Saturday, May 14, 2011

Alan Wake Review

Alan Wake, an Xbox 360 exclusive, is the first game by Remedy Entertainment since Max Payne 2. I have yet to play those games, but being the huge horror fan that I am, I thought Alan Wake looked interesting. When I found it for a good price at the local game store, I didn’t pass up the chance to buy it – and boy, am I ever glad that I did. Here’s why Alan Wake is a work of art that everyone should experience.


Alan Wake involves the titular character, a successful and well-known writer who has been experiencing writer’s block for two straight years, going on vacation with his nyctophobic (afraid of the dark) wife, Alice Wake, to the town of Bright Falls in an attempt to briefly forget about his career. They reach their cabin on Cauldron Lake when Alice reveals that she brought a typewr
iter, hoping that the different scenery would inspire him. An argument ensues and Alan goes outside to clear his head, until he’s startled by his wife’s screams when the lights in the cabin go out. He rushes up to the balcony overlooking the lake and believes he sees her in the water. He dives down to save her, and then wakes up later, having apparently been in a car wreck on a cliff, injured and with no memory of the past week. That’s when crap gets real.

Technically, Alan Wake is a survival horror game, and one of the few that doesn’t involve endless swarms of zombies piling onto you to eat your brain and exploding in gushes of blood when you successfully pull off a headshot. Instead, you’ll be fighting off human beings possessed by darkness, referred to in-game as “Taken”. Gameplay-wise, Alan Wake is a third-person shooter. However, Alan Wake adds an interesting gimmick to its combat system.
Taken can’t be hurt by bullets alone. To damage them with your gun, you must first burn the darkness away with light, hence why you will be carrying a flashlight throughout the entire game. You can tell how close you are to burning the darkness away by the ring around the center of the light. As you shine light on them, the ring gets smaller and smaller until it reaches the center of the light, at which point you can do damage. The larger the enemy, the larger the ring. Fortunately, by holding the left trigger you can boost the light and focus it on an enemy, making the ring disappear faster. However, doing so makes the battery life go down, so be weary of that. If it runs out, you can press the “Y” button to insert a new battery into it, boosting the charge back up a bit, but if you don’t have any, it will recharge on its own (albeit slowly).

Though certainly great, the gameplay of Alan Wake is actually its weakest aspect. The best parts of the game are the story and the atmosphere. The story itself is fantastic. Though I would rather not give any details beyond what I already said in order to avoid giving out spoilers, the plot is highly engaging and keeps you interested as more and more details are revealed.

The storyline is complimented by the atmosphere and storytelling. Remedy Entertainment has successfully accomplished the feeling of a horror mini-series. During the nighttime, the atmosphere is dark, creepy and unsettling, and you never quite know when you’re going to be assaulted by a group of angry Taken. If you stumble upon a TV, you can tune into the game’s Twilight Zone knockoff with intentionally hammy acting, Night Springs. The storytelling adds to this as well. Every cutscene, Alan’s style of narration, the “recap” scenes at the start of each “episode” of the game, and some of the (intentionally) sillier moments that all TV shows and horror movies have, all added to the feeling that I was playing an interactive horror show – and that’s definitely a good thing.


Alan Wake is a true masterpiece. Perhaps the best thing about the game is how well each aspect compliments another. Much of the storyline is revealed during gameplay, which is made more engaging by the atmosphere. The atmosphere, in turn, adds an eerie feeling to the story and gameplay, and it along with the storytelling adds a horror movie-like feel to all of it. Take out or change just one of these elements, and it wouldn’t feel the same or be as perfect as Alan Wake is. Well, almost perfect. The only flaw with the game is that the characters’ facial animations during the cutscenes look kind of awkward. It’s not bad enough for me to knock the score down, and aside from that the graphics are fantastic, but it still deserves mention.

In short, Alan Wake is an engaging third-person shooter with a fantastic story, atmosphere and storytelling. I cannot stress how hard it is to stop playing when you start. If you own a 360, then this is a game you absolutely shouldn’t do without.

Score: 10/10

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