Review by JezebelTruant

"An insulting, empty experience."

Remedy, the developers behind the gritty, film noir - John Woo hybrid Max Payne, announced a sleek n' shiny new survival horror at E3 back in 2005. Alan Wake.

I got excited. Forgot about it. Got excited again. Waited. Re-played a few favorites from my horror collection to bide time until it's release and picked it up the day it came out. However, I've got a toddler. He is in the “terrible years” and as a result, things get done on his schedule. I wasn't able to try it until several days after I brought it home. That didn't mean I wasn't experiencing it in some form-- Every other gamer I knew assured me I was in for something magnificent. Even the barista at my local Starbucks promised my husband that I would love it.

The “professional” reviews that I skimmed rated Alan Wake extremely high for a thriller / horror title. All of the user reviews here at Gamefaqs, at the time, ranked it an astounding 9/10. While I'm not one to buy into hype, I at least felt a little less guilty about dropping the money on it.

I've got to say, Alan Wake was terribly disappointing. This game has some serious power-house scenery graphics (character models are another story) and an obviously colossal budget-- but it's boring. Touted as a “psychological thriller,” it fails to live up to it's branding in unfortunately every critical way.

First and foremost, this game is completely lacking in the most crucial element of any game. Interaction and immersion. My husband commented that he felt he should be watching it as a film-- and would probably enjoy it if it was one instead of a game. I agree completely. Playing Alan Wake is nothing but going through the motions to advance a dry and predictable plotline that feels cliche before it even gets rolling.

To elaborate on the fatal lack of immersion, Alan Wake is nothing but a rail system behind of smoke and mirrors of burning cash. You cannot interact with anything in your environment. You can't examine things. Approach a door and it opens. With no prompt from the player. You cannot even choose to open a door. There are several NPCs in this game-- but you cannot interact with them. Instead, stand vaguely near them to perhaps initiate dialog. Stand around and wait 30 seconds to see if they are finished when they stop speaking, or if they have anything else to say.

This is the most linear game I have encountered on the next gen systems. You can't explore-- and even if you were to try, there is no point. If you advance to far, narration kicks in at a trigger point and spins events out of order. There are NO items in this game save a ridiculous abundance of ammunition and batteries for your flashlight. No health items, no puzzle pieces, no memos. Just a few keys that are right next to their use point. To top it off, the items that do make an appearance double as product placement.

Apparently, Remedy realized what a stupid move that was and added collectable *coffee thermoses.* Oh, and, pages with the story that you are currently experiencing written on them, most of the time spoiling the very next scene and repeating the mediocre voice acted dialog. Some of the pages reveal information “off camera” but there is no way to differentiate between the two. These “collectables” are put in such plain sight that it's insulting.

Most of the game takes place in the woods-- which look beautiful, no doubt. However, if you stray from the dirt path in front of you, at all, you will find yourself completely surrounded by enemies and utterly hopeless. Due to the fact that the moment you leave the path you're screwed-- and the fact that there is no reason to anyway, you have no option but to mindlessly advance as you are told and at the pace you are told.

Speaking of enemies, there are about three of them. Total. A guy with a hat, a guy with ear muffs and poltergeist wheelbarrows. Defeating them requires the exact same strategy, which is no “strategy” at all. Aim a flashlight at them and shoot them in the face/haunted aluminum siding/trucker hat. When a new level starts, which plays like an episodic television show, your ammo and battery count are reset. So much for item conservation-- this game even fails at allowing the player to worry if they have enough supplies, a basal element. “Bosses” are the same and require only a few more hits.

Alan Wake, as hinted at earlier, also has active narration. The character speaks in past tense constantly. “I turned. It came after me. I shot a it in the face/haunted aluminum siding/trucker hat.” Not only does this shatter any tension built but also ends up feeling extremely anticlimactic for the fact that it is spoken calmly in past tense. In a similar vein, the game plays in episodes like a television series, with previous chapter re-caps and everything. I'm not going to even bother mentioning the uncanny similarities (or blatant rip offs) of Lynch.

Music, be it in film, television, theater and especially video games is only behind story and characters in importance. The music in Alan Wake is forgettable, if not unnoticeable. The only time I paid attention to this element is when they threw in my favorite Poe song, which was inappropriately used. Considering the fist-fulls of cash they handed over for rights to existing real-world music, it would have been much better invested into original ambiance, not 1990s alt-rock. Not going to lie, gunshots, footsteps, etc are quality but they feel recycled. The enemies warble gibberish from their past “selves,” nonsense like “Omega 3 fatty acids are good for your health!” In theory, some flicker of the host's original self, works. In actuality, it's ridiculous.

The small bit of content that is interesting and the saving grace of the game is overused so gratuitously that it gets old immediately. As an example, there is a television show in game called Night Springs. It's a spoof of old, late night pulp sci-fi shows like The Twilight Zone. At the beginning I found myself looking forward to these bits until I started to encounter it EVERYWHERE. Night Springs posters. Night Springs video games. Night Springs clothing. Night Springs cups. Characters playing a Night Springs board game. It totally killed the initial late-night niche feel that it was trying to emulate. Quirky NPC characters that seem to add quaint life to the game end up as major players. Smiling at a reference to H.P. Lovecraft turns into eye rolling.

Last, Alan is a completely unlikable character. While an unlikable protagonist is passible in other mediums, this is a fatal flaw in a video game. The main character, this avatar, is a direct extension of the player. Nintendo hit the nail on the head in the early days of gaming with the silent protagonist of the Zelda series. The main character's name, Link, was actually chosen to highlight the fact that he was a “link” between the player and the game.

Flawed characters make the best characters. This guys is just annoying. His response to everything is to punch it in the face. Alan is supported by a cast of even lamer characters, including a stereotypical New York publishing agent and sweet, supportive and submissive blonde. But I don't like Alan. He's obnoxious, hot-headed and pretentious. Yes, that is the point of the character. No, it doesn't work. If I can't empathize with a character, why should I care about their predicament? Why should I want to help them? I didn't and found myself having a hard time finishing because of this as a stand alone issue, regardless of the others.

What annoyed me most some may find trivial. I don't get it, but many 360 gamers are pretty hard core about getting “achievements.” Alan Wake has an achievement for watching a specific television in game. The television plays... two commercials. One for Mustang and one for Verizon. Are you KIDDING me? So in order to collect an achievement, a fair standard in gaming especially for completionests, you have to watch a commercial?! Not acceptable.

Save the cheap Hollywood flavor for the blockbuster films.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 06/03/10

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


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