They mostly come out at night, mostly....
Two years after the Xbox 360 release, Alan Wake crawls his way onto the PC platform. After such a long time, has the game lost relevance among the PC crowd? Absolutely not!
What Alan Wake Got Right
Episodic nature - One of the most memorable aspects of Alan Wake is how it progresses; it’s broken up into six “episodes”, each with their own closing cutscene to compliment what has happened to precede it. Each episode opens with a “Previously on Alan Wake” introduction that gives a small recap as to what’s happened up to that point. Remedy have made in clear that Alan Wake takes inspiration from the likes of Lost and the X-Files, and the actual execution of the story, fused together with the music score and environments, is very impressive. The story recap at the beginning of each episode reminds us how important the story is in the thick of things, helping distance the game from generic third-person horror titles. The title really forces the story onto the gamer, and considering how thrilling and shocking the story is, that’s a wonderful aspect.
Chilling story and character development - If Alan Wake does one thing well, it’s offer an experience where the story and gameplay essentially work as one. Alan is a very interesting character and as he narrates the intriguing mystery throughout the game, we actually get to experience it first-hand through the gameplay. Some of the dialogue is particularly sinister with the potential to really send shivers down your spine, and the gameplay thankfully backs any instance like that up immediately with tense gameplay in dark and intimidating environments.
The use of lightness and darkness plays an important part, both within the narrative and the gameplay. It is essentially a make-up of everything that frightens the human race, the things that make us happy and the things that generate negative emotions. Alan won't always have to fight when in the darkness, and running away, while seemingly cowardly, is often the best option. Distancing ourselves from the things that make us scared, angry or sad is what helps us better understand how to combat those feelings in the future, and that's exactly what Alan has to do throughout the story. He has an ultimate goal, and everything he does can potentially be rated as light (good) or dark (evil). Remedy has created a story that relies quite aggressively on conditions that intrigue and challenge the human mind, and they’ve been implemented into Alan Wake superbly.
Fantastic lighting effects - Despite the ageing engine, Alan Wake still displays some of the most gorgeous lighting effects found in video-games today. The flashlight filtering through the trees as the darkness consumes your surroundings is simply amazing, and truly needs to be experienced.
DLC included - The Signal and The Writer are two DLC packs, each a self-contained "episode" in the Alan Wake saga. Both were included with the PC release, which means players will get to experience the full Alan Wake experience.
What The Alan Wake Got Wrong
Gameplay is unoriginal - The gameplay itself is not overly original, but the execution of the story is ultimately what will keep you coming back. Thankfully, the combat is fairly accessible. You’ll have a number of different options available to you, such as setting traps that illuminate when lighted, which act as a great way to stop enemies in their tracks, especially if you do happen to run out of ammunition. The flashlight is without a doubt the most important weapon in the game, as it even acts as an aiming crosshair. The aiming system works well for the most part, although you have to shoot with absolute precision with smaller weapons like the handgun. Much of the combat takes place in tight areas within the woods, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the location of every enemy. The light pushes them away, so once your battery runs out and you reload, enemies will rush towards you from every direction. The game does a wonderful job of keeping you on the edge of your seat, both within the gameplay and throughout the story.
However, when really shifting through the core gameplay experience, it seems to be missing that “wow” factor. It’s not that Alan Wake is an unoriginal experience, because it’s the complete opposite of that, but if not for the wonderful story that is fused together so perfectly with the gameplay, this may have just passed as a generic third-person horror title. In saying that, though, it’s not fair to look at it from the angle, considering how important the story is and how well Remedy have coupled it with the environments and gameplay. Alan Wake thrives through its ability to intrigue and thrill, and the world of Bright Falls is as memorable as it is terrifying.
The Final Verdict
It may be late to the party, but as the old saying goes; "better late than never". Alan Wake is far from a perfect game. It does a fantastic job of bridging the gap between games and film, with a story that is executed so perfectly, with plenty of twists and turns and edge-of-your-seat moments. Remedy have done a fantastic job of bringing story and gameplay together, and there’s no doubt that Alan Wake is like no other game you’ve played before. While the gameplay doesn’t scream originality, the environments are so tense and frightening that you’ll be playing through the game with one eye shut. Alan Wake is narrative-driven gaming at its absolute finest, offering gamers a look into the human condition and the definitive differences between light and dark.
By Gaetano Prestia & Stephen Heller