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This review was submitted by Aidan Dullard. If you’ve played Alan Wake, or just want to ask Aidan more about it, leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Alan Wake (360)
Alan Wake is a ‘psychological action thriller’ from Remedy Entertainment. Successful thriller writer Alan Wake investigates the disappearance of his wife while on a holiday in a small town with a long and dark history.
Story: One of the most intriguing and riveting plots I’ve seen in a video game – ever. Alan Wake, true to form, has a storyline worthy of a good thriller novel, and doesn’t disappoint with its twists, turns and “WTF?!” moments. The game’s story almost delights in being unconventional, throwing traditional narrative structure out the window from the very beginning and denying the player any sense of a comfortable or neat explanation for what’s going on.
Great Expectations: There are no easy pickings, story-wise, for this game. The plot unravels slowly, almost in the background, before building to a great climax and many unanswered questions. The extremely clever use of the in-game ‘manuscript’ (Alan finds pages scattered around the gameworld) alert the player to off-screen events, background material and even, sometimes, the future. A unique and fascinating storytelling experiment.
Bleak House: I’m not at all a horror gamer, but thankfully Alan Wake skews more towards a thriller or survival game than genuine, gory nastiness. The lighting is phenomenal, creating a continuous sense of unease and even frustration with the constant gloominess. The tension is such that I felt relief when the game shifted to a sunlight scene. There are certainly ‘jump-out’ scary horror moments, but the main atmosphere is one of ever-present, pervading darkness that is reflected extremely well in the game’s lighting and level design.
Characters: Remedy obviously went to great lengths to give their characters depth and humour. Alan Wake himself is appropriately heroic, confused and defiant, as the situation warrants – but he’s joined by some fantastically written allies and enemies that sometimes have laugh out loud lines. The voice acting is uniformly excellent, especially for Wake himself.
Chekov’s Gun(s): For a game with so much going for it story-wise, the combat (which comprises the vast majority of the gameplay) was, for me, a bit of a letdown. It generally boils down to one or two tactics that work on any enemy in the game, and once the player masters the use of the flashlight and weapons early on there is little innovation and few surprises to be had. I found the combat somewhat dull and repetitive, so much so that I had to force myself through it solely for the sake of the game’s storyline. There is, for me, little sense of 'fun', which I suppose is expected in a thriller/survival game, but it was a disappointing letdown in a game of otherwise excellent quality.
The Curious Case of the Guns in the Night-time: A minor fault, but a nagging one. Alan Wake felt on occasion incredibly unbalanced, with the game alternating between showering the player with the game’s most powerful items and leaving them stranded with none. By carefully preserving powerful weapons, ‘boss’ fights that were meant to be intense and brutal (they even had Achievements) could be finished literally in seconds. This was compounded by the mystifying disappearance of all of the player’s carefully gathered items after certain cutscenes and transitions – leaving them to take on enemies with a pistol where a minute previously they’d been armed to the teeth with rifles and flares.
Minor glitches: Some small things that nevertheless broke the immersion – foremost being some dodgy facial animation, occasionally loose controls and poor checkpoint placement in some missions.
Overall, Alan Wake is an involving, enthralling and ultimately memorable experience. Its triumphs of storytelling, level design and atmosphere are let down, however, by an unwieldy and repetitive combat system and an unforgiving lack of consistency with weapons and items. If you’re a fan of suspense, thrills, mystery and action, it’s definitely worth checking out – just remember to keep the lights on.
Reviewed by: Aidan Dullard
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.