It�s been a busy past few weeks for me but now that I�m settled into my brand new apartment away from the madness of the old house I�ve finally found the time to sit down and start work on some more reviews. Unfortunately I wasn�t able to be on the show last week due to a severe lack of interwebs at the new place so I felt obligated to provide you all with an in-depth review of a game that I didn�t know I really wanted until just a handful of months ago.
Here ya go! Oh, and check out my latest episode of Spoiler Alert at the bottom of the page. Thanks, and enjoy! A Writer�s Journey
Remedy Entertainment has never really been on my radar as a developer of triple-A titles. While they�ve only released four games since their inception into the industry back in 1995 I haven�t found their catalog to be all that enticing despite very strong reviews of the two Max Payne titles that came out during the last generation of console titles. However, despite my lack of attention to their previous efforts my interest was struck five years ago at E3 2005 when the first trailer for Alan Wake was shown and though there wasn�t much to be seen I have since then made the occasional glance in its direction hoping for news. As the years rolled on though I simply brushed it aside thinking that it would be forever known as vaporware much like what Duke Nukem Forever and Starcraft Ghost had dissolved into. It wasn�t until the game�s first demonstration last year at E3 2009 did I really begin to have more than a passing fancy about the game. Witnessing those few minutes of gameplay left me, well, giddy thinking about the possibilities of a survival horror game that actually used light and dark mechanics effectively.
Now that Alan Wake has finally arrived after five years of development though, is it as good a game as its development time should indicate? Consumed by the Pages
There�s something to be said of a writer getting engulfed by their work in the novel-to-be. Unfortunately for Alan Wake this is a far too correct statement. Alan Wake�s story, or rather, the story of his story, takes place in the Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls, a small mountain community in the shadow of a dormant volcano. Alan and his wife Alice arrive via ferry at her insistence in the hopes that the vacation will allow Alan enough time to relax and begin writing again, something he hasn�t done in two years. While in town Alan visits a few of the locals (including a waitress obsessed with his novels and two former rock musicians) and picks up the keys to the cabin they will be staying in at Cauldron Lake, located in the mouth of the volcano. The couple drives up there and begin to settle in before Alice reveals her ulterior motive for bringing her husband to Bright Falls. Alan storms out of the cabin in protest but when he hears Alice scream he runs back frantically only to find a broken railing on the balcony and a fleeting glimpse of her sinking into the water below. Taking a deep breath, he plunges into the water below.
This is where the story truly beings. Alan wakes up in the remains of his wrecked car perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. As he wanders down the road to a gas station seeking help he is attacked by a Taken, a former denizen of Bright Falls who has fallen victim to a supernatural presence. From there Alan fights his way to the gas station and, after noticing an advertisement, realizes it has been six days since the incident at the cabin and that he has no memory of the time between now and then. Stalked by the paranormal entity, Alan begins the search for his wife and hopefully an answer to the riddle of his week long absence.
One of the key plot points of the game is the way the story is delivered and how the player chooses to interpret it. As you progress throughout the course of the game you find pages of a manuscript entitled Departure, a novel that Alan had been writing while entranced by the dark presence during those lost six days. These manuscript pages not only tell you what has been going on over the course of your progress but also what is to come further down the line. For players looking to not have plot elements spoiled for them (like me) you should choose not to read them. The temptation however can be a little overwhelming due to the intense nature of some of the combat so you might be compelled to read it. The pages are also found and presented to you in an out of order sequence so one should consider secrets to be completely spoiled as soon as you press the back button. The inclusion of these pages however definitely helps solidify the events happening throughout the course of the game and will fill in a few macguffins you�ll encounter along the way.
The story of Alan Wake is one of intrigue that doesn�t come along very often in an action adventure game, let alone any title that has been released this past console generation. What makes the large story consumable to the average player is its division into six individual episodes in almost the exact same way last year�s failed revival of Alone in the Dark attempted. While these episodes are by no means bite size, as each of the six episodes can take anywhere from two to three hours to complete, what they do accomplish is make the game manageable and easier for more casual players to complete. Each episode has a prologue as well which gives players who have not played the game continuously a quick refresher about the events that happened previously ala most serial television shows.
Overall, while not delivered in a manner that is totally successful the story overall has quite a bit of potential to it and the ending more than enough warrants a sequel. With new DLC episodes coming down the pike it�s hard not to want to jump on the Alan Wake train. Light and Dark
Alan Wake�s gameplay is a consortium of different devices that, usually, do not work together without weakening the other in some way. What Remedy has accomplished here however is a blending of proper survival horror mechanics with action adventure elements that are usually reserved for third person shooters. And when I say survival horror games I don�t mean recent attempts at horror games like Resident Evil 5, FEAR 2, and Condemned 2; no, we�re talking about titles that will do a little more than jump out at you during a pre-scripted sequence. Alan Wake is, while not entirely scary, will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat throughout most of your time with the game. However, when you are wandering through a dark forest at night with the wind making the trees shake and creak it is hard not to feel uneasy, especially given that your only source of light is a flashlight that you will have on hand for the majority of your playtime.
