Review: Alan Wake
Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment, best known for developing the Max Payne series in the early '00s, first announced Alan Wake at E3 in 2005. After reaching a distribution deal with Microsoft, Remedy agreed to launch the game exclusively for the new Xbox 360 system. What was supposed to serve as one of the defining titles for the Xbox 360 languished in development hell for half a decade. Now, nearly 5 years later, countless magazine spreads and web preview exclusives, Alan Wake finally released. The question, as with most frequently delayed games, is whether the wait was worth it. As a fan of horror games, a genre I feel often not explored enough in video games, I can honestly say that my interest in Alan Wake has not abated since that first announcement way back when. Yet, as I finally put the disc in and powered up my Xbox, would I be faced with a genre-defining staple destined for classic status in the Xbox library, or a problematic and buggy mess as a result of its problematic and troubled development history?
Thankfully, I must say, Alan Wake has been one of the better games I've played all year and a thankful deviation from the typical sci-fi alien shooters and modern war simulators. Presented in six different chapters, the game tells the story of mystery writer Alan Wake and his wife vacationing in the idyllic-seeming town of Bright Falls, Washington, a town rife with mystery and secrets crafted more from the Twin Peaks mold than its Anytown, USA appearance (each chapter begins with a "Previously on Alan Wake" montage . Shortly after venturing into the town and settling into their vacation cabin, Alan's wife Alice goes missing; the game's opening chapter presents a nightmare scenario as Alan struggles to find his wife amongst the mysterious denizens and shadowy figures known as the Taken attack shortly after. Saying anything more about the plot would spoil the game, so I'll leave it at that.
While the game's combat system is nothing revolutionary, it's relatively functional. In order to defeat the Taken, Alan must utilize a flashlight in order to break down the Taken's defenses; after the Taken's shadow armor is broken, you can unleash a barrage of bullets from any type of handgun, shotgun, or hunting rifle you find throughout Bright Falls. The Taken can also be defeated in other ways, as Alan can find flares, flashbangs, and flare guns that cause massive damage and can do a large amount of damage over a certain area. You could also "supercharge" the flashlight by holding down the LT button, which created a higher powered light beam that quickly killed the battery. Okay, logically this mechanic didn't make any sense, but it serves its purpose in the game and acted almost as a light turbo.
However, Alan Wake is not a perfect game in the slightest. While Remedy did right with the game's lighting effects and scenery of the Pacific Northwest (truly, this game provides some of the most breathtaking backdrops I've seen in gaming), the game could've used some more work with character designs. Alan Wake and the game's supporting characters almost look like talking Real Dolls, reminding me of games from the early days of the Xbox 360. I also found it problematic that run and dodge utilized the same button, making it sometimes difficult to evade a horde of Taken. The game also features rather pedestrian driving scenarios, but really, these quibbles are minor in the grand scheme of Alan Wake.
The game does a good job of fleshing out the backstory of not only Alan Wake, but also Bright Falls and its townsfolk. Littered throughout the game are manuscript pages from a manuscript Alan Wake has yet to write; each manuscript page gives further details into the lives of the game's supporting players and even outline events that have yet to happen in the game (after finding a manuscript page detailing a chainsaw-wielding maniac, something told me I would soon run into some Leatherface clone sooner or later). The game also offers little nuggets of information in small bits of episodes of "Night Falls", the in-game science fiction homage to the Twilight Zone. While they're not integral to the plot whatsoever, I appreciate Remedy's attempts to expand the universe within the game by shedding a light on the littler-seen aspects throughout.
All in all, while not the game-changer we all expected it to be, the worth was certainly the wait for Alan Wake. Sure, the game's not perfect and the graphics look a little dated, but Alan Wake delivers some of the strongest storytelling I've seen this side of the Xbox 360. Whether you're interested in Alan Wake for the thrills or the engrossing mysteries of the plot, you really can't go wrong here.