The Game You Shouldn’t Have Missed: Alan Wake

By on February 7, 2011

Last year was a big year for games. A lot of gamers were spoiled for choice, and as such may have missed out on some genuine classics. Now, last years great games are available for a fraction of their starting price, so you can pick up any of those games you shouldn’t have missed. In this column I’ll provide mini-reviews each week of some of last years games that fell under the radar, or were overshadowed by bigger games.

Of all of last years games, Alan Wake was one of the most… alternative. Remedy Games had been hard at work on Alan Wake for years before it was released, so there was a genuine hype surrounding its release. When it was released in May, though, it didn’t set the charts alight, despite the hype, the intriguing marketing, and Remedy’s reputation thanks to the Max Payne games.

The storyline is fairly well known, though it bears repeating here. Alan Wake is a famous thriller writer. He lives a self destructive lifestyle, which puts pressure on his relationship with his wife, Alice. After a lengthy period of writers block, the couple take a holiday to Bright Falls, a sleepy little mining town in the middle of nowhere. Once there, Alice disappears, and Alan wakes up one week later, with no idea what happened. Worse, locals appear to be possessed by a dark power that seems to be stalking Alan. Armed with his torch (to burn the darkness out of the “Taken”) and a few weapons, Alan must rescue Alice from kidnappers, demanding nothing less than his latest novel, Departure, which he doesn’t even remember writing. As he uncovers pages of his manuscript, though, he realizes events are coming true.

To say this game is story driven is an understatement. Alan Wake borrows heavily from horror literature and television. Everything from Steven King and H.P. Lovecraft to Lost and Twin Peaks are referenced throughout the game, and as such it has an incredibly distinctive flavor. It seems perverse to suggest that a game with so many obvious influences would be unique, but you’ve really never played anything like Alan Wake. The atmosphere is both sinister and compelling: the use of daytime sections to explore Bright Falls in safety perfectly contradict the terrifying night-time sections, where you’ll be constantly on edge.

The “TV Season” structure aids the compulsion. Each “Episode” ends on a cliffhanger, with the next starting with a “Previously On…” montage. Doubtlessly cheesy, but incredibly effective: you won’t want to stop playing. As layers of story keep piling on, things get more and more interesting. There’s a huge cast of fascinating characters (and a few annoying ones), and each is brought to life through great animations and (mostly) good voice acting and dialogue. There’s a few duds, but Alan Wake thrives on the pulpy feel of trashy psychological thrillers and horror stories, so they’re easily forgiven.

The only real let down to Alan Wake is the gameplay itself. As a third-person shooter, the game plays very similarly to Max Payne (minus the bullet-time). The controls are a little clunky, though that is intentional, given that Alan is a writer, not an action hero. The problem is that there isn’t much variety to the gameplay: there’s only a very small number of enemies, most of which you’ll meet from the very beginning. Once you’ve learned how to deal with them the first time, there’s very little more to figure out.

Despite its shortcomings, Alan Wake is a must-play for Xbox 360 owners. The gameplay itself might not be top notch, but what you’re really playing it for is the incredibly chilling atmosphere and fascinating story. The ending might leave a lot of people disappointed: the whole story is deeply metaphorical and multilayered, and the ending taps into this, while completely changing everything that came before it. But fear not, the important part is the journey, not the destination. And what a journey it is: you won’t find a better way to spend your bargain bin pennies than buying Alan Wake.

About David Scarpitta

I am a critical guy, and love to review and give my professional opinion on just about anything. Though have a love for tech/gaming and music alongside the cinema. You can catch me consulting and developing the net any day of the week.