Alan Wake, the labour of love of Max Payne developer Remedy Entertainment, has been an awfully long time in the making. The game has been in development for over five years and given the protracted gestation it’s not unreasonable to ponder if the end product could ever live up to expectation. Can it? Read our full Alan Wake review here to find out.
In terms of visuals you can certainly see when the time and effort has been expended: cloaked in darkness and employing spookily realistic lighting effects, Alan Wake looks fantastic. Granted, titles like EA’s Dead Space have dabbled with the use of darkness to accentuate anxiety but even that maddeningly scary title can’t compete with Alan Wake when it comes to frightening players senseless.
Using the many light sources present in the game lead character Alan Wake can bathe his surroundings in luminosity and ascertain which path he should take. However, this goes beyond merely being an impressive visual trick. Light is essential to Wake’s combat against the nefarious Taken – zombie-like humans who have been brainwashed into becoming unrelenting killing machines.
Babbling incoherently and cloaked in a protective shadow-like smoke, the Taken represent Alan Wake’s most common antagonist. Using a combination of illumination and conventional weapons – such as revolvers and hunting rifles – the player needs to approach each combat encounter with a steady hand and a clear head. Running is a good way to get yourself killed, because Wake can only sprint short distances before he succumbs to exhaustion.
The combat in Alan Wake is both rewarding and challenging, largely due to the need to conserve ammunition, plan your movements and make use of various lamps and street lights which provide much-needed protection from the onslaught – but it does become rather repetitive over time.
Thankfully the incredibly overwrought ambience and atmosphere keeps things fresh. The town of Bright Falls is grim and foreboding backdrop packed with disused shacks, dilapidated trailer parks and crumbling wood yards.
Every nook and cranny in Alan Wake’s world offers a hiding place for the dark power which threatens the player and some of the best shocks arise from inanimate objects suddenly hurling themselves at Wake as they become possessed by the shadowy enemy.
The most impressive element of the Alan Wake is arguably the story. Combining elements of Lost, The Twilight Zone and numerous supernatural thriller novels, Alan Wake is a master class in spooky exposition.
Protagonist Alan Wake is a struggling author who must desperately unravel the mystery behind a book he has no memory of writing: the urgency to get to the bottom of the story is increased by the fact that Wake’s wife is missing and her life is at risk.
The game is divided into chapters which form self-contained episodes, as if Alan Wake were a TV thriller. Wake’s story is fleshed out by pages of his manuscript which are found scattered throughout the game.
Sometimes these documents recount events which have already taken place and add in more detail, and other times they actually mention occurrences which have yet to happen, providing the player with vital clues.
Viewed as a whole, it’s clear that while Alan Wake is ambitious, it’s not entirely perfect. Facial animation on the characters is highly suspect (although this is something that Remedy is working to fix via a patch), Wake’s monotone narrative can occasionally become grating and the combat segments often outstay their welcome.
Despite these niggles Alan Wake successfully manages to blur the line between video game and movie more than any other title we’ve played on the Xbox 360. It may not boast the visceral action of its forerunner Max Payne, but in terms of atmosphere and storytelling this is one title which has few equals.