Review by nobodys_savior
"A good game, but one flawed enough to not be great."
A man with a troubled mind. A town with a dark secret, a sordid past. Someone the main character holds fond feelings in his heart goes missing. Sound familiar? If you guessed this as the next Silent Hill... you'd be wrong. This is Alan Wake, a new IP from Remedy, the team that brought us Max Payne, and an exclusive title for the Xbox 360.
New games are hard to set on the masses. It's untested waters, could be hit or miss. Sequels usually don't have to worry about this, since there's at least an established customer base who will buy the next installment if only to get more insight on the characters or situations from a previous game. Being a completely new title, does Alan Wake hold up? For the most part, yes, although not without a few hiccups along the way.
You play the role of Alan Wake (who woulda thunk it?). He travels with his wife to Bright Falls in the hopes to cure his severe writers block. After getting the key to his new resting spot from a creepy old woman in a diner, and then heading to the place that the key belongs to, he finds his wife missing, as well as a week from his life. There are also crazy people coming out and attacking him from the darkness of the forest. But, the forest has armed him well.
You attack your foes firstly by shining your flashlight on the weirdos with the creepy voices. When your light does enough damage, there is a brief flash, and then you're free to attack with whatever armaments you have found in your travels. If the enemies get too close, you can always try dodging. There was a problem I had with this however.
The dodging rarely, if ever, works properly. The dodge mechanic is mapped to the left bumper. To dodge, you must hold the left bumper while moving with the left stick. It felt horribly awkward to me. Then again, I was never all that great at dodging in the first place, so it could just be something I had a problem with, but still, the button placement could have been better.
The music fit the game pretty well. Licensed tracks find their way into the game through a radio station, which you activate whenever you can find a radio, and the score works well to set up tension. The music starts to speed up and get louder when enemies are approaching, which is cool for a while, but does lower the tension a bit. If you're lucky enough to have snagged the Collector's Edition of the game, the bonus video disc actually has a segment which explains how they made some of the sound effects and music to the game, very cool if you're like me, and love video game music in general.
Graphically... well, it's not terrible, but for a game that's been in the making for five years, it lacks a certain polish. The character models and environments look good at night, but during the day, movements look a little bit more unnatural, and I even noticed some clipping in certain parts. Not a huge issue, graphics are usually the least of my worries, but it has to be said, the game is not as graphically potent as other recent titles.
Now to the story. In any kind of Horror type, the atmosphere is the defining principle. Most if not all horror is fictional, and we all know that, but it's the suspension of disbelief that sells the horror. Truth be told, Alan Wake pulls it off... for the first half. Another part of horror is knowing as little as possible about the goings on. Crazy A looks like Crazy B until Crazy A is just Schizophrenia, and Crazy B had an Aunt who touched them the wrong way and now he's out for revenge. Horror movies stopped being scary when they start explaining the how's and whys, and that is one of Alan Wake's biggest shortcomings.
For the first half, the weird goings on don't really have an explanation. There are townspeople who seem possessed, and they're out to kill you. They also don't seem aware of anything that's wrong with them, going as far as to talk using phrases they'd probably use in their everyday life. It instills an idea of "What the HELL is going on here?", and kept me going when the combat was merely average at best. It also made me come up with my own conclusions about what was going on, again furthering my need to play more and see if I was right.
It was around the midway point where the they start explaining exactly why things are going weird, what is happening in the town, even other people who have experienced the same thing as you. It put a damper on my suspension of disbelief, and although it never got to the point where the story was overly predictable, it did kill some of the replayability of the game. One playthrough of the game is enough to get everything out of it, except for a few manuscript pages and the achievement for the hardest difficulty.
Another thing that irked me is that even though almost everything was tied up at the end, the ending seemed a little shoe-horned, setting up a possible sequel rather than closing things up neatly. It's something that's been popping up in other games as well. Not all stories need sequels, and even if they do, it shouldn't feel tacked on like the ending to this game.
I did like the game, it was good enough for me to sit through it and play only this game until I beat it. However, the flaws stopped it from becoming great. The forced sequel ending as well as the directness of the plot points were major contributors to my score. I would still recommend this to anyone looking for a good, scary game, especially those disappointed by the recent Silent Hill games, but those looking for more shouldn't be surprised when they still need to look elsewhere.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/11/10
Game Release: Alan Wake (US, 05/18/10)
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