Review by Wolfvie
"Video game storytelling at it's finest"
Announced almost five years ago Alan Wake is certainly a game that has accumulated a lot of hype over the years, so it comes as no surprise that it's been for many one of the most hotly anticipated titles this year. Who would blame them? It's been developed by Remedy the studios that brought us the classic that is Max Payne and it's perhaps equally spectacular sequel.
Given the overwhelmingly positive speculation that has been surrounding it's release and the countless lofty allegations made by Remedy when in regard to the game, the question many of you will have been asking is the rather cynical yet suitably appropriate. Does it live up to the hype? The answer you'll find is simple - yes.
The story centres around the game's self-titled protagonist Alan Wake, a popular novelist responsible for the writing of a fictional crime/thriller series. It's been two years since the release of his last novel and suffering from a severe case of writer's block, Alan desperate to get away from it all, takes his wife Alice along with him to the small rural woodland towns of Bright Falls, Washington for a lake-side vacation. It's no surprise seeing as the game is a self-recognised psychological thriller (as featured on the box), things get weird pretty quickly as Alice goes missing and Alan wakes up in the wreckage of a car accident a week later, unable to recall any of the events that have occurred proceeding his wife's absence.
When you thought Alan's luck couldn't get any worse discovers the discarded pages of a manuscript seemingly written by himself, that seem to be telling the events of the near future before they actually happen. All while this is happening mysterious dark presence seems to be alienating the towns folk turning them into dark twisted figures known simply as the Taken, hell-bent on stopping Alan in his tracks as he attempts to find his wife and uncover the hidden secrets of the past week.
I'll leave it at that for fear of spoiling anything of real significance but rest-assured, Alan Wake delivers a storyline truly worthy of the hype leading up to it. The narrative is hands-down absolutely brilliant, Alan narrating the story's events as they happen during gameplay. The characters are all amusingly strange and well written; particularly the inhabitants of Bright Falls. The dialogue for the most part is very good to say the least, with the occasional moment of corniness in an otherwise decently written script.
The story is set out in a very TV show orientated structure which not only makes the game fun in small doses but will literally keep you coming back for more and more as the climax of the majority of episodes finish with a shocking cliffhanger. It's all incredibly well done. The way the manuscript pages found around the game's world tie into the story is impressive (actually making finding collectables a fun and enjoyable experience), each page supplying insight on upcoming events/background information on the game's many characters throughout the game. Although the game has a overly serious vibe throughout most of the story, the game isn't afraid to delve into the occasional moments of hilarity which fits in nicely with the sometimes quirky atmosphere of the game's world.
Much of the game's story has been intergraded into various television sets and radios scattered throughout bright falls. Night Springs is a series of shorts with an obvious running parody of The Twilight Zone and among them, snippets from the local radio station. My only real gripe is how the story just kind of ends without properly tying it's loose ends or better put, on a cliff-hanger. Though this is slightly disheartening, it is expectant these issues will be dealt with in the game's upcoming DLC.
Looks great in some places and other places not so much. The day-time sequences look significantly dated, ridiculed with jaggies of sorts, sometimes horrendous pop-in and some severe screen tearing issues. Although this is all to be expected when the game's native resolution is a disappointing sub-HD 540p.
When it comes to the night-time sequences however, that's where Alan Wake really shines. The environments and textures are all beautifully detailed, the lighting and shadow effects are without a doubt among the best I've seen in a video game and no words can truly describe how amazing an atmosphere the game convoys. You can definitely tell Remedy has put a lot of effort with the game's visual and technical prowess and it most definitely shows through in the end product.
Back on the subject of lighting, the way you can pop a flare and watch as it immediately illuminates the surrounding area with a vibrant red glow is an effect that simply cannot be overstated, as with everything else in the game associated with the lighting. The cinematic cutscenes look unsurprisingly wonderful, up there with some of the best of this generation.The character animations are exceptionally good, not to the degree of something like say, Uncharted, but a good deal more so than most other recent titles.
Sure the day time sequences needed a bit more work but considering the majority of the game takes place during the night, they are in the minority. When you stand from a lookout point staring out into the seemingly never ending haze-filled valley below, the moon peaking out from behind the dark clouds you've got to ask yourself, where else but Bright Falls?
The voice acting is superb, most of the characters (with the exception of maybe one or two) deliver their lines with great believability and expertise. Wake himself in particular is among some of the greatest voiced video game characters I've ever heard; and that's saying a lot. In fact, the sound design in general is an absolute triumph. Whether it be the little things like being able to hear your enemies footsteps as they creep up behind you, or on a larger scale, the sound of a recently shot up gas canister give up with a massive explosion. Alan Wake's sound effects keep you sucked you into the game's world all throughout your experience playing the game.
