So, Alan Wake is something of a gaming milestone for me. In two ways actually. One, it’s the game during which I finally pushed my Gamerscore over 20,000 which is either awesome or depressing depending on your viewpoint. And two, it’s the first horror game I’ve ever seen through to the bitter end, having previously shat out of all other horror games I’ve played before.
Hooray for me!
Anyway, the game itself is an absolute delight. Structured like a TV show (complete with cliff-hangers, and ‘previously on’s’), with a beautifully realised environment of a small-town community and a hell of a lot of fun to play. Oh, and it’s pretty scary too.
The premise is this: Alan Wake and his wife Alice go on holiday to the seemingly idyllic town of Bright Falls. Soon, Alice gets taken by…something and it’s up to Alan to find her. Unfortunately the thing that has taken her is the ultimate evil of all evil. Or The Darkness, as the game calls it whose minions, the Taken, have uh…taken over a lot of the townsfolk and are trying to prevent Alan from getting her back.
The core mechanic of the game is dark versus light. Playing as Alan, you’re hardly ever without your trusty flashlight which is as important, if not more so, than your pistol. The Taken a shrouded in darkness and are unkillable until you’ve destroyed it first. So blast them with your torch, and then shoot the bastards dead. That’s basically the whole game summed up as it doesn’t change much throughout the 8-10 hours it takes to complete. But saying that does it such a disservice. The game design is nothing short of breathtaking with stunning environments that while linear are open to some exploration (Apparently. I didn’t stray too far from the obvious path lest something unexpected caused me to scream like a little girl); the sound design with have you constantly checking around you to make sure you’re not about to get attacked (seriously, I lost count the amount of times a creaking floorboard has had me shitting myself) and the episodic nature of the game is like crack. I hardly put the game down this past weekend until I had it finished.
The set pieces are glorious, especially the ones where you get surrounded by a metric fuckton of Taken and have to decide the best method of taking them out. The standouts being an old abandoned stage from a festival, being swamped by Taken, however you have the rock bands fireworks and flamethrowers on your side. The other being the dash away from the police, with their cars and helicopters getting destroyed by The Darkness as they pursue you. In fact, most of the action is very well done. There’s nothing amazing or brand new about it but the two pronged attacking (torch the shoot) makes it different from just shooting everything that moves, and refreshingly the game sometimes gives you no option but to run away from fights you have very little chance of winning.
Anyway, I’ll not spoil any of the story, mainly because I don’t really know what happened at the end, but throughout the whole game its very Twilight Zone-esque mixed in with a bit of X-Files/Twin Peaks-yness mystery. It even has you collecting coffee thermoses for the achievement called ‘A Damn Good Cup of Coffee.’ Also throughout the game, you find pages of a novel that Alan has already written which foreshadows events to come. It’s quite an interesting device, which you’d think would spoil the surprises somewhat but it actually ramps up the dread.
Especially when you read ‘chainsaw.’
Overall, 4 stars. Highly recommended.