As the first game to come out of Remedy since Max Payne 2, Alan Wake has undergone so many years of speculation and rumor that it was anyone’s guess what the final product would actually be like. But unlike some studios who sink so much time into a product that the end result loses sight of the initial vision, Alan Wake assures us that Remedy is a developer worth waiting on. Their penchant for slow-motion, (ahem) “cinematic” action and metaphor-driven narration are all present in spades, but Alan Wake manages to deliver an experience that is decidedly unique and satisfying. And while hearing it described may make you feel like it should be watched like a TV show instead of played, this really is one of those games you should play through all at once, by yourself. Presentation is everything in Alan Wake, and what actually awaits in the fog doesn’t matter when you’re given the control.
In the same way that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves allowed millions of gamers to feel like they were in the driver’s seat of a blockbuster action film, Alan Wake gives us the closest thing yet to playing through a thrilling television serial drama. And though it isn’t without its flaws, this is a game that anyone who appreciates a gripping story shouldn’t pass up. Now, I myself don’t watch a lot of television. As someone who’s never watched Twin Peaks, Law and Order, or Lost, I can safely say this game has rekindled my interest in a form of media I’d given up on. Remedy has gone through great lengths to hit the same notes as any of these shows. Each “episode” ends on a cliffhanger that feels a tad cliché, but nonetheless keeps you playing to see what happens next. They even flash the game’s title card and play some sappy tunes between episodes, which is fine because the music in this game is phenomenal. Bringing back the band that did the ending theme for Max Payne 2 and having them do original music under a name that ties into the story was a great move. I won’t spoil anything, but the secondary characters in this game are truly memorable and I will be crossing my fingers to see more of them in the DLC or sequels.
You may have noticed I haven’t talked about the actual gameplay yet. Suffice it to say, the combat takes a back seat to the story in Alan Wake. By no means is it bad, but it doesn’t have the lasting impression of Max Payne’s bullet time. As you make your way through the dense, fog-filled forests of the fictional town Bright Falls, enemies will come at you from all directions with only the occasional camera focus as warning that you’re about to get an axe to the back of the head. Thankfully dodging is as simple as a tap of the left bumper and you’ll spend most of the game with your finger hovering over it. When you successfully dodge an attack, you’ll sometimes be rewarded by the action grinding to a near halt as the weapon whiffs the air where you just were, giving us the only taste of time-bending in the game. When you need to fight, you’ll have to focus in your flashlight on the enemy to burn away the darkness shielding them from harm. When they stagger back fully exposed, a couple shots to the torso or head brings them down quite handily. There are also plenty of other light-based weapons like flares and flash grenades to make sure you never feel defenseless against the onslaught of enemies. Unfortunately, your gun and flashlight are mapped to the same button, and aiming your flashlight drains the batteries at an alarming rate. Thankfully, your friends at Energizer have your back! And here’s where the game starts to feel most uncomfortable.
There is so much to collect in Alan Wake that instead of being fully invested in the narrative, you’ll spend most of your time looking on top of every picnic table and inside every cabin for batteries, ammo, and other items of varying levels of importance. Alan will find pages to his book he doesn’t remember writing, and for those that want to get the most out of the story these will become an absolute obsession. Every speck of white in the distance will keep you running circles around the forests, getting ambushed by the shadow creatures while you should be getting to the next objective. If achievements are your thing, there’s nearly a hundred coffee thermos’ to find scattered in the most remote of locations. There’s even a corny live-action TV show shown on televisions throughout the game. An achievement fiend will feel quite satisfied here, but for someone looking for a quick playthrough, ammunition and batteries are plentiful enough that most stones can be left unturned.
In short, Alan Wake is exactly what ii says on the box, a “Psychological Action Thriller.” You’ll be grasping at straws for most of the game, trying to figure out what exactly is happening in this quaint little town. The action may be somewhat repetitive and forgettable, but the single trick of “light ‘em up, shoot ‘em up” is interesting enough to get you through to the conclusion. I finished this game in two sittings, partly because of its brevity, but mostly because I couldn’t wait to see what happens next. If you’d like the constant build-ups and reveals of an entire television show in the much more manageable length of a video game, Alan Wake is for you. It’s cheaper than a DVD box set, and much shorter, but just as gratifying. Unfortunately, the wait for the DLC packs is just as excruciating as the wait between seasons.