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Alan Wake XBox 360 Review


A non-traditional game which breaks new ground. Remedy has taken the idea of a novel-as -game and delivered one of the most unique experiences of 2010. It's not totally action nor plot driven but instead a balance of the two.

I don't know the exact numbers, but it seems every new game I play either is a sequel or a remake/reboot, or a derivative of some game from the past. New IP comes along every once in a while (think Borderlands, No More Heroes, The Saboteur, etc) though such new properties struggle to garner sales in the face of giant series which occupy the mindset of gamers everywhere. For instance, the last few games I have played regularly are: Uncharted 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops, NHL 11, The Force Unleashed II, Halo: Reach, and Goldeneye. I don't intend to make this a complaint about sequels and such; I'm only stating facts. Developers and publishers, in a bad economy and somewhat stagnant game market, want to play it safe whenever possible. So, they go with sequels of commercially successful games.

Alan Wake fits in a strange spot here. No, it's not a sequel, prequel, branch-off, or remake/reboot, yet its lineage still can be traced to an earlier game, both in spirit and design. Remedy, the developer of the game, is best known for the Max Payne series of games, some of my favorites. So, even if I wanted to look at AW as a standalone product, in the back of my mind rests my feelings for MP and the comparisons will come through no matter what. Therefore, I won't hide them. I certainly can't be the only one who feels this way.

Most people identify this game as 'the flashlight game' and for good reason; your most useful weapon against enemies is your flashlight. Said enemy goes by the name of 'The Dark Entity' so therefore the use of a flashlight comes as no surprise. You play the role of bestselling mystery author Alan Wake (A. Wake, get it?) who has come to Bright Falls with his girlfriend, the similarly named 'Alice' to destress and try to write once again. Flashbacks later in the game will explain how Alan had been on constant booze-filled book tours (I'm a writer, I've never experienced this, must look into further) and could not handle the stress of his career. Some evidence points to psychological trouble for Alan, though nothing concrete can be found, or noted here for the sake of not spoiling. Either way, Alan's not in good shape when he reaches the beautifully rendered Bright Falls.

Things go haywire fairly quickly as Alice disappears after an argument and appears to have drowned in the lake behind the cabin she and Alan are staying in. Alan Wakes up after an automobile crash and thus the hunt for Alice starts, along with a police and FBI investigation into Alice's disappearance and Alan's involvement in such. Much is told through nicely done cutscenes, which highlight the game engine and excellent voice acting. The plot moves slowly at first but gains speed quickly, much as one would suspect a suspense novel should. The writers did a superb job with the pacing and the creation of a solid novel plot. And they did so through the medium of a game, something certainly not easy to do.

For those not so much into story, action takes center stage for most of the game. You start off armed with a flashlight and can easily overlook the power of this weapon. It can singlehandedly hold off several enemies while you look for shelter or better weapons. 'The Taken' pose as your enemies, souls devoured by the Dark Entity and do her bidding; namely, try to wipe you out or at least keep you running and distracted. It works, as these boys come at you three, four at a time, usually with one bigger, harder to take down enemy among them. There are plenty of weapons, ranging from handguns to shotguns to hunting rifles. Max Payne fans looking for a spiritual sequel might be a bit turned off. Alan Wake is no undercover cop out for revenge, he's a writer looking to find out what happened to his girlfriend. Don't get me wrong, he will get Medieval on his enemies if necessary, but Max makes him look more like Jack Cousteau than Jack the Ripper, if you know what I mean.

This isn't just a run and gun sort of game, however. The plot, though fairly linear, keeps you moving and looking for clues to Alice's whereabouts. You must find manuscript pages--pieces of a story Alan obviously has written but has no memory of--coffee thermoses, and various other clues. Each manuscript page explains the plot and it doesn't take long to figure out that Alan is reliving a book he has written. He learns he might be able to affect the outcome by editing the manuscript, something he does later in the story.

