Alan Wake - Review

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Release Date: 12/05/2012

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Wakey wakey...

A lot can change in five years. In May 2005, Survival Horror games were reeling from Resident Evil 4 completely rewriting the rules of the genre, the Xbox 360 was still six months away from launch, and we were just starting to hear the first whispers about the upcoming HD console's most promising exclusives.

One of the most intriguing was Steven King-inspired horror stunner Alan Wake from Remedy, the team behind the stylish, slow-mo bullet slinging Max Payne series. Initially pitched as an open world Survival Horror title (think GTA set in The Twilight Zone) with hopes for a 2007 or 2008 release, it's finally arrived mid 2010 in the altered guise of a linear, story-driven, super-spooky psychological action thriller.

Thankfully, what we've ended up with is one of the very best horror-themed adventures this console generation - albeit a bit of a flawed gem, with room for improvement in future sequels.

Thriller night

Alan Wake himself is a best-selling suspense author with a career-threatening case of writer's block, who heads off on holiday with his wife Alice to the idyllic, sleepy rural Pacific Northwestern town of Bright Falls. On arrival at their cabin, however, things all go a bit Twin Peaks and Alan awakes in a crumpled car to find his wife missing, the townsfolk possessed violently by darkness, and pages of a manuscript he doesn't remember writing littered around the woods, foretelling terrifying events which start coming true.

Like any good thriller, story is the driving factor behind Alan Wake's six-chapter, 10 hour tour of the world's worst vacation destination. That means you can expect lengthy, linear on-foot slogs through forests, farms and factories, the occasional highway drive, the odd breather in some of Bright Falls' bigger buildings, and even a few flashback scenes set in Alan's apartment which add a bit of levity to an otherwise broody narrative.

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Broody is an especially fitting description for Alan himself, too - playing the tortured artists and alpha male a little to well, to the point where it's hard to entirely sympathise with his plight. Thank heavens for Barry Whealer, then - Wake's literary agent and best friend, and the game's comic relief; replete with bright red puffer jacket, Christmas tree lighting belt, sardonic dialogue and 'Eye of Mordor' handheld searchlight.

Light and dark

By far the majority of Alan Wake's gameplay involves running and shooting, but with a rather unique twist. Alan's foes, known as the Taken, are covered in darkness, and only by burning it off with light can you hope to get to the soft, squishy human parts vulnerable to bullets. You'll need to sear away the shadow by lifting your torch before you can gun them down with your firearm of choice, and so exploring the wilds to find batteries and ammo becomes essential; as does managing your resources so you don't end up reloading or recharging as an axe-wielding hillbilly charges murderously towards you.

That said, if you're vigilant you'll seek out numerous generator-powered streetlamps which act as checkpoint markers, plus hidden caches of supplies containing flare guns and flashbangs littered throughout the brush. Such arms might be decent support weapons in many a shooter, but against Alan Wake's shadow-soaked Taken they have the same impact as a rocket-propelled grenade.

Also up for collection are Wake's missing manuscript pages, and a hundred thermos coffee flasks dotted around seemingly at random. The former serve a serious purpose in the story, as well as giving you an eerie heads-up about what's to come, but with no in-game benefit for finding the latter, they just feel out of place, like they were designed to provide an extra challenge for gamers who really love showing off their Achievements on Xbox LIVE.

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Perhaps that best represents one of Alan Wake's biggest failing points; it's a hard-line singleplayer-only experience, and even with three difficulty settings you can't escape the fact that it's a very linear game, with little variation in enemy types, precious few puzzles and no huge boss battles to speak of, so once it's over and you've solved the mystery there's little different to have you coming back a second or third time.

More to come

But that first run through Alan Wake is an experience which will live long in the memory. Stumbling through the woods in the dead of night, seeing the mist come down, striking up a glorious red flare, narrowly slow-mo dodging an incoming knife and run-gunning for your very life against a horde of demonic villagers puts Remedy's game right up there with the best story-driven adventures on Xbox 360.

In the grand scheme of horror videogames meanwhile we'd place Alan Wake bang in between the slapstick B-Movie scares, arcade shooting and slushy gore of recent Resident Evils and the oblique plotting, slow-paced puzzling and disturbing grotesqueness of Silent Hill. We could say the same for 2008's Alone in the Dark, but Alan Wake utterly nails what Atari's game tried and failed to do by offering an adventure that's surreal, intelligent, action-packed and highly atmospheric, blending the best of TV-style presentation, horror-genre plotting and third-person shooting in a way that will grip you right up until the end credits roll.

Still, you can't help but get the feeling there's more to come from Remedy and Alan Wake. Thankfully, with DLC on the way and technology firmly in place, it shouldn't be another five years before we get it.

The Good:

  • Probably the most atmospheric videogame we've ever played.
  • Cracking thriller story with well-written characters.
  • Interesting use of light and dark in combat.

The Bad:

  • Gets a little repetitive towards the end.
  • No multiplayer or Horde-style mode to add longevity.
  • Who left all those thermos flasks lying around?

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Pegi Rating:

Suitable for people aged and over.

Genre

Horror

Customer Rating:

No rating yet

SKU:

Reviews-183457

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