Alan Wake is most likely the culmination of a guy being approached by his boss who says, “We need to make a psychological thriller.” To which the employee responds, “Okay! We’ll make a video game about a writer that could best serve as a really good movie divided into episodes like a TV show.” Boss says, “Get it done and then make me a sandwich.” And thus Alan Wake for the Xbox 360 is born and we get a game that not only kicks ass but seems to have some sort of subliminal message: Buy a shit ton of Energizer lithium batteries like these guys:
At its core the game is a third person shooter wrapped up in what looks like should be a survival horror sprinkled with a dash of Silent Hill and Resident Evil 4. As such, the game often has you taking part in quick time events (my dreaded nemesis), bad inventory management (or lack of), and plenty of stupid ways to die like accidentally falling off a cliffside (epic fail = lmao). It isn’t a bad game, though. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. The pacing was excellent, the characters memorable (save for Deputy what’s-her-name), the dialogue expertly written, and the drama kept me so engulfed that I often found myself unwilling to put the controller down until I finished the current episode. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we?
The character models aren’t the best I’ve ever seen on the Xbox and look a bit stiff at times, but it can be justified by the massive amount of detail in the environment. The town of Bright Falls really comes to life and the mountainous surrounding it’s located in is absolutely breathtaking. The wilderness feels so real because each area is so condensed with plant life, hills, rivers, and incredibly gorgeous views of the landscape from high cliffs. It almost makes you feel like you want to go out to some hick town in the middle of nowhere just to admire the scenery.
The is probably the closest most gamers have gotten to watching a real sunset.
Sound design is another perfect mark on this game’s scorecard for me. The music had me engaged in every moment from quiet peaceful scenes to near fatal encounters. It often lulls you into a false sense of security and warm fuzzy feelings in the beginning when Alan and Alice act all lovey-dovey with each other. Then, it quickly throws you in a small dark crawl space and locks the door when the sun sets putting you in a constant state of dread and panic. When sunrise comes the score makes you feel like you’re going insane because apparently nobody in the town notices the crazy shit that happens at night. Alan seems to be the only person not affected by the Dark Presence but he might as well be hunched in a corner eating his own feces out of a bucket because nobody believes him at first.
There is one thing that felt was out of place in the game, though: product placement and blatant advertising. I love it when a video game set in the real world tries to go for as much realism as possible. Yet, some of the obvious advertisements felt really weird to me. Take the Verizon billboard for instance. In a small town located in the buttfuck middle of nowhere I’d find it odd for a large billboard to be placed that only has their logo on it and nothing more. The Energizer battery thing made me chuckle, but made sense because you needed the batteries to power the flashlight. It’s strange that a perfectly good pack of batteries would be lying unopened in the forest, but that’s just the way video games work, I suppose. The Microsoft computer thing in Alan’s car was just stupid. It was Microsoft advertising a Microsoft product in a product that only plays on another Microsoft product.
I know he's a writer and his books are promoted like anything else, but this almost feels like the game is advertising itself in-game.
I mentioned earlier that each chapter of the game is divided into “episodes”. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger with an appropriate song playing at the end. And then each new episodes begins with a “Previously on Alan Wake” recap. I loves it! It fits so well and adds to the drama by ending on a suspenseful note and then beginning on another one.
Gameplay and Controls:
Third-person shooter equals you running around shooting things until they die. It’s old and dated and feels much older this time around and adds a bit of frustration because of the way you weaken the enemies. I’ll explain: each enemy is invulnerable to attack until you take down their shield of dark flowy whatever-the-hell-it-is by blinding them with your flashlight. Unfortunately, the batteries on the flashlight die rather quickly leaving the enemies strong and you fumbling for more batteries. That’s when they usually swarm around you and proceed to rape you in the ass.
The game does make use of light in an interesting way. At times you’ll find lamp posts and generators hooked into search lights scattered through the town and forests. These lights drive the enemies away but some only last for a short while before they go which lets the enemies reappear out of nowhere. It works great because it forces you to keep moving if you don’t have the resources to fight them off.
These guys are allergic to light, meaning you get to shoot them in the face with a flare gun like so.
The game saves whenever it feels like and you don’t have the option to save your file on the fly. I’ve always hated this in any game and I curse the developers for putting it in this game. There were dozens of times where I wanted to keep playing but had to run off to work and was only two seconds away from hitting an invisible checkpoint before I shut the damn thing off which forced me to repeat the last half hour of gameplay. For shame, Remedy.
Control wise this game is pretty standard. If you’ve ever played an action game this should be pretty easy for you to pick up and play. The only thing that sucks is the jumping mechanics where you’ll find Alan doesn’t have the best sense of depth in the world and will often completely miss something that should be a simple hop for any normal person. And remember how I mentioned the game’s beautiful scenery? Well, don’t admire it too closely. If you stop right on the ledge of a cliff and try to turn around Alan will instinctively walk off said ledge like a cartoon character resulting in a really stupid but funny death.
We’ve come to the crux of this psychological thriller: the story. I hate spoilers so I’ll leave you with a confusing one instead of something that makes sense. You’re a writer who is a character in a book you wrote, but don’t remember writing it and then you find out that was all part of someone else’s book leaving you scratching your head more than the LOST finale had you punching your TV screen. It almost felt like this was the Xbox’s answer to Heavy Rain and when Alan’s wife, Alice, goes missing I found myself yelling out “SHAAAAUN!” as opposed to “ALIIICE!” resulting in a stupefying chuckle to myself. This isn’t Heavy Rain, though. Ethan Mars was a terrible father and Alan Wake is a good husband. Also, Heavy Rain was movie wrapped in the longest quick time event in video game history whereas Alan Wake is actually a video game, so compare the two would be like comparing one asshole (George W. Bush) to another asshole (Uwe Bowell). So don’t be an asshole and try to compare the two.
"Yes, Ethan. I'm positive that Alan Wake would be a worse father than you if he had any kids. But thankfully, his wife knows better...unlike yours."
Compelling story, fast pacing, interesting characters, and excellently written and voiced dialogue make this a must buy for Xbox 360 owners. The controls aren’t the best, but we’re none of us ferpect.
Alan Wake gets a 4 out of 5.