“Alan, wake up!”
This is another one of those “I wanted to play this when it first came out but didn’t and then it was $4 on Steam so I figured what the heck, might as well try it” games.
In a nutshell, Alan Wake (developed by Remedy) is the story of a stressed out writer who heads to the small town of Bright Falls for a much needed vacation. When his wife is abducted, however, what was supposed to be a relaxing getaway turns into a nightmare. In his search, he comes across pages from a manuscript that he doesn’t remember writing. Is he going insane, or is there something darker at work?
Does this sound familiar at all? If you said “it sounds like a Stephen King novel,” then I don’t know how accurate that is because I’ve never read any of his novels, but they reference him a lot in the game. Anyways, Alan Wake tells its tale through an interesting episodic format. Each “chapter” in the game is an episode, and the six episodes in the game comprise “season one” of the show (presumably, the sequel will be season 2). It’s a neat way to structure a game (each “episode” also has its own credits theme).
In his search for his wife, Alan will inevitably face off against the Taken–people and objects possessed by the Darkness (no, not that Darkness). This is where the game’s Fight With Light system comes into play. Basically, you have a flashlight, your enemies can’t die until you make the Darkness go away, you shine the light on your enemies, and then when the Darkness dissipates, you shoot them, wash, rinse, repeat. Flare guns and flashbang grenades can instantly destroy the Taken. In addition, there will sometimes be more indirect ways that you can use to make short work of your foes. The combat system probably would have been much more interesting if it wasn’t so repetitive.
Here are the steps for killing most enemiesL
- Shine flashlight on enemies
- Keep backing away until the darkness disappears
- Fail to dodge thrown scythes because you are crap at dodging (or at least I was)
- Wash, rinse, repeat
At times, the game recommends that you run past the enemies and head to the next “safe haven” (a streetlamp or some such thing). The problem with this is that the developers decided to be “realistic” and Alan runs out of breath after a couple seconds of running. Since the Taken are much quicker, you will likely find yourself mobbed by axe wielding maniacs before you can get to safety, so it’s often better to shoot your way through or toss out a couple flares than just run for it. The game is also quite generous with ammo, and there were only a couple times where I found I had run out and needed to make a run for it. By the end of the game, you should have enough flashbang grenades and flares to clear out the final areas. Apparently I ended up switching the game to Hard at one point, and there were some tricky spots, but the game didn’t really seem that “Hard” to me (and I suck at shooting).
The story is a mashup of thriller and horror that is interesting even if the bare bones plot is one that everyone has seen before–your wife has been abducted! Go and save her! Blah blah blah. The cast of characters are typical friendly small town locals, comic relief in the form of Wake’s agent, Barry, and a very annoying FBI agent. I feel obliged to mention that two characters started a viking metal band in the 70s, and then they went crazy, but before that, they changed their names to Odin and T(h)or. Alan himself is…kind of a jerk….you would be too, if you were a stressed out writer. There isn’t so much “on screen” character development unless you read the manuscript pages.
See, over the course of the game, Wake will come across manuscript pages from the novel he doesn’t remember writing. Most often, these pages will tell of future events, but sometimes they give the game’s events from another character’s perspective. Unfortunately, many players probably won’t read them, which is a shame, because there’s a lot of stuff you might miss if you choose not to.
The game also has a ton of collectables. Coffee thermoses, alarm clocks, cardboard cutouts of Wake (which are kind of creepy, IMO), you can knock over piles of tin cans, flip on radios and TVs. If you happen to be the completionist type, this game will drive you nuts trying to find all the collectables. Nuts, I tell you!
The game will not take you that long to complete. Steam has me clocked at 16 hours without doing the DLC or using a walkthrough, and without going out of my way to collect things, so I would say it might take you about 20 hours if you’re looking for absolutely everything, I’m not sure how long it takes to do the DLC.
The environments in Alan Wake are really pretty. During the day, the forests are bright and colourful. At night, however, a fine mist covers everything, turning the familiar into the creepy. It’s very atmospheric and more than once a flickering shadow made me whip around with my flashlight to make certain that it wasn’t a Taken. Most of the music is licensed and used sparingly. The voice acting is….okay…although Alan’s voice actor sounds especially bored with the whole thing. I’ve definitely heard worse acting, though. I should also note that the game ran perfectly with no crashes on my clunky old system. The one thing I would say about the graphics is that it’s a shame that we mostly end up in forested areas, because I thought the game did a wonderful job recreating the claustrophobic conditions in that one mine portion.
And I hate mine levels, so much.
Overall, I would say Alan Wake was a fun game. It had some tense moments, and told an interesting story even if the bare bones plot is horribly cliche and the combat is same-y. If you like a good horror/thriller story, give this one a try, especially if you can get it for $4 or less like I did.