Review: Alan Wake

Alan Wake is not just the title of the game, it is a man grasping for answers throughout his frantic, foreboding search for his missing wife.  As each hour passes by he tries to grab hold of his mind while it derails itself from sanity. He becomes tormented by the inhabitants of Bright Falls, a small town somewhere in the Pacific Northwest where he and his wife decide to take a short vacation. Alan Wake is by no means a horror-game, nor is it an action-game, it’s a psychological thriller with elements of the latter. Wake’s dark tale unravels itself to reveal a satisfying gameplay experience whilst leaving me trembling in terror as I finished each frantic battle with The Taken.

The story is broken up into a very appeasing episode format. Every couple of hours the game will suprise you with a cliff-hangar and cut to the Alan Wake logo. The episodes conclude with some neatly chosen music, letting you digest the previous events. Once the next episode begins the game will play a recap complete with a narrator spouting the famous precursor to one of these events,  “previously on Alan Wake.” I really enjoyed having the game split up into smaller chunks because it let me find a nice stopping point to take a break without the feeling of confusion as I began to play again. Unfortunately even if I tried to explain who The Taken are and why they are trying to kill you I would have to slap a spoiler alert on this review. The game is incredibly story driven and never ceases to present you with the constant twists and turns along the way. To put in as few words as possible, The Taken are guys engulfed by darkness, who often wave around blunt objects that they want to poke Alan with. The real terror you will find in the game is when you let your guard down long enough for one of these shifty little (sometimes big) guys to get behind you and lock you into a 3-hit combo that is almost sure you make you squeal. Although raising your sister’s self-esteem may not be Remedy’s intentions, they did craft a very intuitive combat system. Honestly, Alan Wake’s combat is nothing new: shoot guys with bullets, and then they fall down. The true twist on the normal 3rd-person shooting is that fact that bullets do absolutely nothing if you don’t wipe the darkness right off their surprisingly normal faces. Alan must shine some source of  light-usually of the flashlight variety-on his enemies to break them of their immortality. Once you and your adversaries are seeing eye to eye, you may proceed to pump them full of lead.

Immersion  into Alan Wake happens very easily but, the game manages to pull me out of the experience with the same difficulty.

Not only is the light a weapon, it also serves as your protection from these horrid creatures. Some moments will have you completely out of ammo rushing between lamp posts for safety. Alan’s internal monologue which has become an interesting component that was spawned from Remedy’s previous series, Max Payne, can also be very helpful. Every so often Alan will direct you (himself) to search for a light source. These little sequences add to the wonderful narrative found in the game, while helping you to be further immersed into his world.

For a game 5 years in the making it still manages to provide an intense, enjoyable experience.

Immersion  into Alan Wake happens very easily but, the game manages to pull me out of the experience with the same difficulty. As you trudge your way through the sometimes secretly linear path Alan will come upon manuscripts supposedly written by him. Once you pick up these forgotten papers the game prompts you to pause the game and bring up a menu only to have you manually select the newest page for Alan to read it to you. Although a minor gripe, each time I found one I wanted Alan to either read it aloud while I continued my journey or have the camera zoom in on his hand holding the paper while he spoke. Another of my many small complaints has to do with the games HUD. As Alan learns of a new objective the HUD displays it constantly, almost like it thinks I’ll forget. There are two problems with this: 1. You are usually walking on a single path without any alternate paths. and 2. In the past few years videogames have chosen to hide the HUD when it’s not needed, making for a more believable experience. Yet another thing that broke my experience is the Coffee Thermos that serve as the game’s collectable. With such a stylistic game I think they could have came up with something better, or at least cut the idea during development. All of these traits make the game feel dated and not quite up to the standard that has been set with more recent releases.

With the truly thrilling story and tight controls my past complaints don’t dock Alan Wake too many (imaginative) points. For a game 5 years in the making it still manages to provide an intense, enjoyable experience. That guy with the crew cut should be jealous. Even if you are not a fan of creepy tales and dark environments, you would be hard-pressed to find an awful taste in your mouth after finishing Alan Wake.  The game not only puts a twist on combat but it places one on the mysterious tale it successfully creates. Alan Wake has found itself to be my one and only favorite psychological thriller across all mediums of entertainment.

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