Alan WakelikeBBFC15 Developer Remedy Publisher Microsoft Game Studios Genre Action Platform Xbox 360 Release 14th May 2010 In 2005, Remedy Entertainment announced Alan Wake. Fast forward 5 long years of walking the "vapourware" circuit, the game finally hit shelves. Unfortunately, it seems the game didn't spend all that long in the limelight. And that's a really big shame. But, before we go into why that is, allow me to start moaning straight away; the game's box lies to you. It's an amazing feat to pull off really, considering the game's box is pretty simple, large logo on black background and the words "A Psychological Action Thriller" across the top, and that's where the big deception begins. See, the game isn't really all that 'psychological' outside the first chapter, where it immediately nose-dives into 'Survival Horror' (think Resident Evil or Silent Hill). The game even admits to this end several times, saying that the very genre of the story shifts in that direction. So with that exaggeration uncovered and out the way, let's look and shine some light on Alan Wake. Yes, I will be making several bad puns.

Pretty scenery is all around you.
Alan Wake takes place in a beautiful rural town called Bright Falls, a retreat where the Wakes; Alan Wake, a famous best-selling author and his wife Alice intend to rest, relax and for Alan's wife to set him up at some clinic to help him over-come his crippling fear to write a new novel. This fact doesn't go down too well and after Alan flails about and abandons his ironically scared-of-the-dark wife in a cabin which he was given the keys for by a mysterious elderly woman, he doesn't make it to the end of the cabin's footpath before his wife disappears. After a brief fade to black, we join Alan as he appears to have wrapped his car around a tree and is now being attacked by strange shadow-covered creatures; The Taken.

This story is delivered to you in episodic format. Don't panic, the 'whole' story is given to you at retail but it's oddly split up into several 'episodes' or chapters and each story presented like a TV-drama. Each episode opens with a 'previously on...' segment and ends with a musical interlude, such interludes are pretty pointless however, as they simply show the words "END OF CHAPTER" and play music, fortunately there is the ability to skip such interludes. One interesting feature of the game is the use of 'manuscript pages'. These pages can be found all over the game and it comes immediately apparent to you that the pages describe past, current and even future events of the story. So you're probably thinking that giving away future events in this manner would spoil the atmosphere and foreboding the game tries so hard to build, right? Wrong. These pages can be as misleading as they can be helpful. Finding pages out of order and sometimes long before the event actually occurs balances these issues, as well as the wording being purposefully ambiguous do nothing but build that thick foreboding and actually add to the atmosphere. Infact, not reading the manuscript pages in fear of spoiling later events is detrimental to your enjoyment of the game. Heck, the story itself relies on the fact you read these pages as you find them as they become part of the plot themselves later down the road.

This pretty much sums up Alan Wake; clever design. The game's littered with fantastic design choices all over the place. Admittedly, there's handfuls of bad design that come with the game as well, but let's take things one at a time.

You're thinking it, I'm thinking it, open lift over large expanse of nothing. What could possible go wrong?
The game is a 3rd person action game, the only way I could describe the game as lazily as possible would be to describe it as a cross between Silent Hill and Resident Evil 4 or Resident Evil 5. The 3rd person perspective does feel a little strange, however. There's just something about the in-game camera angle and distance from your playable character which seems very claustrophobic. You can't pull the camera out to get a better view of your surroundings, instead the best you get is a camera which 'orbits' around the character rather than follows. This does have it's advantages, for one it makes the game a lot more difficult as your field of vision is somewhat impaired, something which enemies in the game will abuse. And really, in a game of this nature, being actually scared of enemies and what's behind you is a major plus. Sadly, however, the camera can detach itself from your playable character at times, usually to highlight enemies which are materialising behind you, when you pull off crazy shooting with weapons and when you perform 'cinematic dodges'.

So let's go over these gimmicks. In the game, you never really fear enemies just jumping out at you. You can tread as lightly as you please through the environment but the looming threat of an enemy just popping out of the brush and introducing your face to a sickle never materialises. Instead, you can always tell when an enemy encounter is about to take place, as you'll find yourself in a very wide, open area. Sometimes enemies do the smart thing and materialise behind you, the camera then pops off Wake's shoulder and focuses on the enemy, slowing down time but keeping you in control of Wake at all times, allowing you to be already turning to face adversaries as they come. A similar effect can occur if you pull of skilful marksmanship with special weapon types like the flare-gun, which can instantly dispatch several enemies within a small radius. And also when you perform the aforementioned dodging technique, which is triggered by hitting the Left Bumper (LB) button when an enemy takes a swing at you, this button also doubles as the sprint button, something which you will make good use of during the course of the game.

Fighting enemies can be somewhat of a pain, as I mentioned before, enemies will take full advantage of your limited field of vision. AI behaviour is another example of good design in this game, it's sneaky, trying to always sneak around you and flank you to attack from behind, but mostly from the side. Some enemies perform quite Resident Evil 4-style sickle-throwing attacks which can be very annoying, but also become quite infrequent as the game progresses, swapping these annoying enemy types with fast-moving, harder to kill enemies and special enemy types like bulky lumberjacks and mountain police deputies. Their ultimate weakness is that The Taken are weak to the light, with their only appearances in the game taking place during the night time, which a large proportion of game-time takes place in. To take advantage of their weakness and actually dispatch enemies, you must first break down the darkness which shields them, this is a fairly straight-forward feat, all you need to do is shine your torch on them. You can 'boost' your light power and consume battery power by holding down the Left Trigger (LT), a lens-flare indicates how much strength their defence has, once their defence is gone, enemies can be freely engaged using ballistic weapons.

