Alan Wake Hands On Preview - Remedy & Microsoft's Secret Weapon
Written Monday, March 01, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
You know when you’ve waited for a game for so long and when you finally get your hands on it, it totally sucks? Well... it doesn’t have to suck, but it’s not as epic as you thought it might be. Take Too Human for instance. Let me clear something up, Alan Wake does not fit into this category and despite waiting for this game the entire time I’ve been a part of this site (which is well over 4 years now), after going hands on with it in London recently, I actually want it more now... if that’s possible.
By now you should know that Mr Wake – Alan to his friends – is a writer. I’m sure you’ve heard the spiel before, right? He’s a writer, writer has writer’s block, goes away with wife to Bright Falls to clear his head, wife goes missing, Alan blacks out, wakes up some time later where a story he doesn’t remember writing is starting to coming true. That’s the crux of it. We had the pleasure of going hands on with chapter one of the title recently and although we won’t spoil its awesomeness (as always), we will talk about a few plot scenarios and such, and how Remedy have us on the edge of our seats. As with any game these days, the opening moments of Alan Wake sets up some of the game’s mechanics and acts as a tutorial for the rest of your experience with the game.
The opening scene picks up with a tired Alan Wake navigate a winding mountain road late at night behind the wheel of his oak-panelled car, moments before striking down and killing an unfortunate – and careless – hitchhiker. Alan does what any sane man would. He panics. It was an event outside of his control. He couldn’t do anything about it. If he fessed up to it, he’d surely end up in jail. He can’t afford to do that. For Alice’s sake. It is then where a series of events unfold that introduces Alan to the dark power that he has to overcome throughout the game. In this opening chapter you’re guided by a light and with Alan narrating the adventure, you’ll learn how to heal, how to sprint, how to use your flashlight and more importantly, how to kill any dark-spirit possessed being. Killing the dark spirits requires that you first defeat the dark shield with the flashlight - holding the left trigger provides a turbo burst of light - and then their demise is only a couple of shots away with the handgun.
Firing is a tricky art to master to start with as you have no reticule to guide where you are firing, but you’ll learn to use Alan’s flashlight as a reticule of sorts. The turbo of the flashlight is a great way to weaken your foes fast but be warned, you do have to keep an eye on your battery life. Use them too much and you’ll be left with a serious shortage of juice. That being said, it’s possible to survive on 1 battery as they regenerate when the turbo isn’t being used. From a personal standpoint, I finished the first chapter with over 20 batteries in my inventory, so battery conservation won’t be as big a problem as it could have been… thankfully. If all else fails with the flashlight and gun combo, you can use the trusty flare gun - which acts as Alan’s light rocket launcher with all kinds of crazy splash damage - or flash grenades - which are just as useful.
A short and almost clichéd cutscene later and Alan and his wife, Alice, are on a ferry heading across to the Bright Falls dock… in the day! Yes, the day. The next scene really is more of a mood setter and gives you a chance to meet one of the many locals you’ll encounter in the game; a radio DJ by the name of Pat, who you’ll be hearing a lot more of in your time in and around Bright Falls. After admiring the epic view, soaking in the scenic wonderland, telling Pat in polite terms to piss off and posing for a photo for Alice, it’s time the couple headed to the local diner to pick up the keys for their holiday retreat.
As soon as Alan walks in the diner the local waitress, Rose, treats Alan like the prizewinning writer he is, almost giddy by his arrival. A couple of quirky elderly bikers squabble and seek the assistance of Alan by the jukebox, non-the-wiser of the stature of the small time celebrity that lurks amidst their ranks. Enough of the locals though, Alan has a job to do and after a trip down a darkened alley – which was preceded by a warning from another local about the dangers that lurk back there – and a visit from a mysterious elderly lady, Alan returns with the keys for the lodge.
The lodge down by the lake is like something lifted out of a Stephen King novel, from the giant withering fir trees and the picturesque golden sunset, all the way down to the traditional log cabin with its stone clad chimney. It’s here where you learn of Alice’s fear of the dark and the story goes from first to fifth gear. Suffice it to say, something happens, Alan blacks out and the story picks up a good while later.
The majority of our hands on consisted of this next set of events where Alan’s objective was to cross through the woods of Bright Falls, navigate across the shallow canyon, to find help at a small gas station that showed some sign of life. Staying true to the formula and being the action sequence of the chapter, the rest of the chapter took place at night. Alan will have to traverse through eerie wooded areas, fight through dark forces that occupy the logging yard – whilst solving a rather simplistic puzzle – and walking the slippery logs that provide Alan’s only safe route across the treacherous waters. The dark and light theme that Remedy are pushing is at its strongest at night – obviously – and Alan will constantly have to use safe havens – which are basically large lit areas with supplies – to survive and use the torch to find hidden goodie packs that are cryptically hidden – their whereabouts only made clear if you happen to catch the UV painted arrows that are dotted around the environment with the torch beam. The scene ends after a good 40 minutes of solid combat and fear induced gameplay with a short cutscene prompted by Alan’s safe arrival at the gas station.
A fraction of Alan Wake’s charm is the mood and the atmosphere that Remedy have managed to capture – two essentials if you’re going to make a successful thriller. You’ll constantly have those, “what the hell was that!?” moments as you check to see whether any dark spirits have spawned behind you. If it’s not that, you’ll either be creeped out by the moving eyes on a TV screen in a small log cabin you take cover in or you’re checking to see what that bump was. I mean seriously, what was that bump!?
So where is the rest of Alan Wake’s charm you ask? Well that’s most definitely in its story which has plenty of mini-cliff-hangers and jaw-dropping bombshells in just the opening chapter alone. Oskari, Hakkinen, Director of Franchise Development at Remedy, promised us that we can expect more and bigger twists as Alan fights to find the whereabouts of the love of his life. If Remedy can top the chapter one twist again and again throughout the game then... Wow, just wow. Who said video games lacked the skills to tell great stories?
If you had hoped that Alan Wake would be collectible free, think again. In the first hour alone we were introduced to two types of collectibles: the coffee thermoses and the missing manuscript pages. Whilst the manuscript pages serve as an innovative story telling method that almost prepares you for the events that lie ahead, the thermoses seem to have no discernable effect or advantage…. well at least not in the opening chapter anyway.
Quick word on the achievements and if the opening hour or so is anything to go by, Alan Wake will be a proverbial achievement gold mine when it ships in May. A lot of the achievements I picked up early on were story related or for tasks like simply killing two possessed spirits with one shot (easily manageable with the shotgun). I sense a collect all thermoses and collect all pages of the manuscript achievement though, but of course, that’s purely speculation.
The first chapter alone made me think that Alan Wake is the game I wished it always would be. With a superbly written story with a monster twist as early as the first hour, the only thing Alan Wake could do with is a little more polish. If Remedy have enough time to fix the lip syncing issues and maybe round off the few rough graphical edges you can encounter, then Alan Wake will be winning fans over this coming May. If they don’t fix them, they’re hardly immersion breakers, but it may hold it back from that illusive “killer app” moniker. Whilst Alan Wake isn’t really breaking new ground in terms of gameplay and we have to feel that unless we see a bit of variety in the action gameplay, it might become a bit stale, but Alan Wake isn’t about the action, it’s about the story. And if you’re looking for a good story this May, Alan Wake seems like too tempting an offer to pass up.
Alan Wake is out May 18th in North America and May 21st in Europe.