Max Payne looks pretty good with a tweed jacket on.
I think there may be a bit of a misconception as to exactly what kind of game Alan Wake is. The developers originally stated that it was an open-world title and even at the time of this writing, Amazon.com maintains that description. Let's get this out of the way first: Alan Wake is a story driven, linear action game. You'll spend most of the time launching an assault against a dark presence while uncovering the truth about what happened to Alan's wife. Remember that other game Remedy is famous for? This game is kind of like that but now there's no bullet-time.
Throughout the game you play as Alan Wake, a novelist who's going through a bit of writer's block. He hasn't written a book in over two years and his wife, Alice, plans a trip to Washington state, hopefully to get the creative juices flowing. They land in the small town of Bright Falls, rent a cabin, and then the story really gets going. Talking much about that aspect of the game would really do it a bit of disservice as much of the enjoyment will come from uncovering what's really going on in the quaint village, so I won't do that here. What I will tell you though, is that while being somewhat cliched, it's worth going through. Told through poorly lip-synced cutscenes, in-game dialog, and a series of mysterious manuscript pages, it does do quite a bit of creative storytelling and creates an interesting experience. Additionally, you'll get to learn more about the town by listening to radios scattered throughout as well as be able to check out short replays of the television show "Night Springs." Remedy has created a realistic, believable corner of the United States.
The story is broken up into a total of six television-like episodes and each begin with a "last time on Alan Wake" re-cap of important events that took place. While this helps remind you of key points, it feels a little odd that they'd end an episode with a static "End of Episode X" message while closing music plays, then just jump right into the next "show." Breaking it up like this does make sense as the developers have already said that this is just the first season of Alan Wake and they'll be releasing some more episodes at a later date. In case you want it wrapped up with a tidy bow, this first season ends with a fairly significant cliffhanger which may turn off some people. Each episode can take around two hours to play as long as you're not powering through. Just a suggestion, but if you're proficient with action games, you should play on Hard instead of Normal.
Much like Remedy's previous work, the gameplay of Alan Wake relies on a single hook but this time it's more pervasive. Alan's primary enemy is the darkness which embodies all of his enemies. Generally, if it's daytime, you're safe as safe can be. At night however, the ghouls come out. In order to properly combat these foes, you'll need to first melt away that darkness through various means, then blast away at them with your standard firearms. The primary tool to do this is a flashlight that you're rarely without, but you'll also get to use spotlights, shop lights, and street lights as a method to deter your enemies. Flashbangs, flares, and flare guns are also present and provide some nice crowd control for those sticky situations. While it doesn't really evolve much, the combination of darkness melting and gunplay is entertaining enough that it holds up fairly well throughout the game. This is particularly important because you're going to be doing a TON of it. One mild irritation that arose dealt with enemies spawning from behind and getting a cheap shot off. Yep, effectively there are some Doom 3 monster closets. Once or twice wouldn't bother me all that much, but it basically came to the point that I'd always swing around to look behind, instead of focusing on what was in front of me.
Considering this isn't an open world game, the design decisions surrounding the interface are curious. Knowing the history of the title's development makes me think that they stated "Welp, we already did this work, may as well leave it in there." Just a look at the GTA-esque health bar and waypoint "circle" makes me believe that it was at one point a mini-map, and the fact that there are collectibles at all when the levels themselves are so linear is an odd choice. Sure you can vary a bit from the main path, but the vast majority of the game is a single corridor, complete with gates that prevent you from backtracking. Remedy also included driving segments which work fine, but again, they're just down a single path. To try and ensure multiple playthroughs, you won't be able to collect all of the manuscript pages the first time through as some aren't even in the world until you play on Nightmare difficulty, which is only unlocked after you complete the game.
In terms of presentation, the team at Remedy has certainly nailed the atmosphere. Light beams through treetops casting wonderful shadows everywhere during the day, while billowing fog and stormy weather help increase the tension at night. Just about every aspect is well polished, right down to the selection of songs used for the closing music on each episode. While not on par with Uncharted 2, the varied vocal cast performs a great job with all the characters and pull of mostly convincing performances through the interesting story.
While the open ended ending left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, I'm still interested to see where Remedy takes this game with the upcoming episodes. The town, atmosphere, and characters made me want to keep playing till the end, despite the somewhat repetitive combat. Let's just hope that 1) the game is sucessful enough to warrent a proper conclusion later down the road, and 2) Remedy doesn't take their "episode" queues from Valve. We've already waited long enough for Season 1.
- Atmospheric and beautiful. Remedy sure knows how to create a remote mountain town and its surrounding locale.
- Interesting story and characters successfully drive the action.
- Manuscript page mechanic turned out to be one of the more interesting aspects of the game.
- Cutscenes aren't particularly great looking, and they could have spent more time working on lip sync.
- Despite being interesting, the combat really doesn't evolve much and becomes rote after a while.
- No, it really is not an open world game.