Review by bbears
A signal for mediocrity.
Alan Wake: The Signal is the first DLC released for the 2010 new survival horror game. Alan Wake was an unique game with interesting story telling techniques but struggled to keep you immersed and an original combat system that got tired by the end of the adventure. The ending though left a lot to be desired so a continuation of the that story was something I wanted to delve into. Unfortunately The Signal is more of a side story rather than making any progress with all the questions that were left at the end of the main game. Focused more on combat and set pieces Alan Wake: The Signal offers little to people interested in the original and is poor in both concept and design.
The Signal has the same assets and engine that ran the original Alan Wake so has all the strengths and weaknesses of the that game. Namely the amazing lighting engine and environment contrasted by poor textures and character designs. Most of this DLC takes place in familiar recycled areas that have been slightly altered. This comes across as very lazy and doesn't help cultivate any interest on your adventure as it literally feels like you have done it all before. Like the original sound design is again a strength. Guns in particular sound great and have a lot punch to them. All the voice actors return and give good performance. The music and score is also the same which is good but again doesn't create any originality in this by the numbers DLC. The lip synching issues from the original have been fixed.
The control set up for The Signal is the same as the original game. The original had a few odd design choices like the sprint button placement. The biggest issue of Alan Wake returns in this DLC, the camera. The camera is free third person perspective controlled by the player. Frequently in the action sequences, especially when doing the flashy dodge maneuver, the camera will find the most inconvenient spot to find home. Fighting with this gets old fast.
The best part of Alan Wake was the story and narrative with an ambiguous ending. It had surprising character development and despite just being silly in some parts did a great job of pulling you into the great environment and gloomy setting. The the excellent themes and gloomy setting return but the story takes second fiddle to the combat. This is unfortunate considering that the combat for the original really dragged on towards the end so I wasn't looking forward to more. The Signal picks up just where the main game ended an presents itself as the seventh episode. I never thought that the episode format added anything to the game. Wake wakes up and is trapped in his mind battling the dark presence. He is trying to wake up and keep the dark presence at bay. The signal references a signal that Thomas Zane, another trapped writer in the dark presence, says will free Wake and answer all his questions. The story goes nowhere and is completing unessential to the overall plot, the main reason you want to play this game. A big disappointment.
The Signal plays largely the same way that Alan Wake did. A third person action game where you are always dual wielding a flashlight and one weapon. All enemies, even inanimate objects (which become quite animated), are surrounded and protected by a shadowy shield that must be destroyed with a light source. This is where the flashlight comes in as way to destroy that shield and then use a firearm to finish them off. The combat while cool at first became repetitive due to the overused enemy designs and the fact that simply avoiding the enemies and running to the next lamp post was the best option most of the time. The signal does do a much better job of creating set pieces that force you to fight instead of just a nuisance. However the combat is still boring especially playing this right after the main game and the this DLC felt like a chore more often than not. One new gameplay element is a more fleshed out visible narration. Words will appear floating in the air and when you shine on them with your light it creates actions that are linked to what word they were. Such as inventory items or making environmental pieces appear to solve to the very lite puzzles. This is cool but doesn't make up for the game's other short comings. The collectibles make a return but are less interesting. Radios and manuscripts added a lot in Alan Wake but they aren't present here and instead you must gather unimportant objects that don't represent anything. The in game advertising is once again painfully obvious with a painful Verizon plug.
This oddly priced $7 DLC can be beat in two to three hours with no additional content. There is only achievements that compel you to go after the worthless collectibles.
Alan Wake was an original game that had a lot going for it most importantly was it's story though. The lack of a narrative that adds anything to the plot really makes this feel like it is not worth the time. Only play if you were a die hard fan of the original others will be bored by this combat exercise.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Alan Wake: The Signal (US, 07/27/10)
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