Friday, May 28, 2010

Alan Wake Review

 Five years in the making and the light is finally shining upon Alan Wake. Remedy Entertainment makes sure that the product that they release is a character driven - story laden - psychological romp through the Pacific-Northwest town of Bright Falls. They succeed at their task and ultimately you should not wonder why this game took five years until completion.

Alan Wake is a writer suffering from a two-year bout of writers block; coincidentally this has put a strain on his marriage (and perhaps his mind) so they find themselves vacationing to the idyllic town of Bright Falls. The visit, quickly, takes a turn for the worse and Alice goes missing. You wake up a week later with no memory of what has happened and dark shadowy figures - also known as Taken - are attacking you whilst you try and piece together what has happened to your wife by finding and reading pages of a manuscript that you do not remember writing. Heavy, no?

So begins your mission of trying to find out what happened to your wife using only a flashlight and whatever gun you can get your James Joyce Brett Easton Ellis mitts on.

The gameplay is simple enough; boost your flashlight to burn of the darkness shrouding the Taken and only then, only after the shield is completely gone, can you dispatch them with your gun. In most instances it becomes challenging - especially when three or four Taken spawn right next to/behind you (scaring the bejesus out of you) and while you are trying to knock away ones shield (because, again, they are otherwise invulnerable) the other two are flanking you. Fun. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and it keeps the game interesting.

The sound design and music in Alan Wake create some of the games best moments. Particulars that comes to mind are the songs that cap off each episode and the ambient sound (or noise) when Taken are about is enough to keep you on your toes throughout the game. The sounds of the forest let you know that this is still a "real place" and of course the game would never be complete without the Old Gods of Asgard but that is all I have to say about that so as not to spoil a great part of the game.

The graphics are great but at times they show their five year tenure of development. The game often looks photo-realistic - especially at night - but at other times - specifically when characters are speaking - the marionette style mouth animation looks antiquated. It is nothing that took myself out of the experience and is my only gripe with the game.

The game is also full of product placement, from Energizer batteries to Verizon cell phones, but again for me it just added a sense of realism to the game. Think about your own life - we are living, breathing advertisements.

Though it does not really factor into a review per se it is no secret that the fine folks at Remedy want Alan Wake to be a series (or at the very least to have a sequel). The ending allows for that (not in a bad way) but in a way that if there is not a second game a lot of folks will be disappointed.

This a fine psychological thriller is every sense of those two words. Alan Wake will be talked about for years to come as a return to form for the thriller genre when it comes to games. It tells a terrific story and has you feeling and pulling for the characters throughout the game. Buy this game new so that we can all play Alan Wake 2 (The Search for Better Lighting).