Alan Wake is populated with several characters, and these characters have depth. There's Barry, your agent who obviously wishes he was Joe Pesci, Dr. Hartman, your 'psychiatrist', the sherriff, two old men who used to be in a 70's metal band, and plenty of other NPCs who really give the plot and game some substance. It's never clear who can be trusted, who is real, and who is just trying to further the Dark Entity's goals. This smacks a bit of Max Payne in that the characterization here is reminiscent of that game. Remedy has a certain trademark here and it comes through clear in this game.

Enemies do not only come in human form. The Dark Entity also possesses cars, tractors, and other inanimate objects that will turn on you in an instant and need to be dealt with via the flashlight. Not too long into the game, you'll find yourself wary of just about anything and this is where the game starts to get spooky. I won't say it's scary like Dead Space, though you might not want to play it with the lights off. I did, only because I like that sort of thing. Proceed at your own risk, so to speak.

This game sat in development for a long time. Sometimes this creates either a hype no game can live up to, or apathy on the part of fans because they waited too long. I think Alan Wake falls somewhere in the middle. Sure, hype built up, but this game stayed in the shadows (pun intended) long enough that it never felt as though it was in our face, asking for attention but not delivering on the goods. Maybe it hung in the shadows a bit too long and lose the mindshare of those who really wanted to play it. It's tough to tell.

There aren't many games like this on the market right now. Some may compare this to the Silent Hill series and I certainly see the connection, though this game doesn't seem so focused on scaring you. I found it more hauntingly interesting than scary, and I plowed through some of the slow spots just to move the plot forward, as I find myself doing with books from time to time. Judging this game becomes a complicated matter as it stands as a hybrid, a bit adventure, a bit action, a bit suspense. That noted, I think the game does exactly what it set out to do; entertain the gamer. It might not be for everyone, but it caters to its target audience deftly.

As an XBox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake highlights to strengths of the console well. We're at what would historically be the end of the 360's life cycle, at least from a purely hardware standpoint, and Remedy squeezes every last bit of graphical goodness from it. It might not be the most dazzling 360 game in terms of graphics, but it is certainly in the Top 5. From the landscapes to the lighting effects to the atmosphere, AW shows what the console can do. There isn't any slowdown, even with several baddies on the screen, but there never really are that many to begin with.

The soundtrack might be one of the best I've ever encountered in a game. From original tracks to songs from Poets of the Fall, each track enhances the game's atmosphere and sense of danger. The aforementioned 70's metal band has a few tracks (actually songs by Poets) and they blend in well. As I said earlier, the voiceover work is excellent, as are ambient sounds. No doubt this game, from an auditory standpoint, shines brightly.

It's not a true action game and I don't think standard shooter fans will love this game. It seems more geared toward the mature gamer (who is what, 25?) looking for more depth in their games. The mechanics are solid, the graphics jump at you, and the sound clearly drives this game. With a tight plot that keeps you guessing and enough difficulty to challenge most gamers, this game seems perfect in what it wants to do. It's entertainment, plain and simple. If you liked Heavy Rain, for instance, you will love Alan Wake. Fans of Max Payne will find a lot to like here, but this is not a spiritual successor to that game. Instead, it is a standalone property that blazes a different trail. If Bioshock changed the landscape of shooters, pointing them in a more story-driven direction, then this game does the opposite, pushing story-driven games toward a more action-oriented experience. This should top many Top 10 lists for 2010, and with two very solid DLC chapters added to it, the game should have some legs and hopefully garner enough sales to warrant a sequel. And then I can complain even more during my Alan Wake 2 review.

Highs: Great soundtrack and sound effects, top-notch graphics. A unique plot that puts you in the center of the action and keeps you hunting for more clues. Episodical style not revolutionary but done the way it should be. No game gives such a great sense of atmosphere.

Lows: Tough to categorize and might suffer from long development time. Some puzzles seem arbitrary. With all the excellent twists, you do sorta feel left hanging at the end.


Score: 92/100

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