A Very Special Episode
A dense fog dwells in the darkness. It shrouds the landscape. A crow cries out but the fog is more audible than the bird. Out of the gloom a figure emerges. It has only one goal in mind, to lop off your head with a razor sharp sickle. In Alan Wake such scenario’s happen quite often. When this game was first unveiled in 2005 no one had any idea where this game was going except for that it looked really good. Now that it has been released it is apparent that those five years were well spent. With a great atmosphere, interesting story, beautiful graphics and exciting gameplay Alan Wake is a game worth playing.
Alan Wake takes place in Bright Falls (an area that is not unlike Twin Peaks, in fact there are a couple of instances where you can see the show’s influence in the game). The main character, Alan Wake, travels there with his wife, Alice, in search for a cure to his writers block. But upon meeting a mysterious woman in the Oh Deer Diner things begin to get odd. She gives them a key to a Cabin on Cauldron Lake, that evening his wife disappears and Alan finds himself thrown into an world full of dark presences that he must battle through to get his wife back and find out about the mystery surrounding Bright Falls.
The story of Alan Wake is excellent which is good because it is a story driven game. Remedy’s attention to detail in the world of Bright Falls is great. The town has a very robust history, unique citizens, and interesting local landmarks. While exploring the world you will find pieces of history via signs or get to see the local landmarks such as Cauldron Lake or Mirror Peaks. All these little details make you feel that you are in a real location. You’ll also stumble upon TVs with episodes of Night Springs, essentially an Alan Wake version of The Twilight Zone.
Alan Wake, his wife Alice Wake, and his best buddy Barry Wheeler are just a few in the game’s large cast of characters. All characters are unique and have their own personality. The voice acting is good, but for me it took me a while to warm up to most of the characters. Alice is likeable from the very beginning but even liking Alan Wake was a hard sell for me. By the time you get to the end of the game you should enjoy the company of all the characters in the game.
The graphics in Alan Wake are by far the bread and butter of the game. What Remedy was able to pull of in this game was nothing short of breathtaking. The town of Bright Falls is deceptively large. Not only do you get to visit the town but you get to travel into the sprawling mountain landscape. Even better is that there aren’t any load times going from location to location, it’s almost like Alan Wake could double as an open world game. However, the world isn’t opened up from the beginning but towards the end you can see what the place is really like.
The game has great lighting. The game is all about light and darkness so it is a good thing they were able to nail the graphics in this department. During the daytime while you explore sometimes you just have to stop and admire the world around you. At night it is the same place but feels like a whole other world. Most of the game is just Alan and his flashlight and shining your light on a tree has never looked so good. The most impressive thing to me was using flares. You have your choice of a flare gun and just a regular flare, either way they give a brilliant red glow to everything and the smoke that wafts from the flares will astound you.
The enemies are pretty similar looking. But all of them have some dark creepiness going on. Darkness rises from their bodies and they can scoot by you in a blur. Black blobs of goo shine and dissolve into the atmosphere. And inanimate objects fly at you and give off refractive waves as if they were superheated. All of this with no slowdown. There are a lot of great touches all throughout the game that weren’t mentioned that you’ll be able to find on your own.
So how does the gameplay stack up against all these wonderful elements? It holds up pretty well but isn’t without its flaws. There are two major segments of the game and they occur during the daytime or night time. In the daytime you pretty much advance the story, you can wonder around and later in the game you can drive a car and explore the landscape. At night time the bread and butter of the game happens.
Night time is primarily combat. As you wander around the forests of Bright Falls you’ll battle taken. They are shrouded in darkness and the only way to make them vulnerable for attack is to burn that darkness off with light. Alan Wake totes his flashlight around with him which he is able to point at enemies. Just pointing the light at an enemy burns off the darkness but you can also boost your flashlight which stuns the enemies for a bit and burns the darkness off faster. Boosting takes batteries, which you’ll collect along your journey, so you may not always be in a great situation to boost or might want to boost sparingly. Other options to help burn off the darkness are flares which burn off darkness and also make the enemies scatter away from you. Once you burn off the darkness you’re free to attack your enemies. Alan Wake only shoots enemies (or uses flashbangs). There are four types of guns, a revolver, shot gun, a hunting rifle and a flare gun. With your choice of weapon you will shoot the taken and they will burst into the atmosphere never to be seen again.
As mentioned earlier there are four types of enemies in this game. Black blobs only require you to shine light on them to defeat them. Crows which you have to shine your light on. Poltergeist items are regular items possessed by taken that fly at you to harm you. To defeat them you just have to shine light on them. Unlike the blobs though these items can move so you should consider boosting. The fourth type of enemy is a regular taken that looks like a human. You’ll spend the majority of the game facing these guys. There are a couple different kinds of the human taken. There are small quick ones who carry sickles. They take about 2 hits to kill. There are the regular enemies that take four hits to kill, there are big hulking enemies that take a lot of hits to kill, and there are sort of boss enemies that are able to scoot around unseen until you rub enough darkness off of them.
This all sounds quite easy on paper but in practice it is challenging. Enemies spawn behind you most of the time so you have to be quick and shine a light on them so you won’t get hit. Enemies can hit you and make you stumble and it only takes three or four hits to kill you. The AI is very good. In fact I felt like the game felt more like Ninja Gaiden than Max Payne. You are weak and the enemies can really destroy you and swarm you if you’re not careful. There were several occasions that the game takes all your weapons away from you so most of the time you will always start an episode with your revolver. You might find these things either frustrating or challenging. I found it to be both.
I also found the game to be slightly repetitive in this aspect. Combat remains relatively the same from beginning to end. Enemies appear, you shine a light, you dodge their attacks, you kill them and repeat for 8 hours. The progression of the game is great, but the combat is pretty predictable. There are three difficulty levels. I would recommend starting on hard. Normal should really have been called easy, and hard is the right amount of challenge. I started on hard unlocked nightmare, went through it on that difficulty and finished on normal but I felt the game was laughable on normal. If you want to enjoy this game play on hard or above.
The game begs for multiple play-throughs. There are some incentives to play through the game more than once. Mostly being the amount of collectibles strewn about the land. You can pick up 100 manuscript pages, these further the backstory of the game. There are also 100 thermoses to collect. There are landmarks to find, hidden chests, TVs with episodes of “Night Springs” and more. Some of these collectibles only strengthen the atmosphere of the world while others like thermoses do nothing at all. Except you do get achievements for collecting all the collectibles so if you really like achievements you will probably try to collect everything. These collectibles are a gift and a curse. On the one hand they are fun to find but on the other hand they are way out of the way and kind of take you out of the mood of the game. With everything the game has to offer you will be busy a long time.
Rounding out this well made game is a fantastic soundtrack. Like other Remedy games Poets of the Fall have another song in this game, and there are some other great songs. Mainly you hear them at the end of the episodes and other times they are part of the game. There are also atmospheric songs to set the tone for the game. Musical cues signify that enemies are around as well. The sound effects are very robust gunshots sound like gunshots, crows sound like birds and it seems everything that should have a sound sounds great. The voice acting is pretty good. Though the voices might seem annoying at first they grow on you by the end.
With great graphics, story, and gameplay and free download content this game is a great value. In fact I had the most fun with the DLC because it felt different than the rest of the game. Reasons that would be spoilers of course so you’ll just have to find out for yourself. The game has a good cast of characters who make you feel the way the game intends to make you feel. My only issues with the game is that it took a while to warm up to the characters and that the combat can seem repetitive. But even with those issues I still managed to beat the game three times and the DLC twice. I think this is a game worth playing and one that will be remembered for a long time to come.