Giant Bomb Review

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Alan Wake Review

4
  • X360

Remedy's troubled horror writer deftly balances solid shooting and ominous atmosphere in his great Xbox 360 debut.


 The flashlight is Wake's best friend.
Artful storytelling and imposing darkness collide with dramatic force in the Xbox 360-exclusive action game Alan Wake. Remedy's first original effort since Max Payne trades heavily in densely creepy forests, small-town mystique, and no small amount of third-person shooting. The game weaves a powerful narrative web around a core third-person action model that's largely satisfying even when its lack of variety becomes apparent in the later stages of the game. Even a thousand plaid-wearing axemen aren't enough to slow the driving momentum of these uncanny events, or make the game's foreboding forests one iota less unsettling.

The eponymous lead character certainly isn't your typical video game hero. Wake is a wildly popular Stephen King-esque horror writer whose three-year bout with writer's block has lead him and his wife Alice in search of creative inspiration, taking them from a posh Manhattan condo to the sleepy Pacific Northwestern logging town of Bright Falls. The couple has scarcely arrived in town and checked into their cabin before Wake finds himself abruptly short one wife and one whole week's worth of events in his memory. In exchange he finds plenty of terror, courtesy of a pervasive dark being that's moved into town and targeted him for reasons that become clearer as the game wears on.

 Darkness can take many forms.
Wake's journey to uncover the fate of his wife, the secrets of Bright Falls, and his own importance to the dark presence provides the game's narrative impetus, and Remedy uses an internal episodic format to expertly delegate the flow of the mystery from one scene to the next. The natural breakpoint at the ending of each episode gives the writers ample opportunity to mete out pieces of the story slowly and control the falling and rising action, building to a crescendo right before the "credits" roll, just like a serialized television drama. Each episode ended with a "holy crap" sort of cliffhanger that made me eager to plunge ahead and make sense of newly revealed information. But a couple of times I found greater value in making myself turn the game off and stewing over what had just happened for a bit before returning to continue. This isn't the "episodic" sort of gaming you're used to, but it's a great way to tell a story in a video game.

He might sit behind a word processor during the day, but Wake sure knows how to handle a revolver. And a shotgun, a hunting rifle, a flare gun, and flashbang grenades. Those are your tools against the demonic residents of Bright Falls who are "taken" by the dark thing infesting their town and turned against Alan Wake and his efforts to find Alice and get the hell out of Dodge. The game has that unusual combination of loose, free character movement and fast but precise aiming control that to me defines the best third-person shooters. No twiddling of sensitivity settings required. Other than a few wonky jumps from time to time, Remedy's pedigree as a maker of action games is plainly evident here.

 It will take you most of the game to find out what the heck is going on in Bright Falls.
Under and around the shooting, Alan Wake's gameplay revolves around the contrast between the darkness of its antagonists and the light from literally any source you can get your hands on. Flashlights, road flares, spotlights, headlights--anything that provides illumination is a potential weapon to stave off the encroaching shadows. The enemies are swathed in a tangible darkness that shields them from your attacks until you literally burn it off of them with a light source, and aside from your handy flashlight, the game finds some neat opportunities to arm you with heftier firepower (lightpower?) as found in the environment. Conversely, some of the best tension comes from the moments when ammo is scarce or nonexistent and you're left to dash from one light to another in an attempt to escape the gloom.

There's a lot of gloom. Bright Falls and its dense forests form a supporting character all by themselves. Remedy does the forest primeval really well; the outdoor areas are packed with stifling foliage and dense fog, the tension rises along with fast-moving shadows, and ambient sounds heighten dread and obscure the movements of your enemies. These guys understand the simple value of silhouetting a crazed maniac with an axe against a misty, backlit tree line, though they find ways to arrange plenty of more complex but equally creepy scenarios. Alan Wake is a disturbingly great-looking game from top to bottom.

