Review: Alan Wake

I’m not scared. Not scared one bit. The fact that I won’t ever visit a forest on my own and in the dark doesn’t make me scared right? I wonder about that because I’ve spent the last couple of days playing Remedies’ Xbox 360 exclusive survival horror, Alan Wake.

A writer by nature, Alan Wake is a well established horror author who seems to be lacking the imagination of late. Writers block has not only troubled his career for the past 2 years but his marriage is also falling apart. So Alan and his wife venture off on a break to the isolated town named Bright Falls. A small town where everybody knows everybody, a town in which newcomers are normally frowned upon…a lot like Cornwall.

It’s easy to see that even though this may very well be the most ideal location for a relaxing vacation, that Alan Wake; the big hot shot author that is still well-known for his novels even in this small town. His face is plastered everywhere, from diners to billboards. People love him, it’s becomes even clearer as to how famous he is in this dusty old town when the young lady at the diner has trouble with finding her words, simply shaking at the knees at his arrival. Hey, I wouldn’t mind a little attention like this, but alas I’m not a fictional character. Well not yet.

Mr. Wake narrates as you play, almost as if he was reading from one of his novels or recalling a dream, it’s interesting to say the least, even though at first I didn’t understand as to why my own character was talking about himself whilst I was playing, it was unusual to see or in this case hear the story as I played. His thoughts portrayed through himself sounds confusing enough until I made the connection that he was a book writer and he was reading. It was refreshing to say the least.

It’s funny actually, well confusing to be specific, even though his thoughts are augmented through a script like reading; the plot is fed to you in a puzzle. Having to piece together by finding manuscripts and listening to radio and TV broadcasts, which were optional of course but you won’t fully experience and understand the story until you start collecting these story elements and in effect piece together how you like, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an open story but more open to interpretation. Remedy has certainly succeeded in creating an immersive story to be experienced and so makes it the games main asset. It’s hard not to break the silence on the detail of the game because I know for this reason, this deep narrative that it would almost certainly ruin the game for you. Which I won’t allow, and even if you did figure something out about the story it still won’t prevent you from head scratching. You know…the good kind?

Now with any good survival horror title there is an emphasis on enemies and survival, enemies that you can shoot and scream at. And in this is no exception.  I personally think Remedies take on enemies in this game is clever and rather unique from what we have seen this gen of games. Of course I’m talking about the Taken. The Taken are remnants of humans, who suitably have been possessed by the darkness that persists throughout Bright Falls. And when I say remnants I mean, murderous puppets that cannot be saved, people who have been ‘taken’ by the darkness and only light can prevail against them, that and a bullet to the head afterwards. They are like a slow moving old man, a zombie in other words.

Light is a major game mechanic within the game to coincide with all this darkness and it’s used cleverly which doesn’t make it feel like a gimmick. The Taken use Darkness as a protective shield against conventional weaponry and other harmful things like glue or paper cuts. The light is essential to defeating the Taken. It’s like bread and butter, without one or the other the game itself just won’t work. Alan utilizes any light resource he can grab his sweaty little mitts on, namely a torch. The beam when shone at the Taken starts stripping away the protective darkness layer exposing them for a barrage of gunshots to the face. The beam also doubles up as a reticule for firing your weapon; convenient yet inventive. Kudos Remedy.

Safe havens are scarce but thoughtfully placed throughout the game, acting as a healing spot and an auto save point. Once you enter these havens of light, all taken are discarded, disappearing from harm’s way. But don’t worry these are few, which is a good thing, if there were too many it would make the game far too easy, which is bad, very bad.

The word ‘weird’ would be one to describe the happenings in Bright Falls…ghostly apparitions, poltergeist activity, a truck unsuspectingly being launched at your face from out of nowhere. What the heck is going on? Is it really necessary for this to happen? I thought I was fighting the embodiment of darkness here not ghosts? It doesn’t seem to fit the story in my view which further backs up my point before in saying the story is completely up to your own interpretation.  Heck I’d love to know why you can collect 100 thermoses? Seriously Remedy, did you just include this just because you could and not give a reason for it? It doesn’t matter in any case because people like me love collecting even if it is pointless, it still adds enjoyable replay value to the game.

I was surprised with Alan Wake, the game is linear, but doesn’t feel like it; the forest ventures seem to shroud the fact that you are actually heading in one direction but rather one direction with many options, maybe it’s the fact that there are so many collectibles lurking by that you want to go off an collect? I ‘m not sure but I’m seeing very clever level design by Remedy here. Lighting and atmosphere has a major role to play within the game, and you can tell Remedy cared a lot about how the player should feel when wondering off into the forest and how the light of something that if I mention will spoil the game, should be presented. Honestly, If remedy brought out an alien abduction esque title based in an eerie forest with those environmental and lighting effects, I’d be all over it like a fat kid loves cake.

Alan Wake really is a rollercoaster of head scratching an emotional wear and tear. I wouldn’t say it’s the scariest game, that’s not the point of the game. If you love narrative, wanting to experience a clever and refreshing plot from the usual gun blazing, head smashing numb nuts of late then I highly recommend Alan Wake, the main focus on gameplay is elegantly integrated into the game, making it feel like a natural component. The narrative is original, something you don’t normally see with games of late. It’s an exclusive that’s a must amongst others, a real refreshing experience.

Gameplay: 10

Graphics: 8

Sound: 8

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