Review by bbears

"Shedding light on Alan Wake."

Alan Wake is an all new IP in the stagnant survival horror genre. Thankfully this title branches out though and does not try the tired out jump scare and tank controls set up that the genre is so well known for. In Alan Wake you play as the titular character who is on vacation at a remote vacation lake Bright Falls. Alan is a well known horror writer and has come with his wife Alice to escape and relax. But it's not long before the author's own creations come to life and begin terrorizing the forest and you slowly slip into paranoia in this tense atmospheric narrative driven experience. This title has a lot of original ideas in it not of least is light. The lighting engine is gorgeous and plays an important part in combat. Alan Wake is ambitious and has a lot going for it but it also has a lot of issues including repetitive gameplay that make the game drag on towards the end. Developed by Remedy the studio known for making the great Max Payne games Alan Wake is definitely worth a try despite some of it's shortcomings.

PRESENTATION
At first glance Alan Wake is an amazing looking game. The lighting engine is the first thing that you notice. Whether or not its emitting from your trusty flashlight or just watching all the shadow effects the engine behind these effects is second to none. There are also plenty of flashy particle effects where enemies disintegrate into sparks and shadows that really impress as well. What really stands out in Alan Wake is all the beautiful scenery in forest environments. I can't really think of another horror game that takes place out in the the wilderness and really sells a feeling of isolation. While all this looks great it also makes the rest of visuals stand out when they don't measure up. Character models look unimpressive in comparison and the lip synching doesn't always match up with the script. Textures when you get up close to almost anything look just bad. And all the impressive lighting effects and physics are achieved by a very short draw distance with copious amounts of fogs. Sound design though is another impressive aspect of Alan Wake. Guns and explosions sound great and have lot of impact. And while the voice acting is a little cliche in parts overall it is great. Music is another highlight playing at only the critical times and suits the tension well.

INTERFACE
Alan Wake is a 3rd person action game with an independent free player controlled camera. When running around a dark forest the performance of that camera is pretty important. Unfortunately the camera is one of the weakest parts of the game. Performing the stylish and life saving dodge mechanic is nearly suicide every time because it makes the camera swing unpredictably. Often when doing just normal maneuvers you still at times have to fight with the camera. When having to avoid multiple enemies the camera will shift between the different enemies and sometimes get caught in corners too frequently. Another poor design choice was putting the crouch action on the same button with the sprint action. I have no idea why they did this as there are unused buttons. Besides these gripes the rest of the game handles well. The dual wielding system of flashlight and firearm works quite well and the shooting feels satisfying as you would expect from developer Remedy.

STORY
Alan Wake is a borderline alcoholic horror author who goes on vacation with his understanding wife, Alice, to Bright Falls to relax and escape from a stressed but pampered life. Shortly after arriving Alan's creations come to life off the pages and takes the form as an evil darkness that consumes the remote vacation spot and of course kidnaps his wife. The game quickly devolves into a standard rescue “damsel in distress” formula and is not exactly original. In fact it is almost a straight ripoff of a lesser known TV show Twin Peaks. Not to mention the script in some parts is cliche and just bewildering as you try to follow where it goes. All that said the story is still memorable and has plenty of humor. Most importantly Alan Wake tells it's story in a novel way that makes this B movie script plot into an atmospheric adventure. Wake's understated narration of events is a lot more convincing than I thought it would be. And discovering all the manuscripts hidden in the forest not only reveal more story but allude to upcoming events giving important information. At first the main characters are unlikeable especially Alan Wake himself. Wake is always brooding and seems just a spoiled man brat that lacks empathy. And the at first horribly stereotypical Barry, your book agent can hardly be stomached for more than a few lines. But as the narrative progresses Barry actually becomes a humorous loveable character. Unfortunately the same can't be said for Alan himself. The ending leaves a lot to be desired though, as it is a cliffhanger more concerned with setting up a sequel than any closure.

GAMEPLAY
For all the great atmosphere that Alan Wake creates as you further the experience it is not very immersive. Little in the world can be interacted with and is extremely linear despite the open looking forest. The only two things to do in the game is collecting extras and combat. There are a few lite puzzles but they will hardly make you stop and think. The combat is unique at first but towards the end of the ten hour game it will be more of a chore. There are only a few enemy types and all are covered in the darkness. The darkness acts as a shield that protects them from all damage so you must first use light to burn away their dark cloak before finishing them off with whatever firearm you have. Weapons like flare guns act like grenade launchers that can one shot the weaker enemies. Combat is simple and satisfying and most of challenge comes from being overwhelmed by multiple enemies as light is the only thing that keeps them from just bum rushing you. You always have just enough ammo and batteries but be wasteful and you will find yourself in a very bad situation. Going off the beaten path will reward you with more powerful weapons, manuscripts, and radios. The radios give a live feed of what is happening the city at large and add a nice touch. This however presents an odd pacing problem. The linear game formula does a good job of pushing your forward and giving you urgency but you quickly find it in your best interest to slow down and explore. This further breaks immersion and the Alan Wake at times feel like an interactive movie with some game elements thrown in because they were forced too. A lack of a good climax or any big memorable moments also hurt this game and make it fade from your memory quickly. Another entirely unnecessary addition is an abundance of in game product placement which again hurts immersion and just feels tacky.

LONGEVITY
Alan Wake has a pretty standard length for action games now days at around ten hours. There are lots of achievements that try to encourage you to grab every extra but they hardly worth the effort. Manuscripts and radios are interesting but if you missing any is hardly a reason to replay it. Alan Wake does have an interesting structure broken down into episodes. But this sounds better as in practice these episodes are nothing more than a different name for calling them levels. There is no mulitplayer or any modes.

VERDICT
Alan Wake is the beginning of a new franchise and shows some promise. However this game has a lot of immersion breaking issues in a narrative driven adventure. Alan Wake is worth experiencing though if you can find it on sale but don't buy into the hype.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/04/12

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


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