The game is also relentlessly linear, though, a price I feel like you have to pay for that kind of tightly packed design. You can rarely stray far from the critical path, and there isn't much to do on either side other than find a huge host of collectibles. There are scores of coffee thermoses hidden around for the achievement-seeking completists, but there are also just as many mysterious manuscript pages strewn around that do tie into the story. Each one foreshadows events to come or clarifies those that have already passed, and these are well worth seeking out as an enhancement to the game experience itself.  
 
 Lots of little touches round out the unusual atmosphere.
Similarly, the game gets a tasteful amount of mileage from the authorial nature of its protagonist, with frequent descriptive voiceover narration that's just ham-handed enough to sound like it's ripped right from the pages of one of Wake's own bestsellers. You'll find some references to King, Alfred Hitchcock, and other masters of the macabre in here as well. And of course, Remedy also gets in one of its signature touches with a series of operable television shows that display full mini-episodes of a fantastic fake Twilight Zone program, and there's a pitch-perfect small-town AM radio host who you'll hear provide color to the events and the area as you move through the story. 

Alan Wake isn't an overly long game at maybe a dozen hours, but in the last quarter or so I found a sort of fatigue set in with what I was doing. It might be the very limited variety of enemies you face; there are only four or five types repeated almost ad nauseam throughout the game. Or maybe it speaks to the storyline's high level of intrigue that I just wanted to get on with the combat so I could uncover the next wild piece of the mystery. Earlier in the game, the nighttime action is broken up by expository daytime sequences that almost feel like an adventure game, but the pacing suffers a lack of brevity in its last couple of hours. A more condensed final act would have wrapped this package up a little tighter.

That's small potatoes in the grand scheme, though. Alan Wake is on the whole a propulsive, thrilling, and downright spooky action game from start to finish, quite unlike anything else on the market in visual style and storytelling format. It might take Remedy forever and a day to get from one game to the next, but Alan Wake proves once again their toil is well worth the wait.  Brad Shoemaker on Google+
169 Comments
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Posted by Viisven

All that time and only 4 stars :(  I wanted 6

Posted by Homeslice

DAMN good coffee!! And HOT!

Posted by Bigandtasty

Sounds decent. I'll wait for a better deal, though.

Posted by mbkish

Thanks Brad!

Edited by TheLawnWrangler

Shug. 
 
i'm glad this turned out to be better than 3 star material!

Posted by armaan8014

Sad it's not for PC :(

Posted by ApertureSilence

[Agent York voice] Amazing!

Posted by Vandersveldt

soooo close

Posted by j_meyer_13

God damn you and your food analogies... now I'm hungry!  But hey, I think I found something to burn my $50 Gamestop gift card on, at least!

Posted by angelfan91

This reads like a 5 star. 
Posted by Marz

haven't seen any video reviews in awhile, when are we going to see some?

Posted by unclejohnny79

looks good

Posted by Captain_Insano

solid review, thinking this might be a purchase when it is a bit cheaper.

Posted by Bionicicide
Edited by EgoCheck616

Great review. Alan Wake definitely looks promising but it's rare for a new IP to be flawless. At least they got the groundwork down and can learn from their mistakes, much like Mass Effect. Unfortunately I'll have to pass. It's a shame the game isn't multiplatform. 

Posted by bybeach

I'm sold. 
 
Too bad it isn't on the Pc . But if they canceled it, then all that tells me is I didn't mabe get a bad port. Okay. 
 
X box it is.
Posted by virtorio

Disappointed by the lack of side content.

Posted by roscoe

really looking forward to playing this. seemed like the only negatives you found with the game were repetitive combat, and enemies. im good with that if the atmosphere and story are as good as you made it out to be.

Posted by TheLawnWrangler
@MurderByDeath: this seems like a game york and zach would appreciate XD
Posted by FesteringNeon

Nice atmosphere
Posted by Sharpless
@Viisven:  
"Only" four stars? Four stars is a great score, and if you ignore the score and just read the review alone, it shows. It sounds like a winner, even if it didn't quite make the "perfect" score.
Posted by SkinnyBlue

 Good review Brad. I'm glad this game turned out well.

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles
@nofx4208 said:
" @MurderByDeath: this seems like a game york and zach would appreciate XD "
LMAO
Posted by GioVANNI

Attack of the four stars.

