Review by JDGFootman1234

"Identity Crisis"

Alan Wake promotes itself as an action thriller game with a heavy emphasize on its narrative. It a traditional sense its mostly a single player 3rd person shooter with horror elements. The game also features some driving parts but honestly aren't very fleshed out or needed really. Still they help mix up the gameplay. The biggest factor differentiating factor is how light plays into the gameplay.

The story of Alan Wake is one of its most advertised features and for good reason: The game does have a nice story. Its structure is episodic like a TV show and has several uncommon devices. One, is that Alan Wake himself narrates the game in real time for the player. Its an interesting choice but I honestly thought that it killed immersion and didn't really contribute much more than a vocal guide for the player. As for the actual plot I won't go into any detail here but I thought that it was quite with good but I didn't find it mind-blowing as some people have. The various cut scenes the game has are okay but their direction is lackluster. Lastly, the games characters are pretty much cut-out cliches and Alan Wake isn't really that likeable of person.

During gameplay Alan Wake always has a flashlight and a gun. The flashlight acts as reticule for aiming as well. When engaged in combat Alan must first shine light on enemies for a few seconds before actually attacking them with a firearm. The flashlight can have its beam boosted for more damage, but this causes the batteries to drain faster. This flashlight and gun combat is the basis for the entire game really.

The enemies in the consist of possessed people with various handheld weapons, possessed inanimate objects, and possessed birds. And that's it. This lack of enemy types is a downfall in the game as it can cause combat to become very repetitive after awhile. The birds are simply annoying to fight and battles with them consist of spinning the camera around in the sky while looking for them and trying to shine your flashlight on them. The possessed inanimate objects referred to as poltergeist are simply laughable. Often times a car tire or something else equally unimpressive will float about and try to run into you. Again, just hit them with your flashlight until they die. Combat with the possessed people, or Taken as they are referred to is pretty good. First, the aggression for the Taken is brutal. Expect to be swarmed and rushed and attacked mercilessly. The player must first shine their flashlight on the Taken for awhile and then are able to shoot and kill them.

Notice the reoccurring theme here? In a very basic but honest sense, Alan Wake is all about shining a flashlight at something, and it fails to make very compelling gameplay. Way too often the player will just move around, waiting as the enemies take enough light to hurt and it isn't very exciting.

Make no mistake about it, Alan Wake is an astoundingly beautiful game with some very impressive tech powering it. The forest and rural settings in the game are fantastic and are rendered in loving detail. One of the things that most impressed by about the graphics was the draw distance and the frame rate. At times the game shows large vistas and environments with out any loss of detail, and for such impressive graphics the frame rate is rock solid.. Character models are well done but not on par with the environment. The lighting engine is also top notch as should be expected in a game where light is a key gameplay element, although I felt at times that lights in the dark illuminated too brightly. There are several things that hold the graphics back though. Mainly, the facial animation for the characters is terrible. It very rarely synchs up to the voices and often leaves characters expressions looking downright stupid. Its disappointing for such a story driven game. On a whole though the game is very good looking.

The games sound is technically good but suffers from design choices. The voice acting is okay but has a hard time finding balance. The title characters voice is often monotone and doesn't fit within context of the game. Also while the writing is usually okay at times it is terrible, particularly in regards to the writing of the games enemies, who are prone to saying unintentionally funny things in demonic voices. The sound effects are fine and the various guns sound appropriate. The most impressive part of the audio was the ambient sounds that help bring the game world and atmosphere alive. The biggest issue I had with the audio was that when shining the light on enemies (which is near constant and unavoidable) a screeching sound is played to show damage is be done. After a couple hundred times of hearing this it was just downright horrible. Lastly, the games sound is all dictated upon the position of the camera. Many games do this and it wouldn't be an issue except that unless you're totally focused on what's at hand the sound totally dies down. So if a character is talking and your not looking right at them, you wont be able to hear them. Also, in some occurrences Alan's internal voice overlaps with other peoples speaking parts.

I think that Alan Wake has one major issue. The game isn't sure what it wants to be. As a horror game Alan Wake isn't scary…at all. Resources are far too abundant and the player regenerates health. Players can dodge and have a good arsenal to deal with the enemies. The fear of the unknown doesn't exist because the limited numbers of enemies and the enemies aren't scary. Heck, camera pans in slow motion to show you when an enemy is around, removing all suspense.

Then as an action game Alan Wake fails to be compelling. The flashlight aiming and shooting mechanics wear out their welcome and the limited weapons and enemies aren't fun enough to carry the game for its duration. Progressing along a very linear path only to go from the same battle after the same battle isn't very fun. Is it atmospheric? Sure. As a game however, it struggles.

Points of Interest
- At some points (rarely) limited platforming is required and it's terrible. Alan Wake can jump but you never really feel in control when he does and his all around movement is loose. He also has a rather limited sprint ability.

-The human enemies in this game often throw their weapons at the player. This isn't out of the ordinary except that in Alan Wake these guys can hit you with an ax from 50 yards away with pin-point accuracy while your running away. It was something that I thought seemed out of place.

-The game can often obscure your view. Many times too many effects such as smoke, bright flashes of light, and screen distortion can limit your ability to see and not in an atmospheric way but in a “I cant see anything” way. During combat it can be a killer. Also, your current written objective pops up on screen and never fades away which I didn't like.

-The boss fights in this game are terrible. Really they just consist of shining your flashlight at bigger objects than normal until they die.

-Several of the scripted sequences in this game are great. One involving a farm is awesome and I felt the very end of game had some great moments only possible in the video game medium.

-This is one of the most polarizing games I've ever heard of. Many people feel very strongly about it one way or another, with some saying its one of the best ever, and others saying its horrible. Therefore I suggest renting it to try it out and see how you feel about it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/21/10

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

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