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Yes, that’s right, we’re now publishing reader reviews here on Kotaku. This is your chance to deliver sensible game purchasing advice to the rest of the Kotaku community.
And thanks to the very kind chaps at Madman Entertainment, purveyor of all kinds of cool, indie and esoteric film, the best reader review we publish each month will win a prize pack containing ten of the latest Madman DVD releases.
This review was submitted by Justin Robson. If you’ve played Alan Wake, or just want to ask Justin more about it, leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Alan Wake (360)
You probably read about Alan Wake before the 360 was even released, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been eagerly waiting ever since. The build up for release has been long, and truly intense so I'll do you a favour and put you out of your misery straight up. It's bad. Actually, I'm lying... it's really, really good.
Atmosphere: Atmosphere is a difficult thing to quantify, but Alan Wake delivers it in wheelbarrows. There are so many tiny details that make up a beautifully realised world rich in personality. Bright Falls feels like a real small town looked at through a dreamlike filter, the focus being on the contrast between shadow and light. To get all arty-farty on you, it creates a chiaroscuro effect that a lot of games fail miserably in trying to pull off. The ambience of it all is what makes it memorable, and if you’re a person easily sucked in by art style, you’ll have a field day. This is Remedy doing what they do best.
Writing: Alan Wake features some pretty clever writing. There are a lot of pop culture references threaded into it, (Stephen King much?) and in a lot of ways, while cheesy, it is very self-aware writing. It tells the story in terms of a narrative, not only through Lost-style cutscenes and recaps, but also the way Wake talks during gameplay, like you’re reading an exciting passage from a book you can’t put down. It’s a different approach to say the least.
Level Design: Alan Wake plays out like a tightly woven rollercoaster of events. What it does really well is creating a world that’s heavily scripted, but genuinely doesn’t feel like it is. You don’t ever feel like you’re on a pre-determined path, and it offers a lot of thrills that wouldn’t be possible any other way. The atmosphere and the sense of claustrophobia and dread would be ruined if it was an open world game.
Combat: The combat is extremely intense. It sticks to a basic formula throughout, but mixes it up so you don’t get bored. You have to shine the darkness away from “the taken” (the axe-wielding homicidal maniacs of the piece) and hit them with the believable weapons, which you have to load one bullet at a time. This gives it a really good kick in the pants of “nowhere to run” survival-horror. You can also take care of a few baddies at once with the all powerful flares and flashbangs, if you’re feeling strategic.
Some Issues: At the very worst, Alan Wake’s quirks are trivial if next to unnoticeable. The worst is the way that the weapons you’ve broken your back to salvage, disappear every so often after cutscenes or changes of location. It’s best to use them up when you find them. Really though, other than the occasional fuzzy texture, or cheesy line, the overall package is so brilliant, this doesn’t degrade the experience at all.
Only On Xbox: I honestly feel sorry for the people who haven’t been able to play it, and who judged it by the platform it's on. This is the kind of game that you genuinely need to play to get a sense of, and the 360 as a platform just doesn’t deliver it to a wide enough audience.
Alan Wake is the kind of hugely inspired, melt in your mouth package that comes along very rarely, and is sure to stay with you for a long time. The game has to be played to be appreciated, and it’s hard to pinpoint what key element makes it work, but it just does. If you try to judge this game by the sum of its parts, you won’t enjoy it. You’ve just got to buckle up and go for it.
Reviewed by: Justin Robson
You can have your Reader Review published on Kotaku. Send your review to us at the usual address. Make sure it’s written in the same format as above and in under 500 words - yes, we’ve upped the word limit. We’ll publish the best ones we get and the best of the month will win a Madman DVD prize pack.