Review by Black Gold
"Light up the darkness."
I was excited to hear that Sam Lake was working on another game because I'm a huge fan of the Max Payne series and was looking forward to another excellent story from him. Besides Lake's involvement, the horror aspect drew me in, even though it's marketed as A Psychological Action Thriller on the cover. Expecting another great experience like Max Payne, I was on board with this game.
Alan Wake is a successful writer from New York who is suffering from writer's block. In an attempt to break it, he travels to the small mountain town of Bright Falls with his wife, Alice. Upon arriving in Bright Falls, they go to their cabin to settle in. Alan enters his room to find a typewriter on his desk set up by his wife. Alan is furious with Alice for doing this because he wanted a vacation from work. He storms out leaving Alice behind. While walking away he hears her scream and rushes back to the cabin. Someone or something has taken Alice into the lake and Alan jumps in after her. Then Alan wakes up from a car accident alone. His makes his way back to town to find out what has happened to his wife.
There is much going on in this story. There are many characters in the town to meet and get acquainted with, as they have roles to play in the story. There's the town sheriff, Alan's agent, an overzealous FBI agent, and a local radio host to name a few. I liked most of the characters, but, for a game like this, I wanted more character development and to spend more time with some of the them like the sheriff and the radio host. In a game formatted in episodes like a television series, I wanted to get to know them more and get more back-story. I think this would pull the player more into the story and become more invested in their fates.
The graphics for Alan Wake are great. The town of Bright Falls looks exactly like how one would picture a small mountain town. The backgrounds and forests look good. Because of the setting, there will be much time spent running through the forest, following mountain trails, and some mines and caves. Also, night is the main time of day Alan is outside. The shadows and lighting are very well done. This added with the fog and the music a very creepy effect is created when walking through the woods. This game has great atmosphere and is one of its strongest points.
Light is what this game revolves around. It is your greatest friend during your journey. It heals you and allows you to defeat the Taken. When fighting the enemies, they can be defeat only after light has been used on them to dispel the darkness. Once the darkness is dispelled, shot away. Since much of the time is spent outside, your light source needs to be transportable. During the course of the game, various types of flashlights and lanterns will be encountered. Their quality improves as the game goes on. The light will be more powerful and the battery will last longer. Batteries are important as they can run out if they are used carelessly. The batteries recharged, so you don't have to keep changing them, though you'll need to during battle with the Taken. Lampposts are the best source of light. They will rapidly heal you and recharge your battery. They also act as checkpoints, so if you're being chased by a few Taken and you're near a lamppost, make the dash for it.
The weapons are pretty standard. The main gun that is used by Alan is a six-shot revolver. There are also shotguns and a hunting rifle. The hunting rifle is the most powerful weapon and is usually a one-hit kill, but it is the rarest gun. Other weapons include flares, flash-bang grenades, and flare guns. Flares are the most common light-based weapon. They are good for keeping enemies away from you during an attack. You can hold them in your hand or drop them on the ground. I prefer to drop them and use them as a barrier while fighting. They're very useful when enemies are coming from multiple directions. I can drop one behind me, defeat a few enemies in front of me, and turn around as the flare dies to fight the ones behind me. Flash-bangs are better than flares as they can defeat multiple enemies at once and they travel farther than flares. Save flash-bangs for when you're trapped. They are also good for clearing a passage if you don't feel like fighting and want to make a run for it. Flare guns are the most powerful light based weapon. They are best used taking out multiple large enemies. The larger the enemy, the longer it'll take to get rid of the darkness, and it'll take more ammo.
The game has a third person camera and the overheard view can be changed from focusing on the left or right side by pressing down on the right stick. It can happen inadvertently while turning quickly or a similar action which can be annoying, but it did not happen often. Sprinting is done with LB. The sprint could have been longer as Alan gets tired quickly and needs to catch his breath. Tapping on LB performs a dodge maneuver. It is very helpful to avoid attacks, but it is done often when unwanted, such as the beginning of a sprint.
Some other parts of the game include driving. Driving is a component of the game, but it isn't that big of a factor. The driving controls are standard and it's easy to get a hold of. The head lights work great from dispelling the darkness and then the Taken can be run over for the kill. Often when an attack is about to begin, a slow motion scene will occur. I didn't mind this at first, but it gets repetitive as the game goes on. It takes away from the tension and surprise of being ambushed when the game shows you where the enemies are coming from. The movement of the character is fine, but at times it can feel awkward. Alan can jump and climb through windows or over boxes, but that's about it. It's like Max Payne without the diving or the bullet-time. Also, the game is a bit too linear. Some exploring can be done, but not enough for my liking. In a small town setting, things should be more open.
It took me about 10 hours to beat the game on Normal. I would expect it to take a bit longer if you start on Hard or Nightmare difficulty. The replay value is okay as I have played through my favorite parts again. Once the game is beaten and all the episodes are unlocked, it is possible to play through any episode or section within the episode. Also, there is down-loadable content for Alan Wake. The first part of this special episode is free with the code that comes with the game and the second costs Microsoft points. It adds some more playable value to the game, but not anything too significant.
Alan Wake is another good game that falls short of being great. Though it falls short of greatness, it still enjoyable. If you're into horror and mountain settings, I'd say buy it. If you're only mildly interested or just curious, rent it.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/14/11, Updated 06/20/11
Game Release: Alan Wake (US, 05/18/10)
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