Release date (Microsoft Windows): 02/3/2012, Format played: PC, Developer: Remedy Entertainment, Publisher: Nordic Games Publishing, Genre: third person shooter/action/psychological thriller.
Alan Wake, a successful writer who shockingly, has succumbed to writer’s block, decides to take a vacation with his girlfriend Alice, to the scenic town of Bright Falls. Wake wanted to take his mind off of his career troubles but it’s not long before the beautiful views of Bright Falls’ sunny vistas are replaced with darkness, foreboding mist, and psychotic locals armed with tools usually responsible for chopping wood.
Alice tries to surprise Wake at their cabin, presenting him with a typewriter, hoping it will encourage him to write; less than pleased, he storms off, proclaiming that he travelled to Bright Falls to escape from his work. This confrontation quickly leads to the mysterious abduction of Alice by what is referred to in-game as ‘The Dark Presence’ and begins Wake’s battle against it, in order to save his girlfriend, as well as his sanity.
Alan Wake is fundamentally a third person shooter and although you aren’t equipped with time-bending abilities akin to those found in Remedy’s previous IP Max Payne, they’ve still created a solid shooter that is both satisfying and a challenge. For most of the game you will be battling against the ‘Taken’, the name used to describe the people who are under the influence of The Dark Presence and thus are out to harm you in any way they can. The Taken for whatever reason, don’t seem to like guns and would much prefer to butcher you with an assortment of axes and other sharp objects, so it’s a good idea to keep them away from you; which is where your torch comes in handy. The basic strategy for staying alive is to aim your torch at your enemy until their ‘shield of darkness’ has been depleted, which allows you to damage them with bullets. This is what you’ll be doing for most of the game and Remedy offers players a variety of weapons including a revolver, shotguns, flares and flash bangs as you progress further.
Although there’s a decent amount of variety in terms of weaponry, the same can’t be said for the enemies in the game. The majority of the game will pit you against the same standard Taken enemies, with some slightly tougher versions thrown in occasionally. Other than that there isn’t much else to deal with, apart from when The Dark Presence runs out of humans to corrupt and begins hurling inanimate objects at you as well as the occasional possessed bulldozer. These do little to strengthen the gameplay and by the end of the game, they became quite irritating and a chore to get through.
Remedy describes Alan Wake as ‘part action game, part psychological thriller’ and the latter is definitely the driving force that compelled me to want to keep going. The gameplay is competent but where Alan Wake shines is in its storytelling. It is split into six episodes and follows a model similar to that seen in the average television drama with a cliff hanger often ending an episode. New episodes begin with a typical refresher sequence to remind players of what has happened so far. It all works surprisingly well and is perfect for players that don’t have much time to spare and fear by the time they have a chance to continue the game they will have forgotten everything that has happened.
This review is for the PC version of Alan Wake and thankfully Remedy has respected the platform and made sure to offer plenty of enhancements including; performance customisation, optimisation for quad-core CPUs as well as fully configurable mouse and keyboard support. The game looks great overall, with fantastic lighting effects, decent character models and detailed environments - except for some minor pop-in during some of the large shots of the landscape, which was a little surprising to see. The animation could be better, specifically the facial animation, which in parts is a little stiff; however the strongest area of Alan Wake’s presentation is the overall atmosphere of the world you are nervously traversing. The sense of isolation as you move through the claustrophobic woodland in the middle of the night is superb and forces you to be constantly vigilant of threats that may be approaching - this is only bolstered by the brilliant sound design. From the shrieking violins alerting you to nearby foes, to the sizzling noise made as an enemy disintegrates into nothingness, the audio really elevates the experience and I would highly recommend playing with a surround sound system if you’re able to. The voice work is also great with particular credit going to Matthew Porretta, who voices Wake and also narrates his thoughts as you play which helps to flesh out the character; Fred Berman who plays Wake’s agent and friend Barry is also well acted and helps to add some comic relief to the game’s dark core.