Rae, beautiful and sassy as ever, was hunched at her computer in the confined darkness of the office. The Kraken had been swimming the seas of her Coke, only to disappear down her throat, where she hoped the substance abuse would lead to creative epiphany. Alas, nothing was coming except that familiar, happy dizziness that the Kraken usually inspired. Her fingers were coiled in anticipation for the signal from her brain to finally fire. Then, finally then, ideas would weave into prose, prose into pages, pages into history. The glow of the computer intensified, the blank page was a daunting tease, but she suddenly snapped from her stumped stupor, and that primal, creative vigor spirited her away to the land of…
Okay, before you dust off that Pulitzer you’ve been dying to give me since we started comparing our novels-on-napkins, let’s get through this review first. This gem of a game is something players have either stumbled upon, or casually stepped over for shinier games. Sure, Alan Wake doesn’t have as much press going for it as other games, but sometimes the best games have had the littlest attention. It can be a blessing, and sometimes it can be a curse, but no matter what, it is always going to be a surprise.
Alan Wake surprises.
In Alan Wake, you play the not-so-italicized Alan Wake. He is a writer, and with his occupation come tropes inherent in all fictive writers; the drunken, ill-tempered insomniac, sufferer of nightmares when he can sleep, and writer’s block when he can’t, who holds everything together with his own special blend of arrogant mortar. Alan Wake is reeling from the backlash of killing his main character, so his wife, Alice “I’m Afraid Of The Dark, Weird Coincidence, Huh?” Wake, has whisked him away to Bright Falls, a cozy town nestled lakeside in the heart of Mount Plotpoints.
Everything is going terribly; his biggest fan works at the local diner, a creepy old lady gets all cryptic with him, and there’s a minor drama in trying to attain his key to his rental cabin. Finally, when Alan does get time to shed his tweed jacket with patches, Alice surprises him with a typewriter as a cure-all to his writer’s block. Alan’s reaction, a hilarious blend of fury, tweed and noise, drives Alice weeping into the evening, where she disappears. It falls on Alan, perhaps one of the whiniest character in video game history, to face the shadows of Bright Falls, and save his wife.
Before Alan Wake becomes the bad-ass writer who battles the darker places of his fictions and realities, he is whiny, bitchy, and has a real Skywalker circa “New Hope” way of looking at the world. Believe me, in the beginning of the game, I was privy to some spectacular shades of meltdown. He does come around, he does have character progression, but until that point, the game throws a big heaping of supportive cast on your overall game plate that makes Alan a little more bearable.
There is a no-nonsense sheriff, a couple of heavy metal geriatrics, a drunk and very evil Federal Agent, and –
The crowning piece of this game involves the multiple environments Alan forges through. Each layout is a product of the story. The way a haunted house compliments its horror film, is the same way Alan Wake’s environments echo their various levels. No forest lay out is ever the same as the last, and the detail work on levels that would feature a trailer park, police precinct, or rehabilitation center is jaw dropping. When Alan is running through the woods, there is a perfect balance between feeling lost, and finding your way to the end of the level that can only be compared to how the right amount of hops and the right amount of malt make the perfect beer. So, do yourself a favor, when you have a second to breathe in this game, take some time, and pan the camera around. Take in what hard-work and talent really looks like.
Good. Now, that you’re finished smelling the roses, make sure those Energizers are locked and loaded. When night hits Bright Falls, an army of shadow men emerge, ready to rip into Alan worse than any critique he’s ever had to endure. Even inanimate objects can become infected by the inky darkness, all in a bid to make Alan a skid mark. The game is full of references, but my favorite one has to be the swarms of dark crows that attack Alan, reducing him to a tweeded-out Tippi Hedren.
So, even though you have things like psychotic shadow lumberjacks, re-animated trains, and death crows bearing down on you, have no fear, because you have your hand-dandy-do-I-make-you-randy? flashlight. The light burns through the ethereal barriers around these threats, and then you can pop them with your gun(s).
To keep the gimmick from going south or getting too menotonous, Alan is later armed with things like flare guns, roadside flares, and flashbang grenades, all of which do pretty, nasty things to your shadowy stalkers.
The level structure tickled me pink. Every level is presented to the player like an episode on a television show. Each end has a closing credit and well-chosen song (tracks like “Haunted” by Poe, and “Up Jumped the Devil” by Nick Cave and the Bad Sees), and every level begins with an montage of events from the previous “episode”, complete with “Previously, on Alan Wake”. What can I say, I’m a total sucker for it.
I went into this game with little expectation. I had only a few reviews to go off of, and the developer’s previous work; the Max Payne series, which I love. So, I figured, why not? The game grew on me, going from a place where I was okay with it, to a place where I could not finish my day unless I saw the next episode of Alan Wake. The Remedy team has a fantastic title here, and their tweed-clad hero is sorely needing a sequel. The game can’t be that much nowadays, so you have no excuse *not* to check out, unless you’re afraid of the dark.
Gameplay & Mechanics 2
Score: 7 tweed jackets out of 10
Alan Wake may not be game of the year, but the game is fun and totally addictive the way your favorite TV show can be. The awesome soundtrack backs a nominal, straight-forward story, not to mention some pain-staking design and innovative mechanics. Remedy faces no threat of going gently into any sort of dark night, but the more love this title gets, the better.