Written by  :  Hammerlore (1015)
Written on  :  May 25, 2010
Platform  :  Xbox 360
Rating  :  4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars4.86 Stars

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Top-class storytelling wrapping up a very fine game

The Good

What kind of game is Alan Wake actually? One might be really confused as the game’s very game play has changed throughout the many years of development. Is it a story-driven adventure with an open world scenario or just another survival horror game with a rather linear world to play in? The answer is to be found somewhere in between. Now is this good or bad news? I think this has to be answered by the individual gamer. To me, this game is a revelation in terms of storytelling and I haven’t had as much fun with other games in a very long time.

The developer Remedy itself names Stephen King as well as TV franchises Lost and Twin Peaks as its main source of inspiration and influence. These are big names to mention and a game has to do pretty good to cope with this level of entertainment. In my opinion Alan Wake is even worth being mentioned along with these big names.

I am not going to spoil any of the plot – and it is really hard not to because the real beauty of this game is its plot and narrative nature with all the twists and turns. But what makes the game so unique in terms of storytelling? First of all, it introduces its main characters pretty well, putting the player right into the picture. Not only personal information and background is revealed, we also get a pretty good impression about the feelings and mood of the main characters. Alan Wake is a famous and successful writer – a writer in the middle of a two-year crisis of not being able to write anything at all. He is trying to recover from that crisis by taking some time alone with his wife Alice. The serene and idyllic town of Bright Falls seems to be the perfect place to do so. Needless to say, the nightmare will start right after their arrival.

Besides the nice and tellingly introduction of the characters, the actual performance of the same is perfectly executed. Voice acting and motion capture animations bring the characters alive, building this lovely atmosphere of Alan Wake. At this point, only a few minutes after starting the game you do already feel connected to the game. As in Max Payne before, Remedy uses the character of Alan Wake to comment on events of the game while playing it. What might be annoying to some is a great idea to others. Alan talks about his feelings, what he should do now or what he is seeing right in the distance and so on. Surely it helps to build the tension that defines that game but I found it to be helpful as well. There is no need for a mission log or anything (although there is one in the menu) because I am always in the middle of things, a clear picture of what I will have to do next. Besides, I most appreciated the talking when I was resuming from a saved game to get back into the story.

The game is divided into six episodes. Each episode comes with a title screen at the end and a “previously on Alan Wake” wrap-up trailer at the beginning. We all know these from our favorite TV show. And if a game’s story isn’t strong enough it would simply be silly to implement narrative elements like this. And this is exactly why this is perfect for Alan Wake – the episode implementation is its icing on the top! Throughout the game, Alan will also find single manuscript pages that are both mysterious and part of the storytelling. These collectibles will allow you to have either a glimpse of what is going to happen in the not so distant future (mostly within the same level) or will wrap up things that just happened.

The story is a strong element of the game but worthless if the game play drops all its tension. Fortunately this is not the case. To get back to my first paragraph – and the question what kind of game Alan Wake is: It is a story-driven (horror) adventure that puts you in the middle of a struggle for survival. But that doesn’t mean that you will be playing a second Resident Evil franchise with a better story. It does have its own feel of game play – it is unique. And to be honest – it was my biggest fear that it feels like an ordinary game with just a bit of nice ideas here and there.

The basic element of the game play is the use of light. In general you can say that light keeps you alive and safe. You just have to make sure you don’t run out of batteries and power sources. Most of the time Alan carries a flashlight allowing him not only to light up his path through the night but also to fight the “Taken”. Let’s keep things simple and say that the Taken are the only type of enemy in the game, pursuing Alan in all dark places while shaping in different forms. Alan can remove the Darkness from the Taken by pointing the flashlight at them. Without the Darkness, enemies become vulnerable to the kind of weapons Alan will find throughout the game. On one hand it is a pretty standard and yet small arsenal (like a Revolver, Shotgun, Hunting Rifle) and on the other hand you will have a signal pistol and flares that just highlight the game’s focus on lighting effects.

Alan is not an ex-marine or mercenary or whatever cliché usually fits on a main character facing hundreds of opponents. So the game does manage to get you an idea of what it might be like to shoot at someone for the first time. Alan is confused and frightened after shooting his first enemy and I like the idea of the main character reflecting about his own actions. Well, no worries, he does get used to it sooner than this might sound. You will find Alan aiming for the Taken with the flashlight to beat the darkness and then killing what’s left of the opponent using the various weapons. It took me a couple of moments to get used to that kind of aiming, though. No crosshair, just the beam of your flashlight. While this is a bit strange at first, it turns out to be pretty cool to look at and even better to handle and control. The controls are pretty standard in a good way. The gamepad is not overloaded with features and you will barely find yourself pushing the wrong button by accident.

The flash light and weapons effects are really gorgeous to look at as the lighting engine works perfectly well. But even more importantly it amplifies the dramatic aspect of the game. I can’t recall how many times I felt myself pushed by waves and waves of stress and even fear by trying to escape from a horde of Taken because I ran out of bullets. At moments like this the game is able to frighten me while playing it. This didn’t happen to me in a long time, I do remember that F.E.A.R. caused the same effect. So you might want to keep that in mind if you are looking for a game offering scary moments like this.

The overall graphic is very good, but has a few issues when it comes to texture quality. You will find some texture to turn out pretty blurry here and there. You will find two or three scenes in the game where the engine stutters for a moment but that does not have any influence on the overall experience.

The Bad

As I have mentioned before, in terms of graphic quality Alan Wake is very good, let’s say 9 out of 10. What makes me wonder is the texture quality at times. The 360 might have its limitations in that particular topic but that can’t be the excuse when you look at other top-notch titles and how they manage to implement high-res/crisp-clear textures.

As great as the story and the game’s narration may be, it seems to be obvious at a certain point that the level design will have to follow a narrow track. You will find every single level and episode to be designed extremely linear. A few levels can even be described as tubular, leaving little room for exploration and definitely no room for alternative paths. There are many collectibles in forms of the already mentioned manuscript pages or the thermos jugs. Both are combined with achievements and to get all of them can really be painful. This, however, won’t bother you if you are not that into achievements (as I am).

The Bottom Line

Alan Wake is perfectly directed and features a very decent horror story that is simply fun to watch and play. Although it has a very strong game-play with very nice settings and environments, I couldn’t wait to see the next in-game cut scene to know and uncover more of this twisted and highly thrilling plot. While the graphics in general are good but not extraordinary, the most important part – the lighting – is exceptionally well done. I think in this particular part Remedy indeed sets the bar a bit higher. The lighting is not only beautiful to look at – it is actually emphasizing the whole experience. You will love to play through this masterpiece! However, make sure to keep a light on…