Alan Wake

(15) ¦ 360

Most authors take an absolute age to write a book. Not only do they have to juggle with story, plot, narrative etc, but also what type of biscuit to have with their next beverage, and whether watching an episode of Lost during the day can really be considered research or not. Eventually though, there is an end product.

The irony surrounding this game is that during its development, an entire mobile library’s worth of books could have been written. Remedy games first showed it off at E3 in 2005, but it has stalled more times than a driving instructor’s BSM car. But someone has finally given A. Wake a nudge and he’s out of his development coma. The question is, was he worth the wait?

Wake is a successful writer of fiction; he has written numerous books in the horror vein, but for the last couple of years has hit a block. His wife lures him away from the lights of the big, bad city to rest and relax in the docile, small town of Bright Falls. When they arrive however, Alan realises that Alice had an ulterior motive; in one of the rooms in their quiet lodge sits an old school typewriter. She hopes that the peace and quiet that the sleepy town can offer will stir her hubby into writing again.

But Alan soon discovers that he has more than his writer’s block to contend with, when Alice simply disappears without a trace. He also soon realises that the answer to her disappearance may well be deeply buried in the nightmares that haunt him when night falls. It is there that he faces the Taken - the inhabitants of Bright Falls - who take on a zombie-like quality during the night. They appear to be sensitive to light, so with a handy torch and the odd firearm or two, Alan sets out to unravel the mysteries of Bright Falls and rescue his wife.

Alan Wake
So tell me, are you the smart arse who turned off all the lights?

It doesn’t take him long to work out that the story that is unfolding in front of his very eyes, has actually been written by him; the problem is, he can’t remember writing it. Alan’s nightmarish adventure soon treads a fine line between fact and fiction, with our hero often in the dark – figuratively and literally – as to which is which.

Despite the game’s story following an author’s search for his wife, the developers have purposely broken it down into episodes as if it were a TV series. The player is greeted with an “end of episode” screen at the end of each section, as well as a recap of what’s happened in a quick montage and voice over proclaiming “previously on Alan Wake”. Although it’s a nice touch, it does feel at odds with the writing theme it utilises throughout; not only does Alan have to collect pages from the manuscript he can’t remember writing, but there are numerous written clues and messages (that are only visible when his torch catches them in its beam) left for him to read throughout. Surely it would have made more sense to break each segment into a chapter, like, you know, a book, rather than a TV episode?

In truth, most games contain at the very least an element of good versus evil - even FIFA, if it’s a derby match. Alan Wake’s metaphor for this is in its literal inclusion of light versus dark (light = good, dark = bad). Despite it being an obvious cliché, it still works well. To say that Alan fights the darkness with only his trusty torch wouldn’t be accurate; he still has to dispense of his Taken foe – who all appear to be rednecks, who all look so similar, it would be no surprise to learn that they were all related – with guns. Yes, you have to shoot the bad guys. This kind of begs the question then – why bother with a torch at all? The answer is that it probably just looks pretty.

The game certainly can’t claim to be the first to make regular use of a torch, but it certainly creates a real sense of suspense when using it. Not only does it create visibility when you move it around, it also feels very accurate to use. It’s bright, sturdy and manoeuvrable; you can’t really ask more of a torch.

The locations are also like a breath of fresh mountain air. Even though you genuinely feel that you’re in the great outdoors, the game also makes you feel isolated and vulnerable at the same time. It’s almost like being one of those stupid teens running around the woods in a slasher flick, who you can guarantee are next up for the chop. It may be the closest we ever get to a game version of Deliverance.

There is a lot of running around in the woods to face however, and after a while you really can’t tell the woods from the trees. It helps that your HUD points you in the right direction, but it doesn’t stop the boredom setting in after yet another long ramble.

We also ran into trouble of another kind once in a while, and that was running out of ammo. There’s nothing worse than being surrounded by Taken only to run out of bullets. With no other way of defending yourself, your only way of surviving is to run. Just remember that some of these baddies can throw axes, and they’ve got good aim. It would have been useful if we could at least stun one or two of them with a blow from the torch at least, to give you a fighting chance. This only reinforces the fact that the torch is an aid and by no means a weapon.

Alan Wake
For the last time, I do not need my driveway tarring!

Thankfully the story is strong enough to keep your attention; it gets busy and convoluted in places, but overall it does just enough to make you want to keep pushing Alan into the light and not over a cliff. When Alan interacts with other characters, most notably his agent Barry, there’s some nice dialogue to be heard too. But let’s face it, considering it has taken so long for the game to surface, you would hope it would get some things right.

What they obviously didn’t spend a lot of time on were the puzzles. You could probably spend more time solving the ones that fall out of Christmas crackers than those here. Pull this lever, wait for the door to open, push this cart out of the way – all very simple stuff. They do help break up the monotony of killing the Taken though.

Other things that stop the boredom rot setting in are the possessed items that occasionally fly towards your head. These can be anything from car tyres to school buses, so they certainly keep you on your toes. They can be despatched with a high beam from your torch, which is actually more fun than it sounds.

Alan Wake may not be the most complex are original title you are likely to play, but it’s not without its charms. Bright Falls is a truly picturesque location that has more than a little Twin Peaks about the place. And without trying to sound too much like a techno geek, some of the lighting effects and techniques it uses are really rather lush. And if you see it through to its conclusion, you will encounter a section that has an abundance of atmosphere and creativity; it’s just a shame that the rest of the game couldn’t match it. Considering its time in development it should have pushed the boundaries of this style of game far more, instead of just nonchalantly leaning against them.

You may not lose much sleep playing it, but, just like a good book franchise it may offer just enough to have you coming back for more. And let’s face it, it beats actually reading a book.

three out of five