Reader Review: Alan Wake

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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.

Loved

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.

Hated

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

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Comments

    Really?
    I liked when my guns were taken away.
    I have this bad habit of stockpiling the best weaponary in games.
    Because I knew I couldn't keep it I was more likely to pop out the flare gun and blow a hole in the darkness.

    I would have to disagree on the allies. That annoying publisher guy just took me out of the moment so many times.

    While I disagree with you on the combat (I found it compelling enough, especially on the Nightmare setting) I can see how the basic loadout and lack of enemy variety might get old.

    I think it helped that I paced myself with my first playthrough, only gaming in 1-2 hour sessions. It felt right, given the game's episodic nature.

    Either way, great review!

    Spot on. Story was excellent but the combat sucked.

    when i played alan wake, i was playing it at midnight every night with the lights out. one time i needed to go to the bathroom, i was actually scared of the darkness. that's how well this game builds up suspense about the darkness.

    DARKNESS IS EVIL

      Should have taken a flashlight... haha, I thought the little LED light they gave away with the game on release was a pretty cool touch, and very appropriate (that was at JB anyway).

      Anyway, Aidan, nice review. This game gets a lot of unfair judgement, but you've pointed out pretty much what makes it so memorable, especially the kind of off screen story that comes with the manuscripts. IMO this game was worth the wait.

      It's good to see I wasn't the only one who did that.

    The manuscripts were my favourite aspect, especially the one involving Nightingale.

    I really never understood what people see in the story. Anything it offers is a mish-mash of cliche, with any 'twists' being nothing but layer upon layer of dribble until the player is confused into thinking something interesting is happening. One of the biggest disapointments of the year. I've been advising people to steer clear of it. But that's just my opinion...

      But the lake is an ocean!
      I don't understand.

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