This is where the light and dark mechanic of the game comes into play. The dark presence of Cauldron Lake that stalks you during the game is none too pleased with you for reasons I won�t spoil here and will send minions after you called the Taken, citizens of Bright Falls that have succumbed to the power of the darkness. These former citizens are shielded by the darkness and the only way to make them vulnerable is to hit them with a beam of light until the darkness is completely eroded away. At that time they are vulnerable enough to be killed by a gun or any of the other weapons in your inventory. The Taken rarely appear alone and usually only do so at the beginning of the game so it is wise to keep an eye or ear out at all times for enemies lurking in the bushes: basically, if you see one of them, expect two more. The Taken will not cross into pillars of light such as that of a street light or a lit room. Given the survival-oriented direction of the game you are often outnumbered so it is advisable to know when it is best to run for it rather than face the enemy. Luckily pillars of light both serve as a checkpoint and are not too far from one another so frustration is minimal in this department.
Alan�s generous selection of weapons, which includes a standard revolver with optional rifles and shotguns that can be found along your way, is generous in its ammo count and these items can be found in abundance when played on the normal difficulty level. You�ll also find several handy items to use such as flares and batteries which power your flashlight. By far the most powerful weapon in the game is the flare gun which serves as an area-of-effect rocket launcher against the Taken, disintegrating them upon impact. Players will also come across flashbang grenades as they continue on into later portions of the game which can easily turn the tide of battle should you be outnumbered with nowhere to go.
The flares and pillars of light however offer a very interesting, if sometimes temporary, safe haven mechanic to utilize against the Taken. Since the Taken won�t cross into a field of light they can be utilized to herd them in certain directions or at the very least keep them at bay for a few precious seconds. This is often immensely helpful when enemies come from multiple directions with segmented approaches, allowing you to focus on one group while keeping you safe from behind. This scenario plays out commonly throughout several urban environments all over Alan Wake so it is wise to save a few flares in preparation for a coming Alamo-esque sequence.
By far some of the best parts of Alan Wake are the scenes where you are not alone in facing the dark presence. At several instances during the story you will find yourself with an AI partner who fights alongside you as you proceed toward an objective. Not only is the AI competent in its ability to combat the darkness (something that seems to be lacking from more games lately) but it also is well aware of both your and its surroundings. These sequences are easily the most fun of the game and they absolutely scream at the notion that Alan Wake deserves to have a full cooperative play feature. Some of the later levels of the game have you fighting alongside an AI for upwards of half an hour or more so a future Alan Wake title not having a co-op feature just sounds like a tragedy.
Writer�s Block is the Least of His Worries
Alan Wake�s five year development period (with origins leading back to the beginning of Max Payne 1�s pre-production time) almost demands that it have at the very least par visuals and a strong audio performance and thankfully Remedy was able to deliver. The visual design of the game is in many ways spectacular and really lends itself to feeling like an authentic setting. Throughout the entire course of the game I fully believed that I was playing in and around a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The forests however are the coup de grace of the entire experience. Being in the middle of the forest with the moon overhead was phenomenal and absolutely sells in trying to convince you that you are lost in the middle of a nighttime forest. When the wind picks up and the trees and bushes begin to sway it is hard not to get a little spooked, especially when a pick axe from a Taken goes whizzing by your head.
That�s not to say that Alan Wake is a pinnacle of game design; far from it. It is unfortunate that while the environments and particle effects are stellar the facial animations and the frame rate can suffer at times depending on what�s going on around you. The facial animations can be downright abysmal to look at simply due to the fact that both the in-game and cinematic ones can be very stiff and usually result in the characters simply opening and closing their mouths, nothing more. The cinematic animations in particular are almost abysmal and either look like a puppet act or at its best moment looking like last generation animations. The frame rate on the other hand can slow to a crawl at certain scenes throughout the game: one instance in the fifth episode results in the game dropping to an abysmal ten or so frames per second.
One problem that I have to address is the mixed delivery of the character dialogue. While some of the delivery comes off quite well it has to be said that there are many instances in Alan Wake that feel like B-movie deliveries or, worse, filler lines that were never updated from their original writing. The main character�s film noir-esque narration, something that has been a staple of Remedy�s Max Payne titles, is present at all times and that�s regrettable for the player. While we do want to know what�s going on in Alan�s head what we get is often him making a monotone delivery from a script that is usually a commentary on a current or upcoming event. You are not spared this either when you go to read a page from the manuscript as it�s read in an almost lifeless voice by the main character. Seriously, it would be far nicer if Alan had a little more emotion in his voice as you journey on with him beyond the occasional frustrated edge or an angry yell. Blinded By the Light
Despite having some large flaws in the final presentation Alan Wake is still a great game that�s well worth the five year development period we�ve had to endure. While the game lacks replay appeal save for item collection for achievements the promise of future DLC and inevitable sequels are going to have me coming back for season two of this series.
Final Review Score: 8/10
And now, your Spoiler Alert:
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