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Alan Wake Review

Genres: Adventure Action All
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft
Review Date: 1-7-2010
Review Platform: XBOX360
Review Region: AU Available In Australia
Est Playtime: 8.5+ hrs
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Review By: Bradley Beeck

Alan Wake is famous author suffering from writers block. He hasn't written a novel in two years. His wife Alice, wanting to help, takes him on a retreat to Bright Falls but everything falls apart when she mysteriously disappears. To add to the mystery a novel written by Alan himself, one he doesn't remember writing, is foretelling these horrifying events.

alan_wake040Alan Wake was in development for over five years, but after playing it I cant see why it took that long to make. It's a straight forward action adventure game that only takes eight hours to beat. However, unlike most games stuck in development hell, it's not terrible. And the only thing that signals it's long development cycle is the dated character models.

alan_wake042The basic premise of Alan Wake is that an evil presence is taking over the town of Bright Falls and only light can stop it's advance. Meaning you have to use a flashlight to 'burn' away the evil residing in enemies and objects before you can kill them with conventional weapons. That's actually pretty much it, because there's next to no puzzles and the levels are quite straightforward. Sounds boring, right? Well what makes the game fun to play is atmosphere, something this game has in spades. It sucks you in to it's creepy mysterious world and creates tension like few others. It's the little touches that do it; tree branches swaying in the wind, fog obscuring the way forward, crows flying off as you approach, and the warm glow of distant lights piercing the darkness.

alan_wake006The game is broken up into episodes that play out like a TV series, with 'Previously On' and outros. It's an interesting approach although I felt the episodes were too long to completely sell the idea. However it does make it easy for Downloadable Content (DLC) to slot in where ever the developer wants. Unlike other game's Alan Wake's story begins as soon as you start playing, and is told through cutscenes and manuscripts. The manuscripts are in-game collectables revealing slightly more detail on what's happening and sometimes giving forewarning of events to come. There are also Thermos flasks to collect but these serve no purpose other than achievement points, which is immediately apparent.

alan_wake001The story itself is rather convoluted involving one writer writing about another writer, with what's penned coming true. It's done in an over the top manner that gets old after a while, although I'm not a fan of that kind of style to begin with. You also have no influence over how it unfolds, which makes it worse because you're forced to watch it like it or not. Not to mention the central flaw that bugged me from the start: why doesn't Alan just write 'Wife saved. Evil Defeated. The End'? Aside from that the story also introduces new plot twists at the end setting up a probable sequel.

alan_wake037There are only a couple of different enemy types in the game: crows, hicks with guns or axes, and possessed objects. The possessed objects have some great moments but the standard enemies get boring after a while. Likewise there are only a few weapons: shotgun, rifle, pistol, flare gun, flares, and flashbangs. The latter two come in handy when you're surrounded by enemies and need some breathing space. This happens fairly often, because they are scripted events and Alan cant run for more than a couple of meters so escaping is unlikely. There's also no cross-hair for aiming but that's generally not a problem because the flashlight's beam acts as a sight. The only time when it is, is when enemies are point blank and the hit animation doesn't help the situation. It leaves you stumbling for several seconds so the flares are a vital tool at times like this.

alan_wake031The environments in Alan Wake look amazing, and are some of the best I've ever seen. The same can't be said about the character models which look low resolution, and lack fluidity in their animation. Licensed music, such as Roy Orbison, plays at the end of each episode and is generally well chosen. The game also uses some original music that I'd call tempo music it creates tension/feeling like you want to rush forward to get away. Which is enhanced by the minimal use of sound effects.

Alan Wake is a third person action adventure game, minus the puzzles. It's simple, but still absorbing to play because of the atmosphere and tension it creates. The story is also interesting, if convoluted, and unfolds in an episodic manner. However the lack of enemy variety, puzzles, and the story's over the top style eventually wore me down. Alan Wake is an enjoyable game that almost went the distance, but not quite.