Review by Atomic_Porkchop
Unpolished and Mediocre, alas - I am no Alan Wake apologist!
Let me start by saying, I really wanted to like this game - I've been looking forward to it for over a year now (perhaps that plays into the tone of my final review score). When thinking of reviewing it, I struggled a little bit whether or not to include and incorporate all the "real world" things known about the game that can taint for color a review. Things like it's lengthy development cycle (5+ years), Microsoft's backing and advertising for this (Webisodes, etc), all the hype on gaming websites, etc. Do you review the game just by it's own merits? Unfortunately, I don't think you can divorce yourself from the idea of having knowledge about things like the development of a game and the timing of when it's released (on the same day as the stellar Red Dead Redemption), and all the other fore-mentioned things.
(If you want to know plot devices, read other reviews/previews; that's not what my review is about.)
Alan Wake is a game that succeeds in creating a clever creepy mood and solid game mechanic when it comes to the action/fighting/shooting portion of the game. One that while it is fun, ultimately it wears out it's welcome and before long shows itself as a one-trick-pony. After a couple episodes, this game becomes a known quantity, just rinse and repeat.
For me, there were too many conventions that "take you out of the experience". For a game that is supposed to set an eerie tone yet be realistic it is always at odds with itself. Here is a list of Top 10 things that I couldn't see past:
1.) JUXTAPOSITION: The single biggest problem I could not reconcile throughout it's entirety is how this game is always at odds with itself. Your wife is kidnapped and evil baddies are constantly chasing you - so this game is constantly pushing "time is off the essence". It's pulling you along, always showing you the next place you need to go and making you feel that if you don't make it in time your wife will be killed and so will you. But inexplicably, you constantly asked to go against your instinct and the characters instinct and stop and read a manuscript page, or watch a TV show, of get Coffee Thermoses. Granted all of these are optional, but come on - if my wife was kidnapped and was going to be killed, TV would be last thing I would do. Maybe if there was a "hub lodge" you could stay at the end of every level it would have worked better to check out all the collectibles and "Easter Eggs" in the game.
2.) HUD: Overall the game looks great, however you spend just as much time looking at the Yellow Dot on your HUD (searching for the next checkpoint) than you do absorbing the graphics and mood of the game. The game is linear, and I will give Remedy credit for creating foliage that makes the game feels vast and open, even though upon further exploration it is not.
3.) CONTROLS: First, the controls are oddly chosen, with no ability to change them. Rather than going controls from a majority of 3rd person games, they needless reinvent the wheel (please speak the language already created rather than reinventing the wheel in terms of game play developers). Why would you map duck/dodge on the same button as run? It just stupid and sloppy to not give us an option to change it.
4.) DIALOG: In one of the early scene's of the game I go into a diner where an old man that looks like a biker calls me "Sonny". Really? Is there anything more cliche than an old man calling someone "Sonny"? Bad enough his voice doesn't match the way he looks. It feels like a foreign developer's idea of what Americans would say. Hey, what do you know...that IS what happened. This early example sets the tone of bad dialog throughout.
5.) ANIMATIONS: The character animations are "last generation". So every time I start to run my character does the same odd ducking animation, he looks like the hunchback bending and walking, it triggers every time you go to run! When he jump off of things, it's way too stiff. For example, I walked on a log to cross some thing and when my character had to jump down, he just dropped still in walking animation. Even Mario on the Wii goes into a different animation. It just looks bad, and most games have more, especially ones with 5 year development cycles.
6.) CAMERA: The camera is not good. Everything from changing the side of the over-the-shoulder view (pressing in thumb-stick) is only temporary, it resets all the time - to getting hit from behind by random "Dark Presence" things without even knowing it. Occasionally it will pull the camera out so you can see behind you and you can pull off a cool looking evade, but it's random and not every time. Also, the default sensitivity is too fast, good if it was a twitch shooter like MW2, but not for a game like this.
7.) CUTSCENES: It feels as if the cutscenes were designed at a completely different time than the game. I can't figure out why the rendering is different, but they should have just used the in-game engine for cutscenes, it really takes you out of the experience (again a last-generation technique).
8.) CONVERSATIONS: The in-game conversations are a mess, again they should have gone with straight-up in-game cut scenes for all dialog. Playing this game in the "non-shooting" parts feels more like walking through a museum that triggers animatronic stilted dialog once you reach some invisible barrier. People will start talking to you and not even face you. Sometimes 2 people will start talking to you at once, making it impossible to tell what one is saying.
9.) MOTIVATION: The love story is about as convincing as Anakin & Padme in the Star Wars prequels (dare I say, perhaps worse). Your a horror writer, your wife is afraid of the dark - okay not a good match, but whatever. There is a scene on the couch with Alice (wife) in episode 2 where she basically expresses how pathetic and a burden she is to Alan...and what does he say in return, "I love you". It was said like they were having two different conversations. All I could think is, "Damn lady, you're right - you're high-maintenance and not worth it!" She's a bigger pain than Princess Peach always getting kidnapped by Bowser! If it wasn't for the scene in her panties, I'd probably shine a flashlight on her and shoot her.
10.) EPISODES: So, I loved the idea of this game being in Episodes. The whole "Previously on..." is cool. But even that, in a small way is broken. So I play an episode, it gets to the end and I want to stop playing to continue another night. But my only option is Press B. Pressing B starts the next episode, I do this cause I'm not sure if the game saved, there was no prompt. So I don't want to lose where I've been, so I start the next one then I have to skip everything until I get to a playable area. Then I can quit the game. Why is there no option to end (besides going back to Xbox Dashboard) at the end of an episode. It renders the idea of episodes, pointless.
There are too many game play negatives that rear their head in this game to ignore. Suspension of disbelief in the supernatural for story-line sake in one thing, it's other when you have to do it for gameplay and presentations sake. I can go on and on about the little wonky things about this game that are unpolished, but I think you get the idea.
+ Fantastic Lighting Effects, great lighting engine!
+ Satisfying flashlight+gun shooting mechanic
+ Foliage looks great (makes linear design feel more open)
+ Mood, night, and fog set great atmosphere
+ Music and sound effects are unique
+ Night Springs TV show is pitch-perfect (though timing as to when to watch it is not)
- Cutscenes don't match in-game graphics
- Main character animations are "last generation"
- Voice-work is "eye-rollingly" cliched
- Camera is not very good
- Fidelity of graphics/textures are all over the place
- High school level of writing and cliched stereotypes
- Linear level design
- Too little action/adventure, too much shooter
Alan Wake has been billed as a Psychological Thriller, however in the entire game I felt the character Alan Wake was going through the psychological thriller part, and not ME the Player - that's the level of disconnect I feel this game creates.
Taking in account all the things I've mentions about this game, giving Alan Wake a 7 feels a bit to generous, so I settled on a 6 out of 10. If you rent this and had a passing interest I would recommend you play it, I know I've been hard on it, but there are a handful of shining moments. However, there is weak replay value - unless collecting a bunch Coffee Thermoses is your thing, and going back and getting missed script pages also feels anti-climatic because you've already beaten the game and know what happens.
Perhaps if they actually released this as singular episodes over time on Xbox Live it would have been more digestible and engaging, but ultimately this is a mediocre game.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Alan Wake (US, 05/18/10)
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