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The Quest For Batteries

Haven't done one of these for a long time, way too busy to regularly write blogs at the moment but I just had to take a break from coding! :D 
Disclaimer: I am not one of those ass-holes who pirate Alan Wake when it leaked over a week ago. It is released tomorrow (14th) in the UK and mine happened to arrive this morning. I wasted no time biting into it like an overripe fruit, finishing it just before writing this. :) Enjoy.  

  Dinner with The Ripper - Sherlock Holmes VS Jack The Ripper (X360)

Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper are two larger than life characters who exist in a similar enough timeframe that it’s not too far-fetched a story to have them pitted against each other. The result should be a fantastic puzzle adventure right? Well, almost. 

Almost everything presented in the game is downright ugly, the textures, the models, and the animations; stiff, boring, sometimes incomprehensible and often comical. The interface is clunky and clearly designed for the PC before being ported to the Xbox with very few changes which results in a game that is somewhat difficult to actually play. 

The game follows the Ripper story quite closely, too closely perhaps. I am not a historian, but I’d say the game strays too close to From Hell for its own good, to the point where I’d rather just watch that instead of playing the game. 

The game does have some redeeming features however, while the voice acting is utterly atrocious in places and just bearable in others, the dialogue itself is reasonable and the puzzles are a delight to solve, even if most of the challenge comes from poor explanation of the game mechanics rather than good puzzle design. 

If you’re looking for an easy 1000 gamerscore, or a nice little adventure game that isn’t too taxing, or you’re a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, you might want to try and pick this up cheap. Otherwise, you’re much better off getting Monkey Island Special Edition from the Xbox Live Marketplace.

  The Quest for Batteries - Alan Wake (X360)

Five years is a long time to wait for anything without the eventual product being a huge disappointment, so I’ve tried to approach this from a fresh perspective, longing for what could have been caused so much heartache when playing Alone in the Dark, I didn’t want the same thing to happen here. 

Journeying to the small American town, appropriately named, Bright Falls to recover from a particularly massive case of writers block, the titular author, Alan Wake finds himself embroiled in a story of horror and mystery as he struggles not only to stay alive, but to find out what is happening to the residents of Bright Falls and what happened to him during the week of time he is missing.   

Let’s not be mistaken, for better or for worse, Alan Wake is a horror/shooter hybrid, and a linear one at that, much in the same vein as Resident Evil or Dead Space, and shares none of the horror or gut-wrenching scare factor of games such as Fatal Frame or Penumbra. Instead it aims for a different way of creating tension, much like Dead Space the combat never fails to leave you feeling tense, and on edge, as if you only just made it through that fight with your life, not matter how easily you actually took down the enemies the game threw at you. While the game no longer purports to offer a massive, free-roaming environment, I was surprised by just how linear the game actually is. There are some places you can see off the beaten path, however most of these are small areas with little to see but caches of ammunition, collectibles and the occasional fight. The combat controls remarkably well and although most fights follow the same pattern, the combat never feels too easy, or too repetitive, the game also offers you a range of weapons to fight with such as flash bangs, flares, a flare gun and various shotguns, rifles and a pistol. I will note, however, that I do not appreciate having all my ammo mysteriously vanish after certain cut scenes and plot points. 

There is a heavy focus here on Light vs Dark, both in the storyline, the general game-play and in the combat. Light is your weapon here, sometimes all you have is light to fend off the ‘Taken’ the main enemies you will encounter throughout the game who are townsfolk being controlled by the darkness. It enshrouds them and protects them from your attacks until you literally burn it off of them with your flashlight. 

While the game focuses largely on combat, the plot is where the game truly shines. Presented in episodic chunks, in the style of a television show such as Twin Peaks which introduces new details and twists throughout these episodes, but usually gives you a cliff-hanger style episode ending, or gives you a key piece of information that inspires you to keep playing. I literally had to force myself to put the controller down at points to make it last that little bit longer. Inspirations for Alan Wake can be felt throughout the game not only in subtle references but in glaring homage too, references to The Twilight Zone, Evil Dead, and writers such as Hemmingway and Stephen King are common, as are references to Max Payne. Perhaps the best of these in the form of a fictional television show called Night Springs which pays homage to The Twilight Zone, even featuring a narrator who attempts to mimic the memorable style of Rod Serling. While I cannot say too much about the characters without spoiling things, I will say one thing. Initially, I was utterly dumbfounded to see a ‘Leo Getts’ style personality in the game. “What?” I hear you cry, don’t worry, he starts out unbearable but actually provides some much needed comic relief after a few tense scenes. 

You will spend a lot of time traipsing through dark, cold, windy forests with little more than a flashlight and the odd street lamp to protect you and guide your way. These environments are nothing short of breathtaking. Just looking at them makes you feel physically cold and alone, the trees bend in the wind, clouds pass overhead, a grim fog permeates every inch of the dank woods, perhaps the shadowy outline of an axe wielding maniac can be seen in the distance. While some of the interior areas in the game might not blow your mind, the exterior locations are an absolute pleasure to behold, even ones as dark as these. Light and shadow interact amazingly well giving such a convincing look to the locations you’ll be moving around and fighting in. The lighting effects in particular, are something Remedy should be very, very proud of. 

The same cannot be said for everything however, there are a few blemishes on an otherwise jaw-droppingly good game. Some scenes require you to drive a vehicle, thankfully these are few and far between, and certain locations (to reveal which would be a spoiler) are absolutely plagued with screen tearing though thankfully the majority of outside locations run smooth as butter. The enemy variety is not particularly strong and while they are quirky and interesting for generic hick townsfolk maniacs controlled by darkness, they do begin to wear a little thin by the end of the game. 

A point I will concede is that a lot of people dislike in-game advertising, but, if I’m totally honest the only thing I noticed here were the Energizer batteries. I don’t know enough about cars to actually notice the Ford’s scattered about the place, and the Verizon billboards either escaped my notice, or were removed from the European release. For the most part though I didn’t mind at all, I felt that this was one occasion where having a recognisable, real product in the environment helped immerse me further into the game. 

For the collectable nuts and completionists out there, Alan Wake, despite it’s linearity manages to offer quite a wide array of things to find. Aside from searching endlessly for manuscript pages to help fill out Wake’s memory and add to the plot, you will find any one of 100 Coffee Thermoses scattered around the various environments. 

Overall I think Alan Wake is a fantastic addition to the Xbox 360 library and a game any serious gamer should be playing right now despite the few flaws it has. In addition I also feel that it’s a little bit of a shame the game does not manage to stray into the territory of truly scary, or truly survival horror but instead aims for the more action oriented take on horror, but I won’t hold that against what is a brilliant game with some of the best writing I’ve seen in a game in years.  Oh, and the song during the credits? Sublime. You'll shit bricks ;)

I'll be interested to hear peoples thoughts on Alan Wake over the next week or so, as for Sherlock Holmes VS Jack The Ripper, anyone played it? If so, what did you think of it?  
I also have to say, the Limited Edition of Alan Wake comes highly recommended by me, the box is so nice, styled to look like a book. It comes with a soundtrack CD (well worth it, the soundtrack is awesome) as well as a real hardback book and a bonus disc full of junk. One thing that is odd however, is that the games case itself does not have an Xbox 360 logo on it anywhere... Something I was not expecting, I was expecting just a regular copy of the game inside.
Coming up in my "To Play" list:  
Red Faction Guerilla - Picked this puppy up cheap the other day. Wondering whether or not I'll enjoy it. 
Red Dead Redemption - Can this really live up to the hype a lot of people seem to be giving it? We'll see I guess.