/10, Updated 05/27/10
Game Release: Alan Wake (Limited Collector's Edition) (US, 05/18/10)
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