It's tough these days to keep gamers on their toes. With new horror and psychological games coming out month after month it gets harder and harder to freak out players and stay original. Alan Wake took a simple approach: create a dark atmosphere, and make the scariest moments the ones players don't see. With that Alan Wake manages to be more than just a game; it's an edge-of-your-seat ride with more twists and turns than your average Twin Peaks episode.
Alan Wake, which is set up like a six-episode TV series, follows our title character -- an acclaimed author -- as he and his wife Alice travel to the small town of Bright Falls to get some rest and relaxation, and to help cure his writer's block. Suddenly Mr. Wake's wife goes missing, and he finds himself waking up from his busted-up car one week later, having no recollection at all of what happened after Alice disappeared. To top it all off his manuscript (which he also doesn't remember writing) is now coming to life to try and kill Alan, his friend/agent Barry and the townsfolk. Light can be used to kill these harmful figments of imagination -- along with a couple bullets -- but is it too late to save both Alice and Bright Falls, or can Alan Wake write a happy ending to this living nightmare?
Alan Wake features one of the most original horror/thriller storylines in recent gaming history, not to mention a strong script from writers Sam Lake and Mikko Rautalahti. The game also manages to fit in enough plot twists at every end of the game's aspect, leading players onto a mind-mashing roller coaster that seems to prey on the innocent. Add on the sort of creepy mood that one almost only sees and feels in well-made slasher films, and you've got yourself a game that knows how to keep you wanting to have the lights on during gameplay. (Alan Wake could easily be adapted into a real TV series if it really wanted to, that is if they do it right.)
The game also does a fine job of having a good time with itself, especially when it comes to Barry. The wisecracks he occasionally makes almost always will leave you laughing. One of the best (and funniest) moments in the game comes during "Episode 4," where Barry takes control of a rock stage in the middle of a farm, using pyrotechnics and spotlights to fight off against the Taken. His comments and panic attacks during this moment are laugh-out-loud funny, even when Alan Wake is facing near-death. A close-second for laughs is Night Springs, a TV show that's hidden throughout the game on randomly-placed televisions. The acting is crap and the voices are off-synch, but the Rod Serling-inspired parodies are always good for a bunch of chuckles.
The gameplay in Alan Wake does a phenomenal job with making players jump out of their chairs with fright, whether it be via the Taken or from the likes of some of the creepy town folk. Players control Alan as he battles his way through the shadows and cliffs of the so-called quaint little town. The usage of a flashlight and gun (and occasional flares) help to defeat the Taken, and while you may luck out with shining out more than one of those "creatures" at one time taking them down can sometime be an issue; along with having to sometimes change the flashlight's batteries mid-shine through. While controlling Alan Wake (and the occasional vehicle) is easy at times, the amount of time given to you to use the flashlight or reload your weapon tends to favor against you.
In regards to the graphics in Alan Wake, I am on the fence. There are times where I am playing the game, and I am in awe of how realistic the scenery looks; however there are also moments where I am watching one of the game's FMVs, and I am repulsed by its quality. I don't know if it was because it was rushed out due to its lengthy production schedule or what, but more time could've been placed into making the characters' faces look more realistic. Not to sound mean, but many of the characters (including Alice) look like they had suffered some sort of stroke or aneurysm in their lifetime. It was an element like this that kind of led me towards a negative reaction to this game for the first couple hours.
Perhaps one element that's just as strong as the game's atmosphere is its sound quality. The music composed by Petri Alanko knows how to create the proper mood for each level, and the sound effects -- ranging from the cold wind blowing to the creaking of the wooden, unstable staircase -- add more to the creepiness factor of Alan Wake. I also have to commend Remedy Entertainment for licensing some of the songs of Roy Orbison, David Bowie, Harry Nilsson and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, who use these songs to help move the nightmare of Mr. Wake along. The voice acting is also superb, but the narration of Alan Wake (voiced by Matthew Porretta) gets very annoying, especially when he narrates about EVERY SINGLE THING you do in this game! There's a time to narrate and a time to keep quiet, but Wake seems to not know the meaning of the latter.
You'll be able to finish Alan Wake in about 20 hours, a good chunk of gameplay if I say so myself. Players will also have a good chunk to go back and play, as they have missing pages and Night Springs episodes to recover that they might have missed the first time around. Add on a couple downloadable episodes to add on to the game via Xbox Live, and you've got plenty of reasons to go back and play this game.
- One of the strongest, freakiest atmospheres founded in a game
- Good control scheme, great soundtrack
- Graphics sometimes don't look so great
- Limited amount of battery power and ammo to defeat Taken
- Narration gets annoying
There's so much to like about Alan Wake, ranging from its strong storyline to its easy control scheme. However the small amount of battery life and ammo Alan can carry at once, along with some graphics issues, make this a hard Xbox title to fall in love with. Having said that Alan Wake is the type of thriller/horror title that will leave you clamoring for more. Cross your fingers that a Season 2 is made.
FINAL GRADE: 8.5 (out of 10)