catalystx's Alan Wake (Xbox 360) review

Great Psychological Thriller

A game several years in the making, facing several revisions has finally made it through the dark and found the light. Developed by the famed Max Payne developers (Remedy Entertainment), this time we get a horror thriller and new game mechanics using light to scour our way through.

The story is the major highlight here for me. Typically a story in a horror movie is garbage, playing off clichés and usually climaxing with a lame ending. In Alan Wake, we get a clever and engaging story surrounding some interesting and charming characters. The story is laid out to you like television episodes, giving you a brief recap of the previous episode before starting the next one. It was very cool, and always made sure all those little details were still fresh in my head. It may not have the emotional impact a game like Heavy Rain carries, but I think the dialogue sounded more real and clever. There were great moments of humour, never letting the surreal experience feel too serious.

Alan Wake probably shouldn’t be defined solely as a horror game, since it’s a little light on horror. It was more of a psychological thriller, as Alan battles his own doubts and the shadow like figures called the Taken hunting him down. I think the problem with the game not being particularly scary is that the combat is just too easy. Instead of each encounter being a threat to your progress, they are merely an obstacle. On normal difficulty, I maybe died a couple times, as there was always plenty of supplies around and the enemies were incredibly easy to dispatch. Most of my deaths were usually caused by me trying something stupid. If the nightmare difficulty was available from the get-go, I would suggest playing it on that since it was reasonably challenging and forced you to approach combat differently.

Combat can be boiled down to 2 simple steps. Use your flashlight or another light source to remove the shadowy shield all the enemies have, then use your gun to kill them. When it comes to combat, Alan Wake is a fancy third person shooter. There are moments when you get to drive a vehicle, but the vehicles have loose handling, and sometimes get stuck in areas that make no sense. The shooting is great until about half way through the game where you have pretty much seen each type of enemy and the combat gets somewhat repetitive. The auto-aim is very generous, you shouldn’t ever have to worry about spending much time aiming at the enemy which makes the flow of combat move fairly quickly. Aside from a standard arsenal of a pistol, shotgun, or rifle, you will get to use a flare gun (which for this game acts much like a rocket launcher would to the enemy), flares to keep enemies at bay for a short period, and flash grenades which similar to the flare gun can act as an instant kill weapon. Although on normal difficulty careful use of these items isn’t entirely necessary, on harder difficulties you will need to be smart about when you want to use the more scarce and powerful weapons. One slight problem (might not be a problem depending on your taste) is combat can occasionally be entirely avoidable as all you need to do is dodge and flare your way to the next safe haven. A safe haven is a bright light that will usually give you a checkpoint as well as quickly replenish your life bar.

One thing Remedy did really well was get the atmosphere nailed. The dark environments you wander through seem alive, as the trees and grass sway in the wind, and old dilapidated buildings can fall apart around you. There aren’t too many moments you will feel safe from attack, but you can often tell when an attack is coming. Regardless it was incredibly immersive and sinister.

Graphically Alan Wake is one of the best looking games on the 360. Although the character speaking animations look a little unnatural, everything else has such an incredible amount of detail. The environments are sprawling and gorgeous, and the characters all seem to be rendered with a high amount of detail. Although there isn’t much enemy variety, what’s there looks good. The voice acting is phenomenal and really adds even more the immersion. All the characters were voiced incredibly well, and considering the amount of story content it really solidified the believability of everything, no matter how unbelievable.

There are also tons of collectibles to obtain that provide no real benefit aside from the manuscripts that shed more light on the story. The television programs can be entertaining, but the radio shows seem to drone on and on. Also I will warn everyone, you don’t seem to keep your weapons and items between chapters, so saving them is pretty much pointless. I only think there was one instance that would have been the exception. However, there is usually a story event that explains the item disappearance.

Overall, Alan Wake is a pretty remarkable achievement in video game storytelling. I was absolutely riveted from beginning to end, and couldn’t be more satisfied with the ending that cleverly pokes at a sequel possibility, though I would doubt it with the planned DLC content on the horizon. Although the combat may get repetitive, and multiple playthroughs will probably only be desired by the completionist, you will likely get 10-12 hours of pure entertainment on your first run of the game. I would highly recommend this as a rental, it should provide at minimum a great weekend of thrills.

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