For my first game review, I’ve chosen Alan Wake. In case you’re wondering why, it’s because it is one of my all time favorite games. Alan Wake was released back in May 2010 and was developed by Remedy Entertainment. The game was exclusive to the Xbox 360, but since February of this year, the game is also available for the PC. The game is labelled as a third-person shooter psychological thriller action game, this description is spot on if you ask me. The psychological thriller factor is what makes the game so intriguing, it’s hard to put the controller down once you’ve started playing. The game is divided up into episodes, meaning that it feels like your taking part in a TV series instead of paying a game. At the start of each episode, starting from episode 2, you’ll get a recap of the events in the previous episode.
The game starts out with an introduction to the main character; Alan Wake. Alan is a bestselling thriller novelist but unfortunately after the release of his last best seller 2 years before the game begins, he started to suffer from writers block. After the short introduction that has the feeling of a pilot for a new TV show, you’re immediately thrown into his nightmare. This nightmare acts as a sort of training level; it shows you how the gameplay works and how you have to take out the enemy. During the game, Alan will do voice-overs, telling you what happens or has happened as you are playing. I have to admit, that in any other game this could become annoying, but in this case, it just adds to the mystery of the events that are unfolding. As soon as the nightmare ends, we get to meet Alan’s wife Alice. It’s revealed that it was her idea to go on a vacation to the, lovely by day, town of Bright Falls.
Let’s fast forward a little, after about a half hour of playing the game (depending on whether you search for the collectibles or not), it’s revealed that Alan’s wife has gone missing, taken by the Dark Presence that roams the town by night. Of course Alan will do anything to get his wife back, but it’s not easy to do so. Along the way you come across pages of a manuscript. The manuscript has been written by Alan himself, although he has no memory of ever writing it. The manuscript will give you an insight into why characters do what they do, but sometimes they will reveal events that you will come across as you play through the game, so I would suggest that you go off the path to find these pages and give yourself that little extra insight on how to beat a certain situation that you’ll come across.
The Enemy’s Forces:
The enemies that you will come across are called ‘The Taken’ and at first appear completely invulnerable, they’re shrouded by the shadow of the Dark Presence. However, there is a way to get rid of them. Using his flashlight, Alan can cause the darkness to fade and is then able to shoot the enemy to kill them. Naturally there are different kinds of enemies to deal with, including Taken that throw axes from a distance, massive guys who look like they should belong outside a club at as a bouncer who are slow but take a long time to get them to the point that you can pump them full of lead, other enemies zip around so fast that it is hard to keep track of them and take them out. One thing all of them have in common though, is that you will have to use the flashlight to make them vulnerable before finishing them off.
Enemies come in vast numbers and will try to crowd you and kill you that way, but the light blinds them so you can use that to your advantage to get some space to work with, the easiest way to do this is light a flare. Usually the Taken will make themselves known by a slow-motion cut scene, giving you a few seconds to prepare against the onslaught. The amusing thing about the Taken is that they retain some memories of their lives before becoming possessed; park ranger Taken will caution you to stay off the grass while the hunter Taken will give you advice about Omega 3 fatty acids being good for your heart. Despite the fact that most of these lines will probably get a good laugh out of you, don’t lower your guard and make sure you are ready for their attack.
Other enemies that you will come across are the Ravens. During the day, you will see ravens everywhere. At this point, they’re not a problem, but during the night they will flock together and swoop down at you, making it difficult to cross bridges or navigate narrow mountain paths. There is no point in shooting the birds though, the best thing to do is to just shine your flashlight, or shoot a flare at them if you’ve got a flare gun and they’ll be killed that way. When the birds swoop down at you, the game suddenly takes on a very Hitchcock-esque feel.
Another threat you will come across are possessed objects. These objects can range from monster trucks to train carts to the coils they store industrial wires on. They can be quite tricky to dodge, but as soon as you wear the darkness down they disappear, it would be advisable to stay as far away as you can though, this way you’ve got more time to dodge if an object decides to fling itself at you.
The game play is fantastic, there’s no other word for it. The action sequences make your hair stand on end, especially when there is a group of Taken about to descend on you and you’re running low on ammunition. The graphics are great; the scenery that Remedy has created really helps in giving the game a mysterious, if not creepy atmosphere.
For the characters, Remedy used real people to become the face of their characters, so the people you see on the screen are walking around somewhere in the world. this really helps in bringing the game come to life, but I have to admit that sometimes the cut scenes look a little clunky.
Controlling Alan is pretty easy. Control response is really good so it really feels like you’re in the middle of the action during the game. There aren’t a whole lot of weapons that you can use, at most you can use a revolver, flare gun, hunting rifle, shotgun, flares and flash bangs. These are the only weapons that you’re able to have in your arsenal, so that’s a minor setback. It doesn’t really help that sometimes you just run out of ammunition and you have to run for your life, literally. Despite this, once you get to a Safe Haven, there is usually a small red box which is filled with essentials like ammunition or flashlight batteries. Also scattered around, are hidden weapons caches that can only be found if you come across arrows painted in light sensitive paint, meaning the paint lights up when your flashlight hits it. These are kind of hard to find, but they are there. at some points in the game, you’ll come across upgrades for your flashlight. This can range from a larger flashlight to a big torch.
This brings me to another point, Alan is somewhere in his 30’s, with little more than a nasty knock to the head and missing a week’s worth of memory. However, he can hardly sprint for a good 5 feet before he’s wheezing like a guy having an asthma attack. This can make the game difficult at times, especially when you’re trying to get away from enemies while you’re low on health.
I’ve mentioned before that there are manuscript pages that you can pick up along the way to reveal events in the game to you, But those are not the only things you can pick up. Spread around the maps of Alan Wake there are coffee thermos’ you can collect, radio’s that give you an extra insight on the events in the town of Bright Falls and TV’s that show the fictional TV show ‘Night Springs’ which was one of the gigs that Alan wrote for before he began writing his best seller novels. The collecting of the thermos’, listing to the radio shows and watching the TV isn’t really necessary to do in order to understand what is going on in Bright Falls, but it is nice when you do come across a radio or TV to just sit back and relax for just a moment before throwing yourself into the heat of battle again.
A lot of reviews that I’ve read say that the ‘fighting with light’ aspect of the game will eventually wear you down and becomes repetitive. I think differently, this aspect of the game provides a challenge the whole time as you need to watch out that no Taken sneak up and take you out from behind and the only way to slow the Taken down for just a few seconds is shining your flashlight at them.
So in conclusion, I think that Alan Wake is a game you have to play at least once in your life. The few details that I’ve named that can become annoying are easy to ignore as Alan Wake has an amazing story line, beautiful scenery/graphics and well built, rounded out characters. The game will keep you on the edge of you seat the whole time you’re playing it and upon completing each chapter, you will get a few answers but you will also have more questions which just makes you want to keep playing the game through till the end.
Images taken from alanwake.wikia.com.