May 05, 2010
How Remedy got from a stunning play-on-words-name like Max Payne to Alan Wake, I’ll never know. It must have been a really sleep deprived meeting when that name was given the go-ahead. Remedy wanted their new protagonist to be an everyday man, yet every time I hear his name, I can’t help but think of two comical characters: Alan Partridge – Steve Coogan’s finest example of comedic brilliance – and Alan Titchmarsh – whose afternoon chat-show on UK TV is just as much of a joke. Both of which, I’m sure you can admit, are clowns. I can hear the lone dissenter screaming, “It means A.Wake you idiot!!” Well that’s even more ridiculous. It’s funny though, how a character with a boring and uneventful name like Alan, can fight the stigmas of said birthright to become the star of his very own compelling video game. A game that delivers on just about every front and creates one of the greatest stories we’ve experienced in a game in quite some time. Yes folks, Alan Wake was worth the wait.
Alan Wake is a best-selling writer... wait, that’s the PR line... oh, but he is, and as most writers do at some time or another, Alan has fallen on tough times. Unable to get his spark back and suffering from a major case of writer’s block, his wife Alice takes Alan on a trip to the picturesque Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls, to help Alan clear his mind. What ensues is a cacophony of confusion as Alan’s wife gets snapped from under his nose and after a blackout, Alan wakes to find the story he has written is coming to life before his very eyes. Alan must then battle with a dark spirit that possesses the town folk and other inanimate objects, turning them into something Alan calls “the Taken,” in order to save his wife.
Alan Wake offers a twisting and turning thriller that keeps you second guessing your judgement at every turn. Sam Lake has done a fine job keeping you wondering whether the events of the game are a figment of Alan’s imagination or actually as it seems, and are the product of something truly evil. Made up of six episodes that take about 10-12 hours to complete, Alan Wake is structured like a TV show with huge climactic cliff-hangers at the end of each episode. It’s a bit different to TV though, it’s like buying a DVD of your favourite TV series, because when you play one episode, you’ll want to binge out on them all.
The story on the whole offers many jaw-dropping and startling moments, and proves that Sam Lake is a true connoisseur of a fine story, even when it doesn’t involve a time-bending super cop named Max. As far as the ending goes, it is as Remedy says it would be, and that’s satisfactory and conclusive. Without spoiling it, the ending does however leave many questions unanswered, but like an episode of Lost or on seeing Donnie Darko for the first time, you’ll be thinking about it for days. Hell, I played it over a fortnight ago and I’ve thought about it every day since... and that’s no exaggeration either!
Bright Falls is a town full of life and bursting at the seams with a wide range of zany characters, whether it’s the ageing rock stars, the Andersons; the neurotic literary agent, Barry; the creepy and sinister Doctor Hartman; or the completely psychopathic FBI agent, Nightingale. I could sit here for 10 minutes listing the game’s interesting characters due to the sheer abundance of them, but truth be told, I know it’s clichéd, but Bright Falls is one of the game’s biggest characters. Throw in a few well thought-out TV shows, some amusing signs that give you more insight into the wacky town and the random musings of local radio DJ, Pat, and the small town is ripe for exploring.
What seems like a small, peaceful haven in the Pacific Northwest turns out to be a living hell for Mr Wake and his associates, and throughout his adventure to save his wife who disappears under suspicious circumstances, he’ll visit a whole host of fantastically realised areas, both in the night and day. The day sequences are light on the action and heavy on the story and setting the scene, whilst the night scenes are the complete opposite. It is in fact the story that weaves throughout though, that keeps the fabric together and except for a couple of episodes that run on a little too long in the action department, the game boasts an incredible balance and similarly impressive pacing. The almost seamless melding of action, story and that creepy atmosphere is what makes Alan Wake unique.
Remedy’s latest title actually turns out to be one of the jumpiest titles I’ve played in sometime as well. That never-ending feeling of being watched, together with the ambient sound and the cloud of darkness that make up the night time scenes result in some heart-jumping gameplay moments that this generation has tended to cast aside – apart from Condemned of course. Remedy sure knows when to drop a Taken on your ass. Yes, as you guessed, when you least bloody expect it.
The third-person action sequences make up a vast majority of the game, but the heavy story and broody atmosphere throughout these sequences will keep you wanting to push on. The action scenes as I previously stated take place at night, and as a result makes light your powerful ally. Whether it’s light sources under lampposts that make up safe havens where Alan can restore his lost health, or your torch that will act as a battering ram to defeat the dark presence’s cloak, meaning the Taken are susceptible to gun fire; this clash of dark and light is a theme that’s present throughout. Remedy even introduced batteries into the fold to add tension to the torch gameplay, but because batteries litter Bright Falls like crack needles litter the promenades of Venice Beach and they recharge rather quickly, it doesn’t really change the gameplay or the tension one iota.