Edited by Yummylee

I need my cash for the LE of RDR, but Alan Wake will probably be next the purchase to follow. 8)
Posted by ch3burashka
Only 4 stars?! ANGER!!!
/sarcasm
 
I love Remedy, or more precisely, Sam Lake and his writing. This has been one of my most anticipated titles, and it's finally here.
 
It's no Deadly Premonition, though...
Posted by chronicsmoke

Good review Brad,Ill be pickin this up day one

Posted by MonetaryDread

4 stars??? My faith in my 360 has been crushed. I am now a PS3 Fanboy 4 ever.

Posted by HatKing

Not complaining, I couldn't care less actually, but I've noticed Brad seems a little more harsh on the handing out of stars than the rest of the guys.  I could see Ryan or Jeff giving his 5 without hesitation.
Posted by Kowalczyk

Looks really good. I'm looking forward to see how the story goes, I'm watching Happy Town plus reading Under the Dome and with the ER I'm all into the small town Maine setting which weird crap going on, can't wait.

Posted by simian

Uh... Hrm... Glad the review is out 2 weeks before the game ships...

Posted by LordCrom

FIRST!  Dang!  Only 30 off. :P
Posted by JJWeatherman

Thanks Brad for teaching me what  eponymous means! 
 
Your reviews are both entertaining and educational!  :P

Posted by wipu
@angelfan91 said:
" This reads like a 5 star.  "
My thoughts exactly
Posted by teh_destroyer

Fuck,I just shit myself watching this. FUCKING buying this game!

Posted by gunslingerNZ
@HatKing said:
" Not complaining, I couldn't care less actually, but I've noticed Brad seems a little more harsh on the handing out of stars than the rest of the guys.  I could see Ryan or Jeff giving his 5 without hesitation. "
Heck no Ryan is by far and a way the harshest critic on the site and Brad has probably handed out the most 5's. I can't even remember what Ryan's 5 star cartoon looks like...
Posted by Inks

Same locked door sound as in Max Payne 2 :(

Posted by PapaLazarou

Woulda been so much better on the PC, I remember them showing it off on PC hardware with so much stuff going on at once and it being open world. Now it's a linear dumbed down console shooter.

Posted by Olivaw
@wipu said:
" @angelfan91 said:
" This reads like a 5 star.  "
My thoughts exactly "
He does say there's about five enemies in the game and the shooting doesn't really evolve much.
 
Those are pretty important, it being a video game and all.
 
I imagine if the gameplay had kept throwing new things at him it would have been a five star review, but while the gameplay isn't bad it doesn't sound like it changes much throughout, and that's an important consideration.
Posted by JJOR64

This game looks sick.  I might have to pick it up.

Posted by tyger_cheex

Another excellent review and certainly whetted my appetite for it's release! Once again GB are the one-stop-shop for all things videogames!

Posted by Vic_Viper

I've been keeping an eye on this game for years and I'm glad to hear it was worth the wait. Now I just need to decide if I should get the standard or the limited edition.
Posted by StillVictor

I just noticed that Brad looks more excited in his 4 star illustration than I've ever seen him on any video/pic.

Posted by Metiphis

Awesome review Brad.

Posted by MrCellophane

Am I the only one who thinks this looks A LOT like the newest Alone in the Dark game, concept-wise and all with light instead of fire?
*looks at 'Related games'*
...apparently not.

Posted by Tebbit

Way to go Remedy. Now I really need an Xbox 360.

Posted by NumbThumb

Can't wait for this. Not sure why some people find 4 Stars to be bad, considering Giant Bomb has been lavishing fewer perfects of late - this is an excellent score. It's at 84 right now on Metacritic - that's right in the great game ballpark, not astounding, but above average.
 
Color me excited.

Posted by Jimbo

Good to see a decent looking TPS without a cover system again.  Looks refreshing, I think I'll get this.

Posted by get2sammyb

Wished this was on PS3.

Posted by DaemonicGrim

oh fuck yes. really looking forward to some quality time on this.

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