Who lives in a semi-destroyed house like this?
Weapons in the game range from standard ballistic types, which you can only carry two of at a time, like a pistol, a shotgun, a pump-action shotgun (which holds more shells at one time) and a hunting rifle. Then you have special weapon types like flares, which can be used to keep enemies at bay, useful when your health runs low, you can keep enemies away from you long enough for your rebounding health to restore some-what, flashbangs, which are short-ranged instant-kills for near-by enemies and a flare-gun which is a long-range instant-kill for short-to-medium distance enemies. You'll be mistaken to think that ammunition or these special weapon types are in short supply, however I kept finding myself hoarding large quantities of ammo by the end of a chapter and never really having much difficulty through the game's normal difficulty setting. You're probably best to be slightly trigger happy through-out the game anyway, as at the end of each chapter the game removes all your gathered weapons, ammo and even torch upgrades you had in the previous chapter.

And if you don't feel like fighting and/or the situation becomes dire, you're best to be on the look-out for an active street-light or some other kind of constant light-source as these are 'Safe Havens'. They're dotted around the game and not only offer you protection from enemies, but it also makes any pursuing enemies or enemies from a previous encounter vanish and Safe Havens also replenish your health in it's entirety. Some Safe Havens aren't quite as easy as you may hope to utilise. Some Safe Havens require you to start a generator, which is a time consuming process as you play a small mini-game/action-command sequence where you have to time button presses to start the generator. If an enemy should interfere, you have to start the process all-over again. Already active Safe Havens are a very good idea to use whenever you find, Wake's sprinting distance and speed can easily be outpaced by enemies who can take Wake out in a series of very unfortunate blows by as little as two enemies at once. So your sprint to a Safe Haven will have to consist of liberal use of the LB button and careful timing to dodge incoming attacks from behind... Which you can't see because of the restrictive camera angle.

As expected, a game which focuses heavily on light has fantastic lighting effects.
The game also includes what feels like some rather tacked-on driving segments. Don't get me wrong, the control and physics behind vehicles isn't awful by any means, infact a lot of driving-orientated 3rd person games could learn a few things from Alan Wake, with grass being a huge nemesis to your lead-foot. You probably wont notice all that much, but vehicles also take damage. You never are really driving one vehicle for long enough or extraneously enough to learn this until very late into the game when it can become hazardous to your well-being (lights on the car start to flicker, makes them very inefficient against enemies, which yes, can survive getting hit by a fast-moving car ploughing into them without their darkness-shield being taken away). Funnily enough, the game can probably be completed without using a single car with journeys being completed by foot, however with the distances you have to cover, you'll probably be wanting to take and mode of transport you can get a hold of.

Believe it or not, Alan Wake's world is huge. Expect to actually travel down these roads at some point.
Visually, Alan Wake is a very, very pretty game. I mean, pretty. It may be my inner-true geek shining forth here, but there's just something about photo-realistic water effects and water refractions which just makes my jaw drop. Then you have crazily detailed foliage and environments which act realistically, amazing lighting effects and shadows... Everything just looks right... Until, that is, you start looking at humanoid characters. Then things start taking a trip into Uncanny Valley. Maybe it's just how great the rest of the game looks or how you only really see a lot of scenery at a distance which gives this illusion, but character models seem quite blocky and move rather jerkily. But this doesn't detract from the game at all, it's merely an observation. The game's presentation is phenomenal and there's never a moment where you feel otherwise.

One of the game's easily over-looked aspects is how the game sounds. My word, the game's audio does a fantastic job to build atmosphere. There's subtle orchestrated music which sort-of blends into the background, becomes rather passive and feels like it belongs. I know that might sound rather pretensions of me, but it's just like watching a show on TV. You never really pay all that much attention to the background track but without it, the show would feel hollow, it would be more difficult to assess the emotions of characters or suspense being built. The same can be said for Alan Wake, the game's audio track isn't all that memorable, in-fact after just finishing the game there isn't a single piece of backing track that comes to mind and in video games, this is an oddity. Usually this medium is filled with well-thought, melody-driven orchestration yet Alan Wake deviates from this and it works quite well. The game has fantastic ambience, from the wind blowing to the scuffling and footsteps which can be heard when inside buildings, always making you wonder if there isn't just an enemy creeping up around you. And yep, this is another mark on the "good design" tally.

So how do I summarise this game? Well, it's a tense, action-packed survival horror game with a fantastic storyline which will keep you guessing and dreading all the way through. If you followed this game at all since it's initial 2005 unveiling, you'll probably be surprised to learn that a lot of screens and media, even as recently as last year doesn't actually reflect what the final game became. Lots of cool little features were removed but overall polish on the game makes the wait for this title all seem worth it. As I stated when I started this review, if you are more interested in fully-blown survival horror titles, Alan Wake will surely disappoint you. However, if you're looking for a suspenseful 3rd person action game which you're willing to overlook it's kind-of poor combat system, then you'll find much joy with Alan Wake. This has definitely been one of the more surprisingly brilliant games so far this year. If you're debating on whether to take the plunge, go ahead. More likely than not, you wont be disappointed by what Alan Wake has to offer.
An interesting journey which is as confusing as it is brilliant. Ending may infuriate, though. I wont say any more than that.
Character models come straight from Uncanny Valley, but environments are probably as photo-realistic as we'll see this generation.
A work of utter brilliance. I can only imagine how this game must sound in 5.1. Surround sound.
14 Hours
(Approx. the game has no play-time timer.) It's a game of fair length, probably could have stood to be a bit longer, but perhaps the abrupt end to the game is the cause of that feeling. 15 hours is probably just about right for this game and the pace it flows.