Alan Wake mixes light and darkness in spectacular ways.
I’ve never been a fan of the horror genre. I don’t like the creepy lead up to an inevitable, predictable jump scare, or the dumb-looking monsters that usually serve said purpose. It was interesting, then, that a game like Alan Wake made such an impression on me after just a couple hours of gameplay. Remedy has crafted a game that utilizes the creepy atmosphere, and its surroundings, to serve the story - not just for cheap thrills. Alan Wake is a prime example of a game that is more than the sum of its parts as it combines narrative, character interactions, atmosphere, and gameplay in a single cohesive package.
Alan Wake is a writer suffering from a serious case of writer’s block. His wife, Alice, suggests a vacation and the game begins viewing the couple arriving to a new town through the use of a transport boat. The game takes no time introducing mystery, humor, and a unique charm that makes Alan Wake so spectacular. The characters all have relatable and funny interactions, and the story moves the game along at a balanced pace that feels natural.
As the story carries Alan forward, he begins coming across various shadow entities. Whether the shadows are humans or objects, Alan uses his energizer-powered flashlight, and other light sources, to remove the shadow barrier that protects them. Once the barrier is vaporized, enemies are susceptible to ordinary firearms like pistols, shotguns, and rifles. Sometimes a lack of ammunition, including flashlight batteries, can put Alan in some tight situations, but it encourages a conservative approach and further adds tension to the combat.
The game is structured in an episodic format, which makes it easy to put down after a couple hours of play. It still would have been nice if the ‘previously on Alan Wake’ recap sequences played when starting a new episode, and not at the end of the episode that I had just completed. Each episode ends on a satisfying note though, and licensed songs play at the very end of each one. The selected songs fit Alan Wake either through lyrics or tone, and I’d say this is one of the better uses of licensed music in games.
One of the most appealing parts of Alan Wake is the art design. While the game boasts graphics on par with other games of its time, the lighting is where the game really shines [no pun intended]. Wake is often times traversing mountainous terrain surrounded by tall woods-like areas where the dim moonlight just barely manages to creep through. Remedy, the developer, does a great job of instilling the need for the flashlight at all times as well as making it feel like Wake’s most powerful weapon. At one moment, the trees, brush, and dark night calmly obscure Wake’s vision making the use of the flashlight necessary for exploration and the scouring of collectibles. These include simple thermoses, which serve no purpose, to manuscript pages which sometimes contain snippets of Alan’s story - almost serving as warnings of things to come. Then, when trouble arrives, the landscape is bathed in eerie, fast-moving shadows which signal immediate danger from Wake’s enemies. The most important aspect of all of this is that the game doesn’t stray too far away from this tone which, in turn, makes the environments more believable and impacting.
Alan Wake is a relatively short game, but only because the story is the driving factor and not the gameplay. The aiming and shooting are fairly well done, but they are not what will compel you to see the end of Alan’s journey. The narrative is the primary reason to play Alan Wake, and everything around it seems to fall in line to support it. There are some rough spots, like some clumsy-controlling vehicle sections, but nothing really stands out to drag the story down. In fact, excluding the thermoses, the collectibles like the manuscript pages, secret [amazing] FMV television shows, and hidden caches of items further immerse you into Alan’s world, and they all make some sense in relation to the main plot points.
At the end of my time spent with Alan Wake, I’m left with memories of humor and charm as well as those of mystery and intrigue. The ending is a satisfying conclusion to Wake’s story, but also leaves itself open for more content. Chances are that if you made it this far into this review, you noticed that the story was not covered in the slightest bit of detail. Well, if you’re even remotely into narrative or atmosphere in games, you owe it to yourself to play Alan Wake and experience it for yourself.