Let’s get one thing straight right away: Alan Wake is an action game, a third person shooter even. The game follows a rather basic gameplay formula and, aside from a few key moments, it sticks to that formula. However, the formula works wonders, and the game delivers some very tense and atmospheric moments. In short: Alan Wake is a game that will make you paranoid, but you’ll love every second of it.
Alan Wake is an author who has recently found himself with writer’s block while beginning to work on his new novel. He and his wife, Alice, decide to take a little vacation to a little town known as Bright Falls. Once he gets there, he loses his wife and wakes up in his nearly destroyed car a week after he remembers arriving at the sleepy town. Soon enough, he finds himself battling with the Taken, enemies that are literally shielded by darkness, and also pages from a manuscript he does not remember writing.
The story of Alan Wake is excellently told, and while the ending may leave some scratching their heads, the entire story is fantastic. Alan Wake’s narrative throughout the entire game feels like it comes straight out of one of his own horror novels, and the manuscript pages both narrate what’s about to happen and give background on certain characters or events. Along with a strong supporting cast and plenty of twists, Alan Wake delivers one of the best stories of the year.
The presentation is something special as well. The game is told in “episodes” and each of the six episodes each feels like they are from some kind of TV show. It all works well and makes each of the individual episodes that much more replayable on their own. The game itself looks amazing, especially during the nighttime scenes. No game does foreboding, dark, and creepy forests better than Alan Wake. The voice acting and sound design are top notch as well, with believable performances and plenty of spooky sounds. The enemies themselves sound ridiculous, but it fits right in with the somewhat overwrought nature of the narration.
As I said earlier, this is an action game first and foremost, and it definitely does not disappoint in that regard. You are forced to use your trusty flashlight to burn the shadows off of the enemies before they become vulnerable, and from that point on, you have a nice array of weapons to finish the job. The revolver is your basic weapon, but later on you get shotguns and hunting rifles to mess around with. There is also a flare gun, which acts as a rocket launcher and, when shot at a group of enemies, will clear them out very quickly.
On top of those weapons you also get standard flares to help keep the enemies away from you as well as flash grenades, which act as…well, grenades. Eventually, all of these tools and weapons become very handy when, later on in the game, enemies become numerous and begin to swarm you more frequently. There are key moments where you are isolated to one specific spot, forced to either survive or protect a person or thing. These are some of the best moments of the game and they keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. And with solid controls, all of this comes together to create a very compelling action game with plenty of scary moments.
When I said this game will make you paranoid, I mean it. You will often find yourself catching the glimpse of something at the corner of the screen, thinking it is an enemy, but realizing it is just a tree. Although this paranoia is for good reason, as enemies will often appear and sneak right up to you without making a sound. And however dark the forests may seem, you will never find yourself lost as the game is rather linear. This does work well for the story the developers are trying to tell, and I feel with a more open world, a lot of that excellent narrative would have gotten lost.
The downside to the enemies is there is a true lack of variety. You get your standard enemies, which are basically humans that have become Taken, and there are two upgraded versions of them (one that is stronger and one that is faster). There are also possessed crows that attack you in swarms, and finally objects that become possessed and must be defeated by shining your light on them. The lack of variety makes the game feel a little stale by the end, but at the 8-10 hour length, it never overstays its welcome.
Finally, there are plenty of collectibles in the game that will keep you coming back to specific episodes. Outside of the many manuscript pages you can find, there are also 100 coffee canisters that are scattered around the different levels, and a lot of them can be tricky to find. And then there are the fake radio and TV broadcasts, both of which are very entertaining. The fake TV series in the game is an homage to The Twilight Zone, and these mini-episodes do not disappoint.
Alan Wake is a one of the year’s best releases, and the best action horror game since 2007’s Dead Space. This game pieces together excellent action elements with some truly scary sequences and wraps it all up in a narrative and story that puts it above and beyond most game releases this year. Was Alan Wake worth the long wait? Yes, yes it was.
Pros: Amazing atmosphere; solid writing and gripping story; excellent controls and truly compelling gameplay; fake TV and radio shows are entertaining; plenty of collectibles to find
Cons: Lack of enemy variety