Review: Alan Wake

Sep 11, 2010

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Alan Wake continues Remedy’s fixation on the melodramatic and that tone and feel starts right as the game boots up. Instead of setting the stage for the story, the game opens by giving the player a pretentious explanation on how a good psychological thriller should be told.  The game will lead you through forests, junkyards, lumberyards, more forests, caves, a dam, and did I mention forests? Yes, you do have several repeat visits through forests, however Remedy did such a fantastic job in creating them that you can’t help but look in awe at how the trees look. This is where my highest praise for Alan Wake comes, the world looks incredible! The entire tone of Bright Falls is perfectly explained through its design. Everything feels de-saturated and gloomy. Nothing feels cluttered or out of place, yet everything seems out of the ordinary. You’ll come across innocent billboards and signs giving you a brief history of the town, yet next to it you’ll find a set of tin cans conspicuously placed in a pyramid shape on the nearby guard rail.

The look and feel only gets better at night. The small amount of light that emits from your trusty flashlight is perfectly enveloped by the darkness and you can’t help but feel alone when everything around you seems perfectly chaotic. The trees and shrubs will rustle in the wind, the ambient noises are consistent and alive, and everything feels dreadful. This is well complimented with the day segments, where you’ll be over exposed to the brilliant use of the color gray, think of the show Supernatural only with less good-looking people.  And when I say less good-looking people, boy do I mean it. The character models during the game play and cinematic sequences cross the realm of fugly. We live in a world of Uncharted 2 and Heavy Rain; this type of effort is quite often jarring after everything I described above. The animation also leaves something to be desired. When running and jumping, the animation doesn’t seem up to par with today’s standards, it can come across looking clunky and messy at times.

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Gallivanting through the night, you’ll come across enemies known in the game as the Taken. I was very much sold on the combat in the game, you are given such variety of weapons to use that it leads to some great fire fights that will light up the night.
The combat starts to show its seams, however, when enemies attack you from behind. It becomes inevitable to have enemies slam you from behind or throw projectiles at you that become impossible to avoid because you can’t see them. I found myself reloading my last checkpoint more often than I would have wanted because of this fault.

The game creates a great amount of tension by its clever distribution of ammo. You’ll be more often than not asking yourself if you should spend those last few precious bullets or just run to the next safe haven. Keep in mind though that running comes at a cost. Alan Wake is not going to be winning any medals any time soon for distance running. He has the stamina of your local comic book store clerk. Luckily Alan Wake features a dodge mechanic that lets you slow down time so that you can move out of harms way when an axe is thrown at you or a chainsaw wielding maniac is slicing down on you. I found this feature to be a little too inconsistent. On one-on-one fights the feature worked flawlessly, the enemy would swing, and I would dodge just fine. However this feature requires a great use of timing to get right when you have multiple enemies swinging at your head.

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Aside from the combat, one other issue I had with the gameplay is the actual adventure and getting from checkpoint to checkpoint, which makes the game seem liner. Your radar will always point you in the direction you need to go and it always gives you the sense of just going from point A to point B. You’re welcome to explore the world and find collectibles for achievements but if that is not your cup of tea, you get a strange sense that you’re just going in a straight line. Luckily there are a variety of things to do outside of the combat. You’ll do some (very) light puzzle solving, and there are vehicle segments.

The story is very well paced and told out in several chapter/episodes. Each concluded with a great cliffhanger and a fantastic song that reflects and closes out everything you just did. Even though the story is told in a fantastic way, that doesn’t mean the end result is great. I found that the last act rose far too many questions and was left a little uneven when the credits finally rolled. As someone who is a fan of Lost, I’m ok with unanswered questions, however there needs to be some sense of resolve and I thought the game truly lacked that. I do have to admit that I was enthralled by the journey. I thought the characters where fantastic, (Alan’s manager Barry is a very memorable character) and even the voice acting was well delivered where it needed to be.

Purchase @30

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