Alan Whaaa--?

Call me a videogame turtle, but there is a queue of titles hounding my every waking hour.  This past weekend I took on the undertaking of starting, middling, and finishing "Alan Wake".  Now, safely removed from release hype, I can lay down my impressions and thoughts of the game.   
 
First of all, the combat system was an expected answer to where survival horror titles have been in the past few years.  You have your ammo, ammo caches, special but limited weapons, and so on; what's disappointing, is the true lack of creativity evident in the equipment.  The concept's core (for those still in the un-know) is that LIGHT is your weapon, and in order to exterminate foes you'll need a lot of it in a short time.  This basically translates to Wake utilizing electric flashlights, flares, uh...flare guns, flares, flares, flares, and flashbang grenades, all of which are analogs to the standard shooter game tropes.  Grenade Launcher :: Flare Gun what Flashbang Grenades :: um...normal grenades?  The arsenal is smartly applied by the twitchy writer, Wake, who, despite a scribely affectation, possesses an uncanny knack for picking up firearms and discharging them within locals' faces.  It's a good thing a marksman like Wake decided to visit Bright Falls, a town so gun-happy, shots fired in the dead of night are explained by "excitement for Deer Fest" and whose emergency aid boxes are inexplicably crammed with double A batteries and handgun bullets. 
 
For me, these awkward steps of crushing logic were enough to take me out of the more tense portions of the game.  It's hard to feel victimized in the woods by shadow creatures when you have a cavalcade of weaponry that would slow down Jesse "The Body" Ventura.   The game's balance ignores a "fight or flight" mentality and insists you stay and fight every time.
 
Characters are introduced to the plot for the sake of scene progression then promptly removed, never to be seen again.  Favorites include the waitress, Rose, whose action in the plot could be summarized by the designers frustrated at their inability to logically move Wake into night-time action scenes; and FBI agent Nightingale.  Nightingale is an absolute nothing to Alan Wake.  Wake does little to even register that a crazed obsessive FBI agent has hounded him to a small Washington town for crimes that honestly haven't been committed yet.  The FBI played a bigger role in the film "Die Hard".  At one point I stumbled onto a hotel, Wake cautiously read from the registry  revealed that Agent Nightingale was in room #2.  Perhaps I'd stumbled into discovering this character's Reason for Living, as Wake pushed the door open to see a mussed up motel room, photographs scattered everywhere.  I waited for the narration to fill me in on the scene.  Nothing came.  A missed opportunity to say the least. 
 
Wake is not believable as a writer.  This, to me, is the ugliest truth about the game.  Character-wise, it's the equivalent of Ashton Kutcher being tapped to play Kurt Vonnegut.  He comes across more as a Dan Brown  /  Tom Clancy  hybrid, a novel "maker" than the intellectually fraught "artist" the game tries to tell us he is.   
 
All that being said, I felt motivated enough by the story to force myself through redundant forest level after forest level.  Occasionally there was a barn (there is a lesson to take away from RE series, in that the grimy, common beginning of the game is juxtaposed by an immaculate hi-tech setting of the end).  I was happy to be chasing after whatever Macguffin the game laid before me, even if through the use of cliffhangers, many of them were rendered inconsequential.  Seriously, it's not a tight story when the climactic action could've been completed on the second night.  Regardless, I was drawn in at times by the spooky scenery.  Wood floors creaked so at times I found myself stopping completely to hear if perhaps there were more than just my pair of footsteps lingering out in the darkness.  And to the game's credit, at times my instincts proved correct as I got the drop on some hulking hillbilly Taken, sprinting through the woods looking for his pal, George.  Of course a few Taken did surprise me, despite their tell-tale slow-motion entrances. 
 
I was really looking forward to some inventive enemies, given that the Darkness could essentially take over anything and everything to use as a weapon against Wake.  Unfortunately, the Darkness seems to have a penchant for farm equipment and tires.  Apparently lusting after writers' souls didn't imbue the Dark Presence with anything resembling an imagination.  Boss battles are of the Final Fight variety: kill off all the smaller goons while dodging the big goon then kill the big goon.  
 
But I cannot discount the feeling of satisfaction upon completing a chapter.  It's the modern-day equivalent of a Level Complete screen dressed up with a full rock song than an 8-bit jingle.  All in all, "Alan Wake" struck me as slightly  above average  (and it is a see-saw to get there).  And that's not to say it's a bad game, quite good.  However, in the realm of blockbuster releases and skilled art titles, it doesn't belong to either category.  Instead "Alan Wake" will be filed perpetually under the header: Good, but not Great.  Worth playing, yet not worth ranting. 
 
 

 B minus is for Buy It! (with a discount)     

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