Remedy Entertainment is a company perhaps best known for the Max Payne series. The series found critical acclaim for its great gameplay, amazing noir art style, and deeply conflicted main character. After the second game Remedy sold off the rights to the game to Take-Two and went to work on Alan Wake, a psychological shooter that was first announced for the Xbox 360 5 years ago.
From the start of the game there’s a distinct focus in the game, story. The game oozes great narrative and influences from Stephen King with a hint of H.P. Lovecraft. Just like with Max Payne the characters are strong. Alan Wake is a bestselling writer who has run into a dry spell. His marriage is on the rocks and he just quit drinking. The character’s voice actors are equally as strong with only a live action talk-show host being the lowest point in the game.
The game does a great job of slowly unraveling his past, and the mixed up events that lead to him in a car-crash at the beginning of the game. The game progresses like a well-crafted movie. Most of the smallest characters tie into the bigger story with even the characters that provide the comic relief being strong and useful parts to the story. The story to Alan Wake is by far the strongest part of the game, with it ending in a very open way, in both to interpretation and possibility of a sequel.
At the core the game plays like a third person shooter like Resident Evil 4. The light elements in the game work well, but frankly they seem easily interchangeable with any number of other focuses. That being said, they do a great job of making you feel outclassed compared to the all-encompassing dark presence that follows you throughout the game.
There are no big special weapons in the game, just a handful of normal weapons you might find in any hunting centric small town, some light based gadgets, and the power of hope… or focus. Not sure what to call it, but it makes your flashlight more powerful at the cost of battery power. The most out of the ordinary item you come across in your time during the game is a flashbang.
What really made this game shine for me was the way it feels so heavily grounded in reality. There is such a brilliant use of in-game advertising in the game that it makes every other game seem idiotic in comparison. In most cases people are using real items you would see every day, licensed products that aren’t just on posters or billboards. The cells used are real ones with service provided by Verizon. Wake’s car is a Pontiac and the batteries are Energizers.
The way everything plays out is mildly brilliant in and of itself. Each chapter in the game is an episode in a TV series of sorts. Each episode ends with a cut to the game box and some music with the following episode featuring a “Last time on Alan Wake” preview. It doesn’t add much to the game, but feels so unique and fits well with the game’s character being a writer on a Twilight Zone like show that you can’t help but smile.
The game’s biggest fault is what it fails so horribly in. Alan Wake seems to want to be a Survival Horror, with all of the supernatural themes and darkness that surrounds the game. The problem with this is that the game is not scary. I’m a giant wuss, and the biggest scare in the game for me was a train falling from a sky hitting a land-locked boat. If you’re expecting a Silent Hill scare then you should look another place, because this game is painfully tame. The game works well as a third person shooter, but not much after that.
There are two other parts that really bother me with the game. One is the length of the game, which isn’t incredibly long, but can be supplemented by DLC. The replayability of the game is justifiably questionable. The other big disappointment is the game’s linearity. While there are other hidden things to explore, there’s only one path to finishing the game and very little way of doing it differently. Alan Wake was a sandbox game at one point, all of that is completely gone in the final product.
Alan Wake is a solid third person shooter with a great story. The strong character driven story and deep anchor in the real world drives a thoroughly entertaining game. It falls flat for people expecting a terrifying horror game, but the shooting and interesting, if not a bit interchangeable, use of light is entertaining. The game is somewhat on the short side and linear, but the acting and the way the game immerses you so deeply in the world is well crafted.