Review by Bkstunt_31
"Does Alan Wake deliver on it's "Psychological Action Thriller" promise?"
From the studio that brought you the well-known Max Payne series (Remedy Entertainment) come a self-proclaimed "Psychological Action Thriller": Alan Wake. Being the huge horror fan that I am (with the "psychological" Silent Hill 2 being one of my favorite games) I knew I had to eventually try out Alan Wake. So what can you expect out of this "Psychological Action Thriller"?
The story starts off with Alan Wake (who is a famous bestselling author) and his wife Alice taking a vacation to the city of Bright Falls, hoping that it will help his writer's block. After admiring the beautiful Northwest scenery on the barge trip to the town, Alan goes into a local diner to meet with the landlord of the cabin he's renting. Instead of the landlord, Alan accepts the keys for a mysterious woman in black (who was "working" for the landlord). Alan and his wife then head to the cabin to unpack (which is located on an island in the middle of a lake), but get into an argument when Alan sees his wife set up a typewriter for him. Going for a walk to clear his head, Alan hears his wife screaming for help shortly after he leaves. Running to the house, Alan arrives in time to see a shadowy figure pulling his wife into the lake.
Diving in after here, Alan blacks out and awakens later in his car at the scene of (fairly nasty) car wreck. He can see the town from the hills, and tries to make his way towards it for help, but is soon attacked by a dark shadowy figure... and the weirdest thing is that he soon starts finding pages to a novel that appear to be coming true... a novel he never even remembers writing!
As you can see, the popular thriller writer's vacation soon whirlwinds into a thriller of it's own. What happened to his wife? What is attacking him? And what do those novel pages mean? Alan Wake will pull you in and never let go with its fantastic story, which it strategically narrates through six different episodes. The whole game pulls a ton of inspiration from other famous writers (most noticeably Stephen King) to create a charming narrative, and even with the confused Alan glimpsing pages to a novel that he doesn't remember writing, you never quite know what to expect next. The writing in the game is top-notch, with fantastic pacing, and even when you think a small detail is about to go unnoticed the story picks it back up. Overall, Alan Wake's story is close to perfect (Thank You Sam Lake!).
Game Play: 7/10
Well, not everything can be perfect, right? As you'll quickly learn while playing, light is your friend (one of your only friends!). Alan will almost ALWAYS have a flashlight with him. Why? Well, despite finding a firearm, the dark shadowy creatures (who mostly take on human form) cannot be killed with any weapon. HOWEVER, when you shine light on them and leave it on them for a prolonged time, they become vulnerable to weapons, giving you time to shoot them dead.
Alan will encounter a variety of different shadow enemies as you can imagine, since the term "shadowy human figures" can encompass a variety of human types. However, you will also battle possessed birds as well as objects being possessed by the darkness. Alan will find different items to help him though, such as different types of guns (like the shotgun and rifle), different types of flashlights, and other assorted goodies like flash-bangs and flares (which are meant to be used when Alan gets surrounded).
The game itself is fairly linear, as Alan will have a destination to go to all the time as well as a limited area to explore. Some of the areas are rather big though, especially when Alan's destination is a long ways off. Despite the game's linear nature, there are often nooks and crannies to explore, where the developers not only hide additional pages of the manuscript but also collectible coffee thermoses and weapon cache's as well (which encourages you to explore).
Overall, the game play is rather average. The big problem with it is that it really doesn't evolve or progress past the point of "collecting new weapon types": you are going to kill the last shadow enemy in the game the EXACT same way that you killed the first, which will undoubtedly lead many people to call the game play boring. I did like the idea of breaking down an enemy with light before killing it, as well as the dodging system that was implemented into the game, but in the end its a rather average game play system.
The game takes place in the pacific north-west (In the US; think Washington State), and if you've never been to that area let me tell you: it's beautiful. With it's mountains, pine trees, and winding rivers, the north-west is probably one of the last sections of America to be spoiled by humans (I may be a little biased here since I'm actually from the north-west). Remedy does a great job of capturing the picturesque beauty, littering the outdoors areas with plenty of variety like the occasional old building or logging operation (there's a lot of logging in the north-west), while putting a lot of detail into the indoor areas.
Character model's are well done in the game as well, with proper animations and plenty of detail put into the title. I will admit though, that there were times while moving my character felt unnatural. For example, when trying to move between certain objects the game just plain won't let you, which seems weird. I mean, it LOOKS like you should have enough room... I also got "stuck" on an object once or twice, but nothing a little jumping didn't overcome. There's also some shameless advertisements in the game, including huge billboards that just say "Verizon" on them (I wonder how much Verizon paid Remedy Entertainment for that...). Despite the occasional head-scratching graphical designs, the game is just beautiful.
The soundtracks used in the game are often very atmospheric, as Alan will be by himself out in the great outdoors often. This helps set the mood that is necessary for a game border-lining on that horror genre, so get used to hearing sound effects and mood pieces. However, "modern" music (read "real-life bands") often are showcased not only at certain parts in the story but also during the opening and closing scenes (thanks to the episode formatting). Bands include David Bowie and Poets of the Fall (who have also worked with Remedy on Max Payne).
The voice work in the game was superb as well. Alan's VA in particular does a great job, as Alan does a lot of inward thinking and narrative (like when he reads his own manuscripts). Other voice actors give great performances as well (I really liked Alan's friend, Barry).
After playing through the game once, all of the great story surprises will be ruined for you, of course, but there are those multiple manuscript pages and coffee thermoses for you to find (which encourages exploration), as well as multiple difficulties and achievements to earn. But probably the most important thing to note is that there are (as of the time I'm writing this) two DLC packs available for Alan Wake, namely The Writer and The Signal. Both of these expand the story presented in Alan Wake, but of course require you to shell out some more money to play.
Alan Wake is a great XBox 360 exclusive, and has a fantastic story, great audio, and great visuals. The presentation and pacing of the game is just fantastic. However, the repetitive game play does hamper it from being a block-buster title. However, if you've got a Xbox 360 and a free weekend, this game is definitely worth your time and money. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/15/11
Game Release: Alan Wake (US, 11/23/10)
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