From the creators of Max Payne comes a third person, psychological horror, action-adventure game about a bestselling writer named Alan Wake, who’s haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his wife during their vacation in the small town of Bright Falls, Washington. His problems don’t just end there, however. The story events from his latest novel, Departure, are coming true. A novel which he doesn’t even remember writing.
Remedy’s game starts off with the main protagonist, Alan Wake, in narration, quoting Stephen King. He follows this up with “in a horror story, the victim keeps asking ‘why?’ But there can be no explanation, and there shouldn’t be. The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest and it’s what we’ll remember in the end.” This opening preps you for the story’s ending, which will have you left with an unanswered mystery. He is in a dream state and narrates about how he doesn’t remember anything, but is frantically driving to a lighthouse for an urgent unknown reason. Alan hits a man hitchhiking on the road and hurries to check on him. Feeling that he has no pulse, he believes the man is dead and contemplates being jailed and never seeing his wife, Alice again. The car’s headlights go off, distracting Alan from the stranger. When he turns to look again, he is gone.
You dive straight into the game itemless and receive your first objective; to walk to the lighthouse. Lets not forget the additional obstacle of trying to escape death at the hands of an axe wielding shadow human with an obvious dislike for Alan. The game predominantly takes place in the small town of Bright Falls. In search of the answers to his wife’s disappearance, Alan is confronted and chased by “the dark”, which constantly attempts to harm him. Several of the towns people you meet will not last long and are consumed by the shadows living within the dark. Alan Wake does have a truly terrifying environment.
You spend most of the time in a dark atmosphere with tense combative gameplay. A darkness covers the town, inhabiting humans, animals, and objects alike. These are the player’s main enemies, shadows called the “Taken” who attempt to attack you. They use various weapons including axes, knives, chainsaws, shovels, and mallets. As the game progresses, the Taken will vary in size and speed with some being able to teleport short distances, making them harder to kill. Also a threat are the flocks of possessed ravens that will fly at you with vigour and viciousness. When these enemies are up close, you are able to perform a super cool cinematic slow-mo dodge to avoid being hit.
With Flashlight & Shotgun
You manoeuvre through the wooded areas in the town including the forest, the park, and a farm. Light will be your main means of protection as it burns the shadows and allows your revolver and shotgun to do damage to them. The types of light sources you will receive in the game are flare guns, flare sticks, and flash grenades. You can perform a light boost with your flashlight and flare stick to destroy the shadows at a quicker speed. After being successfully destroyed, a Taken will disappear into a cloud of darkness.
Your flashlight and guns require frequent reloading, so keep an eye out for the batteries and ammo scattered throughout area. Your aim is affected some from the protagonist’s lack of experience with a firearm, adding realism to the gameplay. Your running abilities are also limited as Alan can run at a brisk pace for about 20 seconds before slowing down to a slow jog. You’ll have to take a break to let him catch his breath before being able to run again. The limitations make combat against enemies more challenging, but not impossible. The player can also use environmental light sources against the darkness, enemies and for regenerating health faster. These sources include searchlights to take out massive waves of Taken, streetlights, and light stands that act as refuge.
You will be collecting random manuscript pages from Alan Wake’s novel, Departure, throughout the game. These pages seem to describe scenes that haven’t occurred yet and act as a warning of what is yet to come. There are also optional collectibles included like thermoses of coffee, TV sets that show airings of the fictional series Night Springs, radio station broadcasts with music and textual signs in the town. The town’s history and culture can be learned in depth through these broadcasts and signs. Most of the time, you will travel on foot, but at certain points in the game, you can use the car to travel to locations in the town. When in control of the car, you can drive over the Taken in the road or turn on the headlights to kill them.
What Alan Wake Delivers
The game is narrated entirely by the main protagonist, Alan Wake. The character can be dull at times and doesn’t have too much of a development. He is a writer, so the majority of the time he speaks through literary metaphors that do get a little taxing after a while. The game’s cut scenes are presented in a dramatic and intense manner, so the stilted character dialogue is a bit of a let down. They can be a little lengthy, however the cut scenes are spread out a good distance from each other so it doesn’t interrupt you as much as other games.
The controls are difficult to use at times during combat sequences, for example aiming the gun and shooting. Although it is relative to the game because the character is a novelist and not a gunslinger. There is a good amount of tension throughout the game, because of the unexpected appearances of the Taken. The scenery and graphics are fairly detailed with the look of the shadows truly exuding fear. It’s a nice addition for the game mechanics to be based around light prevailing against dark. Although not uncommon for a game.
The concept and story of the game itself is creative and well told, although goes through its dry spells and sums itself up with a lackluster ending. A lot of critics and players have cited this as the game’s main flaw. However, maybe that’s a whole point of the story. If you reflect on what Alan said in the very beginning of the game, you will see there’s not always a clear ending. Sometimes the author wants to let you, the reader or in this case, the player conjure up his own ending. Because stories that end so mysteriously and seemingly out of nowhere are the most remembered.
Alan Wake has achieved positive reviews from numerous game critics. Usually for its narrative, visuals, sound, pacing, and atmosphere. I do praise its narrative for putting us in the head of a writer and letting us experience things from his perspective. A man who is being haunted by his own creations. At times though, I did find Alan Wake’s regular narration to be a little much sometimes. The visuals are uniquely expressed in the game with the screen taking on a blurred and warped vision during combat with the shadows. The game’s pacing is mostly well done, except for a few dry parts during the middle. The episodic structure is unique to a game’s story, because not many video games could or would do that. It’s risky because you could lose your players interest by prolonging the story, but it’s a nice spin on a title’s usual chapters.
All in all, you will get an above average experience playing Alan Wake, and if narrative video games are your thing, we highly recommend it. Maybe years from now, the game’s ending will be looked back on differently.
Trailer of Alan Wake: