I See The Light!
Alan Wake is a game that focuses upon a novelist of the same name. Alan has been suffering from a severe case of writer's block for a couple of years, so he and his wife travel to a small town out in the forests of the Pacific Northwest called Bright Falls. Soon after arriving, though, something bad happens, and Alan wakes up from a car crash out in the woods. He has no idea how he got there or where his wife is, and he has no recollection of any events from the prior week. And to add to all that, Alan finds himself being hunted down by an army of murderous individuals who appear to be taken over by some kind of darkness. All of these elements might make Alan Wake appear to be a horror game. But it's not.
Alan Wake is an action game, pure and simple. Sure, the elements of the game are built like a horror novel, but there's nothing all that scary about the gameplay. At all. I always felt like I could handle whatever was thrown at me. And the story didn't scare me, even when some dark cloud drags a character away into the night. Don't take any of this to mean that I didn't like the game. Alan Wake is a ton of fun to play, and even if the story wasn't scary, it was still incredibly engaging, and it kept me interested in seeing just what was going to happen next. The fact that you're playing as a writer and not some marine or hard boiled cop actually made the game more interesting, in my opinion. This is just some dude out in the woods trying to survive a nightmare and find his wife.
As I said before, this is an action game. Most of the game involves you being attacked by the shadowy enemies, known as the Taken, and you fighting back with whatever you have at your disposal. You'll usually have a revolver handy, along with a shotgun or hunting rifle, but firearms are what you rely on to finish the job. The most important weapon in the game is light. If you're running around the game without a flashlight, well then things actually do start to get scary. You have to use light to burn away the darkness of the enemies in order to let your bullets do any damage. The bigger the flashlight, the better. Flares and flashbangs become precious commodities (the flashbangs are especially awesome), and you'll be thanking the heavens when you come across a street light that actually still works in this town. The flare gun is the most valuable weapon you will come across, and I found myself grinning with glee when I came across ammo for that baby. The combat is usually quick and tight, and rarely becomes too overwhelming. There were a couple of times where I got frustrated, but now that I look back on my time with Alan Wake, it never actually took me very long to get past those moments. For the most part, I felt like I was a bold warrior ready to take on the night.
Not that the game ever portrays Alan in that way. He definitely reacts in the ways any rational person would react if they found themselves in that situation: confused and terrified. He's a desperate man trying to find some way to make it out of this nightmare. Yet his wife is in danger, so he sticks around and reluctantly faces the darkness that is slowly consuming the town. As you move along in the game, you keep coming across pages of a manuscript that Alan apparently wrote, yet he has no memory of. Each page of the story is about what is happening in Bright Falls, and each one seems to be coming true. What is behind these pages and the darkness within the town is a great mystery, and there are some clever twists and developments that kept me engaged up through the very end.
While the game itself is strictly linear, there are still some diversions along the way. There are some interesting oddball characters in the town of Bright Falls, though you gain most of the sleepy small town atmosphere from the radio show you'll stumble across every so often. I also found myself running off the beaten path every chance I could to look for coffee thermoses and manuscript pages. But probably the best diversion is the television show "Night Springs". This is a Twilight Zone homage that makes you remember, "Oh yeah, Remedy does some awesome in-game TV junk!" That stuff was everywhere in the Max Payne games, so it's nice to see they keep on with the tradition here.
I can't wrap up this review without mentioning Barry. Barry Wheeler is Alan's agent, and when he first wanders into view, I expected to hate this character. You know how there are characters in horror movies that you just can't wait to see get killed? I thought Barry was going to be that guy in Alan Wake. Yet to my surprise, Barry actually grew on me quite a bit. He actually might be one of the best characters in the game. I actually found myself liking the guy and hoping he would make it through to the end. I guess credit goes to the writers for taking the snotty agent and turning him into a likeable sidekick.
Alan Wake is a great game with a pretty original premise that deserves to be checked out. It also has a T rating, which honestly surprised me when I learned about it. This is from the makers of the Max Payne series, after all. And this seemed like it was veering towards the horror genre. Yet I don't think they pulled any punches to get that rating. They still tell a strange and suspenseful story alongside some very satisfying action gameplay. So I have no problem recommending that anyone with an Xbox 360 go give this game a try. I just hope you won't be afraid to turn out the lights when you're done.