Review: Allan “Zardon” Campbell.
Alan Wake is a game we thought we would never see hitting retail shelves but at last (finally!) developer Remedy have managed to deliver the goods. A seven year hiatus for then has really injected Alan Wake with solid gameplay, polished presentation and a fresh perspective.
Alan Wake isn’t the usual muscle bound hero – he is merely a fiction writer who has attempted to escape the rat race and the pressures of fame by taking a vacation to Bright Falls. Not all is as it seems however because his wife goes missing and the hunt for her location sends him into the wacky world of the paranormal. I was immediately reminded of the X-Files (and even Twin Peaks) when I played the game because everything about the presentation and character development is pure supernatural sci-fi.
The game shifts between standard ‘gun and run’ and a central game play mechanic (much like Max Payne’s bullet time) – the clever use of light. There are other similarities with Max Payne – the combat and shooting for instance has clearly been developed over many years and will bring back feelings of nostalgia for many gamers. Alan shoots where his flashlight beam is directed and there is no lag or horrible camera glitches to mar the overall experience.
The core methodology of the game is based around darkness and light – all the enemies are initially cloaked in shadow and this makes them impervious to gunfire – so you therefore have to ‘light them up’ before riddling them with bullets to end their sorry existence. You get access to a revolver, a hunting rifle and two types of shotgun which seems rather limited, but when you combine the regular firearms with flashbang grenades, standard flares and a devastating flaregun then the combination of ‘light em up and shoot’ options is staggering.
When you shine the light on your enemies the controller vibrates and the targets glow with sparks while making a B-B-Q type sizzling sound. The audio is extremely impressive – from the sharp sparking noises to the whaaappp bang of the gunshots. Graphically I had more than a few ‘wow’ moments as the flares lit up the arenas only to be met with a meteor of embers and flowing smoke as another bad guy ‘bit the dust’.
The story revolves around six episodes, each of which is pieced together like part of a TV miniseries. The first episode ends with a suitable cliffhanger and then fades into a title screen. The presentation style is extremely attractive and Remedy have always been good at sucking you into the story – remember Max Payne for instance? Classic.
Alan Wake has many levels that work great – at night time the game is creepy and you will be on the edge of your seat wondering what is just around the corner. The darkness and fog means you can never see that far ahead and when the eerie, surreal sound effects come into full play then shivers will tingle up and down your spine.
During the day the game is slightly less impressive because all of the little flaws become very clear with the intense light. Pop up is easily noticed and the vegetation is far from realistic. Texturing and fine detail is also slightly lacking in key areas and even some of the character models look a little dated in todays competitive graphical climate. I feel that the team really did focus on the night time elements which I guess makes sense in the long run. Day time is taken up with talking to NPC’s and traveling the world hunting for clues and progressing the story but it really is at night when the game comes completely into its own.
The more you play the game, the more complexity and variety is added. Running away for instance is something you will get used to because sometimes there really is no alternative – if you want to live that is. Enemies move quickly, then attack with melee objects or throwing axes. Thankfully you do have a dodge move that can duck under specific attacks but the timing required is more often ‘hit and miss’ than relying on any user skill. Running from lighted position to position is an all to often endeavour and does add a certain ‘survivor’ feel to the game, which I personally love.
Exploration is limited to small areas of the main environment and feels rather linear for the most part, it wasn’t a game ruining aspect for me, but people expecting a Far Cry 2 ‘open world’ environment might be disappointed. There are weapons and collectibles to find and ammunition strewn in various locations. Sometimes you get the chance to drive a vehicle and the headlights come in handy for clearing the path ahead. It sounds exciting but compared to being on foot, its a little boring. Its certainly a nice change of scenery but I would like to have seen more dramatic elements used to enhance the feeling of faster movement.
Between the ‘episodic content’ we are briefed via beautifully presented recaps on what has happened so far, depicted via manuscript pages or dramatic monologue. The manuscript pages are tied into the story because Alan has suffered a blackout and doesn’t remember writing them. Their introduction adds a slightly surreal backstory element which serves to heighten key elements at specific moments. Its pure REMEDY storytelling and works wonderfully well. I often believe that these little touches can elevate a good game into a great one. Sam Lake – the writer at REMEDY has really done himself proud with the work in Alan Wake.
The game doesn’t explain everything – you are often left to fill the blanks, particularly later when Episode 5 and 6 start to unfold. It took me around 15 hours to beat and when it was over, my earlier feelings of cult TV show Twin Peaks, were reinforced. Without ruining the game for anyone reading this – not everything gets answered which may infuriate some gamers.
Alan Wake will be somewhat of a disappointment to many, especially considering the time it took to bring to market. Remedy has created a world which thrives during the night and is somewhat rough around the edges during the day. The environments are beautiful and the lighting is some of the best I have yet to see on the console platform, it is also a showcase of how audio and music can create epic moments of tension – I was on the edge of my seat throughout a large portion of the time taken to beat the title. I can highly recommend this game, but it is not quite the revolutionary title that many had hoped for.