The music is unquestionably brilliant, combining sweeping orchestral scores with licensed vocalized folk and jazz to make easily one of the best soundtracks of the year. Everything fit's together much better than you would expect, fitting the nature, mood and feeling of the game perfectly.
Alan Wake plays out like something of an adventure/third person shooter hybrid with survival horror elements. The core of the gameplay revolves around two main styles, the day and night sections. The day time segments, which are usually very plot driven consist of wandering around various fairly small areas, interacting with characters in the environments as something of a build up to the Night sections which make up the bulk of the game. The night segments have a much larger focus on the actual narrative, exploring bright falls, fighting against the relentless hoards of Taken with the odd driving/light puzzle section thrown into the mix for some variety.
Alan Wake's combat system stays fun throughout most of the game, although it starts to get a little stale and repetitive just as the game is starting to wrap things up. Alan's main weapon is his flashlight which is exactly what it sound like; your standard garden variety electric torch. But this flashlight isn't completely useless as it might seem, it is the only weapon capable of harming a Taken while in their natural state.
The flashlight can be simply shone upon an enemy to slowly rid them of their shadow-like shield or it can be focussed for a more powerful concentrated beam of light, at the cost of some power which can be restored through the use of batteries scattered throughout the levels. Follow that up with a couple of well placed shots with Alan's trusty revolver to finish them off. In addition to Alan's flashlight and various gun side-arms, you can also utilize flares, flashbang grenades and the probably the most powerful weapon in the game, the flare gun, to cause massive damage or in the case of the flare gun, absolutely decimate hoards of taken. Though these tools are scarce and are always under limited supply so use them wisely.
The combat never really evolves from how it is at the beginning of the game (it's actually very similar to Resident Evil 4/5, minus the tank controls), although it tries to mixes things up a bit when you are given the opportunity to pick up new weapons/flashlights to help deal with some of the tougher enemies. Of course the Taken aren't without their fair share of weaponry, many of which carrying axes, sickles, hammers, scythes and perhaps the most deadly of all chainsaws. As something of a nod to Remedy's previous work with the Max Payne series, Alan Wake isn't without it's fair share of bullet-time moments. More specifically with Alan's ability to dodge incoming enemy attacks, everything slows down (hence the bullet-time effect) and then speeds back up as the animation is coming to a close.
One of the major complaints many have had with the game is with it's linearity. While it's true the game's level design (which is excellent, by the way) is linear, it's never to the point where you are confined to one single path. Throughout the game you are given what is seemingly countless opportunities to stray off path to discover secret areas/collectibles/weapon and ammo caches etc, etc. I also feel that linearity is also probably the most successful way to convey a good, effective and consistent narrative, it would have been very difficult to replicate a narrative as awesome as this one with an open-world structure, so this design choice would have definitely been the most sensible one.
Another common gripe is with the game's length. Sure you can beat the game in roughly around ten hours, but that's without taking the time to properly explore the game's levels finding all the game's hidden collectables (Which believe me are a big part of the game). That said, exploration included the game should take you around twelve-fourteen hours on a regular playthrough and several more if you're playing on one of the harder difficulties. Replay Value is moderately high as the game offers an additional extra hard Nightmare difficulty mode upon completion of the game on one of the lower difficulties. Nightmare also adds in several new manuscript pages to be found throughout the games world, furthermore strengthening the game's backstory.
The control scheme, while it may appear to be slightly wonky at first is fairly competent once you sink a few hours into it. Probably the biggest flaw comes with the mapping of several actions on the left bumper; it is normally used to sprint though depending on the context, can also be used to dodge from nearby enemy attacks which can be frustrating when in the heat of battle. The aiming sensitivity by default is far too high and even after some tweaking it was still only just okay.
Now for a quick revision
+ Excellent storytelling, characters and narrative.
+ Night sequences look absolutely spectacular.
+ Spectacular musical score; one of the best of the year as of yet.
+ Generally fun gameplay and very satisfying combat.
+ Great level design.
+ Some brilliant voice work (despite a couple of questionable efforts)
- Some minor control issues.
- Day sections look somewhat dated; screen-tearing, blurry textures, pop-in, among numerous other problems.
- I can see the game's linearity bothering some people
Sure the linearity is going to be bothering to some people and may factorise their decision to purchase the game but for those looking for an polished, fine-tuned gameplay experience with a splendidly well-written plot and gripping narrative or just something that's a bit out of the ordinary, then I can assure you; Wake's got it all.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/04/10
Game Release: Alan Wake (US, 05/18/10)
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