Alan traipsed through the woods cautiously; he knew the dangers lurking in the shadows, in the darkness. His flashlight swung around at the smallest of noises, ready to pry the darkness off of the Taken. They appeared in front of him without warning, materializing from the shadows, and he began to fight for his life as they threw hatchets at him and swung at him with chainsaws.
It sounds like something straight out of a Stephen King novel, right? And it’s close too, but it’s actually just the X-Box 360 exclusive Alan Wake. The game that languished in development for nearly 7 years at Remedy Entertainment (also famed for their Max Payne series) hit shelves last June and the time and effort put into the game shows tremendously. Alan Wake and his adventure fall into a mixture of survival horror and action, with a nice dose of third person thrown in for good measure.
The story, both pacing and structure, is akin to reading a novel. It’s a fantastic romp through a surreal thriller, combining both dramatic moments with those tense “OH GOD RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” moments that gives the game its survival horror aspect. The neat thing is how the two are very well combined – it’s part mystery, part thriller and all awesome as players work their way through the game.
It picks up with Alan and his wife Alice as they begin a vacation at Bright Falls, Washington, a remote town with an interesting and dark past. Alice hopes for it to be a restart for Alan – he has been suffering from a terrible bout of writer’s block after finishing his last novel and mystery series on his character Alex Casey. It begins innocently enough, until Alan falls into a horror story of his own creation – combined with the powers of a mystical lake everything he writes becomes reality before everyone’s eyes. Because of his writing, you take Alan through all the backwoods and downtown locations, fighting off possessed trains and fridges and taking on the Taken – people from the area completely consumed by the evils in the lake. None of these enemies can be harmed immediately by the conventional shotgun or revolver Alan carries around; instead the game also utilizes an interesting light dynamic: Alan’s key items are his flashlights and lanterns you’ll tote around. Using them, you’ll destroy the anything darkness-protected you come across.
The game also controls very nicely – much like any other third person shooter, though it lacks any conventional cover mechanic (can’t be getting too comfortable out there). You can “focus” your beam of light on objects, dodge around attacks, and sprint to your heart’s content. As you trek your way through the game, you’ll be able to pick up various weapons – a revolver, some shotguns, and even flash bangs, all of which go a long way to helping you and Alan solve the mystery of Mirror Lake. You’ll even pick up some friends along the way, ones luckily enough to not fall to the darkness. They are a big help and go a long way to keeping Alan alive long enough to fix everything that’s happened. And keep your eyes out too! There are a lot of extra items to pick up and read/collect/watch/listen that only further extend the mythos of the game and mystery surrounding Alan. Whether it’s information on a woolly mammoth from the area or Night Springs – a Twilight Zone-like show within the game – they are great extra pieces that lend to creating more back-story around Alan and Bright Falls in general.
As a quirky note about the game – it follows an episodic format, very similar to the famed show Twin Peaks. The game draws heavily upon that show, as well as the writings of author Stephen King and even borrows some creative ideas from Twilight Zone/The Outer Limits. Fans of these works will quickly notice some of the similarities and it’s a very endearing note about the game for those fans.
Remedy’s time and effort in the game also results in explosive views from the top of Washington mountains and scary perspectives from the middle of dark, foggy woods. Alan Wake boasts some of the best looking graphics on the 360 in my opinion. I loved having Alan stand on the balcony of a famous retreat overlooking the lake and surrounding mountains – easily one of the most memorable scenes of the game. The music for the game is also a nice surprise – Poets of the Fall added a few of their own songs into the game, as well as there being other fairly recognizable pieces of music. It’s a great addition to the game and it makes playing all the more enriching.
Further extending the game are the two extra DLC packs released – The Signal and The Writer (available for 560 points each through the Marketplace). Both help further the game’s ending, literally picking up right where the main game ends. They follow Alan’s attempt to fix his broken psyche in the aftermath of the main game, and it sums everything up. To wrap it all up nicely, the game is cinched for a sure fire sequel, something Remedy has already certified in a roundabout way. I definitely recommend for any 360 owner to at least give this sleeper hit a shot – it was a fantastic game that deserves more love it than it originally received.
Remember – Trust no one in the dark.Note: Alan Wake was reviewed on Xbox 360. A physical copy of the game was purchased by SelectButton.