Review by Gruel
"Don't forget your flashlight!"
Poor Alan Wake, all the best selling author wanted to do was escape his writing block issues and have a little R&R with his wife in the Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls. Little did he know that his wife would go missing and that he would be stumbling upon pages from a manuscript he does not recall writing which was turning into a dark, grim reality before his very eyes. If you're thinking this sounds like something off an episode of Twin Peaks or out of a Stephen King novel, you are not mistaken as the developers at Remedy throw plenty of nods for those two inspirations in what they are calling a Psychological Action Thriller, Alan Wake.
Being a game from Remedy, the same folks who brought us the first two Max Payne games, a lot of attention has been put on the narrative. Alan Wake is split up into six episodes, with each one starting off with a television-esque recap of the previous episodes. Naturally, each episode ended with a strong cliffhanger to reel me right into the next episode. Remedy does a tremendous job fleshing out the cast of characters through cutscenes and the many manuscript pages Wake collects that are littered throughout Bright Falls.
I remember way back seeing early preview footage of the game led me to believe this would play like a survival horror game, but it is more of a thriller, with some tense moments sprinkled throughout. Also, with Alan Wake receiving a T rating there is nothing too shocking for your eyes, but considering how Wake is holding a flashlight for a majority of the game I still recommend playing in the dark for a proper experience.
Speaking of a flashlight, the core of Alan Wake's gameplay is light vs. dark. The townspeople of Bright Falls have been overtaken with a mysterious dark presence, which transforms them into soulless beings whose only desire is to kill Alan Wake. Alan must overcome the dark presence by using a light source such as a flashlight, lantern, spotlight or flare to rid the dark shield over the taken, and only once the dark presence is removed can Alan inflict damage on them with a revolver, hunting rifle or shotgun. Alan Wake's unique, yet intuitive combat result in one of the most truly different experiences compared to most other third person shooters. I never thought I would be able to say I played a game where the most powerful weapon would be a flare gun, but now with Alan Wake I can! Instead of following the trend and making it a hide behind cover and blast everything shooter, Remedy has you on the edge of your seat throughout as you are constantly being chased by the taken, and using a fresh style of combat to take care of adversaries.
Dealing with the taken is only part of the experience. To mix up the action there are some minor puzzle segments to solve, as well as a few driving portions where Alan blasts his brights and squashes the taken like bugs. The driving segments are mindless fun, but a little more variety to the puzzles would have been nice and served as a better breather from the many tense moments of the game. Exploration is another factor as there are a plethora of collectables to be found in the form of manuscript pages, coffee thermoses, ammo chests, portable radios and television sets that you can watch hilariously campy episodes of Night Springs on. Remedy went a little overboard on the collectables as hunting them down became a distraction at times for me which I spent roughly three to four extra hours of play scouring every inch of landscape for them.
As far as replay value goes Alan Wake has an unlockable Nightmare difficulty upon completing the game which contain a small portion of exclusive manuscript collectables to be discovered. There is no multiplayer at all, which I am not faulting Remedy for as trying to incorporate the unique combat into a competitive setting would not gel. A cooperative survival mode would have been cool fighting alongside with friends against waves of taken. There are two more downloadable episodes out right now, the first of which is free if you bought the game new. They expand on the crazy turns that happened at the end of the sixth episode, and introduce some fresh new gameplay concepts which I do not want to spoil here, but are well worth your time playing to get the most out of the Alan Wake universe, and about another three to four hours of gameplay combined.
Graphically speaking, you can tell Remedy spent well over five years working on this game. The developers nailed the environments Wake explores. The dark, ominous woods set the perfect vibe when traversing through them in the middle of the night. The streets of Bright Fall capture that small town look where everything seems a little too perfect. The many lighting effects used to combat the dark and brightly lit safe zones stand out throughout play, but the character design and cinemas are what steal the show. Alan Wake looks like a very frustrated and disturbed individual, his super agent Barry looks and acts like the long lost brother of Entourage's Ari Gold. The well produced cutscenes successfully keep the plot moving and got me further intrigued as the story unfolded. Other than some noticeable screen tearing from time to time, these are some of the best graphics to be found on the 360.
The voice of Alan Wake is what stands out among the sound design. Matthew Porretta does a phenomenal job voicing Alan Wake. Since Wake is a writer and is seemingly reliving his manuscript, he narrates his own story which is slightly odd at first, but becomes more and more fitting as his journey continues. The rest of the supporting cast nail their roles and help add to the presentation, especially the local radio host that sounds too much like the beloved Casey Kasum, who pops up throughout to fill Bright Falls in on its impending doom. The eerie, dark soundtrack chimes in at all the right spots, and had me grinding my teeth for every encounter with the taken that was about to transpire.
It may have taken over five years, but the delays and development reboot was worth it as Alan Wake is one of the top exclusives for the 360, and a welcomed new IP four years into the 360's lifecycle. Even though Alan Wake was released a few years back in 2009 alongside many other well received games (Microsoft had the bright idea of deciding to release it on the same day as Red Dead Redemption), it is still well worth your time going back to now in case it slipped under your radar.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/27/12
Game Release: Alan Wake (US, 05/18/10)
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