Of course, that means any light you can use to your advantage and Remedy provides you with a wide range of tools to protect yourself, including flashbangs, different types of more powerful torches, flares and flare guns. Once you’ve defeated the dark cloak that surrounds the townfolk, you can use a handful of guns to send them back to where they came from.
Whilst it’s clear that Remedy tried to mix it up by throwing hazards like bear traps, electric fences and various set-pieces your way, the gameplay doesn’t really change that much from beginning to end. Even the form of the Taken suffers from that lack of variety and aside from a few bigger townsfolk, a handful of stealthy Taken, some poltergeist action with various pieces of agricultural equipment being possessed and some dark presence consumed birds, you know what to expect from Alan Wake's action scenes from the first few hours alone. Luckily the story is strong enough that the lack of gameplay variety doesn’t become a nuisance. The less said about the meaningless and ultimately short driving sequences though, the better.
So what sucks about the game you ask? Well, there are a couple of issues – albeit rather minor – that can really kill that immersion factor.
Firstly, the lost pages of manuscript that Alan supposedly wrote, that paint the picture of the upcoming danger. While they are a fairly unique and interesting method of storytelling, they actually go some way to ruining the suspense that Remedy do a fine job of building up. Although they don’t ruin major plot points, I’d recommend you ignore them entirely until the end of your first playthrough – incidentally, you can view any collected ones in the main menu anyway, along with watching previously seen cinematics and listening to the game’s wealth of licensed music.
Last and by no means least, the lip syncing is bloody terrible and is a huge immersion killer... especially for a game that relies on its cutscenes and storytelling! The presentation otherwise is faultless; the music – both licensed and original – is stunning and other than the obvious non-720p cutscene moments when the camera pans out to show the vast landscapes, the visual fidelity and the things Remedy do with light are nothing short of impressive.
The achievements on the other hand may deter a few people who aren’t fans of the whole collectible scene, as the game requires collecting 291 of the 298 collectibles of varying shape and size if you want to milk the game for all its worth. These collectibles include 106 manuscripts, listening to the 11 radio shows, turning on the 14 different TV shows and reading 25 pieces of local history and culture for instance, all of which are worth collecting anyway. The 100 coffee thermoses though, despite being an obvious nod to Twin Peaks, are a completely pointless collectible. The rest of the list is made up of combat-orientated achievements, a couple of missable ones, but regardless, it’s two playthroughs for the full 1,000 points anyway. For those interested, in my playthough on normal, I unlocked 36 of the 50 and achieved 590 of the 1,000 points. It’s worth two playthroughs either way and I can’t wait to give it another run for its money.
Despite taking 5 or so years to make its way to our consoles, Alan Wake still plays the part of the absolutely thrilling Xbox 360 exclusive perfectly and I’m happy to report it was worth the wait. Alan Wake’s strengths lie in its well-written story, a great cast of characters – and suitably impressive voice acting – and Remedy must be commended for creating a beautiful picturesque setting for this bizarre story that will have you second guessing your usual suspicions. With a stunning soundtrack, fantastic lighting effects and intuitive gameplay, the only thing that really lets Alan Wake down is its terrible lip syncing. It’s a testament to Remedy’s newest IP that the only real fault we can find though lies in our quest for perfection. If you’re looking for a good story this May, Alan Wake will blow you away.
Superb line-up of licensed music, a chilling musical score and a sterling job from the game’s voice actors. Terrible lip syncing though. Bad job Remedy, lose 10 points for that one and go directly to jail. Don’t pass go! Otherwise, top draw.
Remedy have done great things with Alan Wake’s setting, creating a wide-open and varied environment with suitably impressive character models. Throw in some fantastic lighting effects and the only mark against the score is the obvious sub-720p visuals at various points in certain cutscenes.
Simplistic controls with a fairly limited subset of weapons. It does what it sets out to do superbly though, and that’s to weave the perfectly manageable and jumpy gameplay into the strong story. Pack some fresh pants for this one.
Quite easily one of the greatest stories of this generation with more twists and turns than a Curly Wurly. The ending is a head-scratcher, but there are some definite jaw-dropping moments along the way. The episodic TV series style delivery suits the game perfectly. It's completely faultless in this respect.
A fairly decent list, truth be told, but with too many collectibles for its own liking. At least some of them are worth chasing after though. Standard weapon achievements and a couple of playthroughs needed... nothing special here. Move along.
Remedy set out to create one of the most intense and gripping story experiences of the year and they delivered on their goals with sublime ease. An utterly compelling cast of characters and the most engaging story we’ve experienced in years means that Alan Wake is a must buy. The best survival-horror thriller we’ve seen for quite some time. It’s more Resident Evil than Resident Evil 5 was! Move over Capcom, Alan Wake’s in town!