Are You Afraid of the Dark?
I stopped sleeping with a light on when I was about 4 years old... and I just plugged in a nightlight. Alan Wake is one of the most atmospheric and genuinely creepy games I have ever played and brings a new meaning to being afraid of the dark.
Alan Wake is developed by Remedy, a Finnish studio best know for the creation of the film-noir crime drama Max Payne and its sequel, The Fall of Max Payne. These games set new standards for third-person shooters and introduced us to a mechanic that has become a staple for the genre: Bullet time. It has been nearly 7 years since they released Max Payne 2 and the genre and overall shooter landscape has evolved quite a bit since then. Well let me alleviate any worries and say right off the bat: Alan Wake is a fantastic game that features superb gameplay on top of chilling atmosphere and an interesting story that just gets better as you keep playing.
You play as the titular Alan Wake, a famous author a la Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft. After suffering from a long bout of writers block Wake and his wife decide to vacation in the quaint logging town of Bright Falls. Pretty soon everything goes to hell as his wife is kidnapped and a monstrous dark presence engulfs the town and its residents, possessing them and coating them with a dark armor. I wont say anymore because this story is truly Alan Wake's selling point and makes me drool with anticipation of more DLC or even a full blown sequel.
I mention this armor because it is key to the rhythm of Alan Wake's shooting. The game has a very small assortment of conventional weapons, in fact I used the standard pistol 99% of the time. Your real weapon is light, be it from the flashlight you almost always carry, flares or flashbangs, or light from the environment or magnificent sets this game throws at you. To kill an enemy you must first use a source of light to burn away at their shields, only then making them vulnerable to hot lead. This creates a unique feel to the combat while adding a little more to think about than your standard shooter.
The developers paid an immense attention to detail and each environment, be it the spooky forests or the lovely town of Bright Falls, each feels handcrafted and is a treat to explore. Speaking of exploration, this IS a linear game, with very little off the beaten path. Completionists beware though, this game has over 200 collectibles, some mere achievement fodder and others add so much to the story I just had to track them all down (fake Twilight Zone TV episodes? Yes please). The game is fairly lengthy especially when compared to the trend of 5 hour shooters we've been getting lately, taking roughly 12 or 15 hours if you try and really absorb the setting.
As you can see by my raving I loved Alan Wake and am looking forward to diving back into that nightmare very soon. The only negatives I have to say is that towards the end of the game it dragged a bit, but I feel this was more a factor of me wanting to see what happens in the story rather than the gameplay lacking variety. It was still fun throughout the last 2 hours or so, I just was eager to see Mr. Wake's fate. I've seen complaints about product placement in the game being distracting (energizer labeled batteries come to mind) but I never had any issue with it, I actually liked the layer of realism is seemed to add to the world.
Alan Wake is a roller coaster of the best sorts. The story was amazing and kept climbing to a fantastic conclusion that left me wanting more, but still immensely satisfied. The gameplay feels fresh and shows that Remedy has not lost its touch in crafting a finely tuned third person shooter. Oh and did I mention it features music from the amazing Poets of the Fall? Big bonus points there. Go buy this game, simple as that.