Review by HailToTheGun

"Alan Wake is a superb tour de force of story, gameplay, and emotion."

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

Famous novelist Alan Wake and his wife Alice yearn for a bit of peace and tranquility away from the bustling New York City life. While on vacation out in the Pacific Northwest in the quaint town of Bright Falls, Alan begins having strange dreams and hallucinations that he can't distinguish from reality. When his wife suddenly goes missing, Alan begins a desperate search through the dark hours of night. What he encounters along the way are walking darkness, entities of the Bright Falls citizens possessed by a malignant force, and scattered all throughout the town are pages of a manuscript ascribed to Alan that he does not remember writing. The pages detail the events as they transpire, and Alan soon realizes that the words he has apparently written are coming to life.

You're immediately thrust into this strange world from the first few moments with the game. Bright Falls is not the quiet little safe haven it seemed like in postcards, and the strange happenings of the town appear to revolve around the pages of Alan's manuscript. The story unfolds with brilliant pacing, though much of the game's intended suspense and thrills are unfortunately soured by those very pages you'll find. Should you choose to read them, they'll often describe events that have not yet happened in the story, often ruining the sense of surprise that games of this type rely on. That said, Alan Wake still manages to adequately compel and move you forward with great interest. Inspired by famed TV series of the past Twin Peaks and the Twilight Zone, the latter of which is spoofed in the game as a faux series known as Night Springs that you can watch occasionally, Alan Wake is a rollercoaster ride of absolute insanity, confusion, and torment. Don't expect to have every piece of the puzzle in place by the end, however, as the game leaves off with a mighty cliffhanger to whet the appetite of Remedy's follow-up installment.

Alan Wake is the first in a planned series. Think of it like season one of a TV show. The story also plays out like a series of episodes from a show, with each major arc broken up into six different chapters, and each chapter concluding with a return to the game's splash logo screen with a different theme song playing in the background. Upon starting the following chapter, you're given a recap of the events so far. This storybook structure provides an even more intimate connection with the situation and characters just as any well-written TV show might do.

The Light Shall Set You Free

Perhaps Alan Wake's most notable feature is its interesting combat mechanic and use of a light-based system. While not the first to use this - notable games of the past being The Darkness and Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay - Alan Wake simplifies it and puts the power of the light literally in your hand. Whereas in those aforementioned games, the darkness was your friend, here, Wake's flashlight, street lamps, and flares are the strongest tools against the manipulated living known as the Taken. The flashlight's beam can be shined directly at enemies to weaken their guard, and the light can be enhanced to weaken them quicker. Take care with the latter method though, as that drains the battery very quickly. You'll often find batteries around in various supply boxes to recharge, so it's not a major concern. Once a Taken is sufficiently weakened, you can damage them.

The mechanic demands that you be on your toes. You cannot just run and gun everything in your path and hope to succeed. Bullets against a Taken whose guard has not been destroyed will do absolutely no damage. In addition to your flashlight, you can use flares, a flare gun, and flashbangs, the latter two providing some very entertaining kills. Combat is fun and can get very intense during some moments, particularly near the middle and end of the game. However, like with the manuscript pages spoiling upcoming events in the story, the game often ruins the surprise element that enemies have by showing you when and where they appear. The game will go into slow-motion whenever a new wave of enemies shows up and zoom out to show you exactly where. While this ruins the initial attack, because all combat takes place in the dark, it's still very hard to keep track of where they‘re moving to, so this is not an excuse for you to get lazy.

The checkpoints are frequent and you're often treated to numerous ammo and battery supplies, so you'll rarely be in need. Streetlamps and other sources of major light will speed up your health regeneration much more rapidly. You'll often come across hidden messages written in invisible yellow paint on walls either leading you to a cache of supplies or providing warnings. In addition to finding the manuscript pages scattered around, all of which you will not be able to find in a single play through as some can only found in the Nightmare difficulty, you'll come across various radios and the aforementioned TV sets which serve to bring the town to life just a little bit more. The radio broadcasts will sometimes talk about the events going on in the town involving Wake's appearance and the TV will simply offer a nice, campy little break to show a two to three minute episode of Night Springs. Certain TV sets in the game are out of your control and will display scenes that I shan't spoil. Let's just say they are appropriately bizarre.

The Storybook Comes Alive

For a game that spends the bulk of its playtime in the dark, and for one that makes extensive use of light for combat, the lightning must be perfect. And it certainly is. It's a subtle touch, but the behavior of the flashlight's beam illuminates what you might expect were it a real flashlight. The woods through which you'll spend most of your time running are creepy looking, with the darkness blurring further out in the distance and the shadows dancing off of trees like waves. Character animations in pre-rendered scenes look noticeably awkward and facial expressions seem stiff, but it's a great improvement over Max Payne's constipated-look. The soundtrack is an absolute treat to listen to and the songs used after each chapter's conclusion are wonderful.

Something that always interests me is the use of live-action scenes or real people inside of video games. The Night Springs TV show uses real actors and there are also a few scenes where you'll see taped recordings of Alan Wake using the actual person who provided the motion-capture for the character with his lips synched to the voice actor's words. The voice acting in general was very well done and does justice to the wonderful script by Sam Lake. Speaking of Sam Lake - writer, level designer, and the face of Remedy's first Max Payne - there are three manuscript pages that can be found in Alan Wake that are taken from Wake's last novel, The Sudden Stop, which, when looked at, are read by James McCaffrey, the voice of Max Payne, and are direct references to those games.

And The Verdict Is

Alan Wake follows the tradition of Remedy's magnum opus Max Payne with powerful and emotional storytelling while combining innovative gameplay mechanics and a cast of likeable characters to create one of the most wholly fulfilling and absolutely bizarre titles this generation. From the fresh combat, to the creepy setting, this is a journey best experienced in your own darkness. The minor flaws which seem to take away from the game's suspense don't totally bury it in predictability, and the few complaints with animation are nothing close to a detriment. What's left is a beautiful, if sometimes confusing tale that demands a place in the echelon of great storytelling.

Pros: Innovative and fresh combat; appropriately creepy settings; excellent story, pacing, and characters; music and voices are top notch

Cons: Limited shock and surprise; stiff facial animations

The Final Verdict: 9/10
Alan Wake is a superb tour de force of story, gameplay, and emotion.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/30/10

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


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