Alan Wake Review

Genre: Survival Horror

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Price: $59.99 (USD)

I have mixed feelings about Alan Wake. On the plus side, it’s a survival horror game. The genre has been horribly under-represented this generation of consoles, and the few titles released weren’t so much survival or horror (I’m looking at you Resident Evil 5). On the negative side, Alan Wake isn’t exactly a scary game. Creepy, sure. Scary? Not so much.

However, the game does more than just a few things right. First up: Story. The plot centers around horror writer Alan Wake, who has taken a trip with his wife to the town of Bright Falls in an effort to remedy his writer’s block. Before long, his beloved Alice goes missing, and Alan embarks on a twisted journey to find her. The story is equal parts Twin Peaks and Silent Hill 2, but it fails to really capture the creepiness and psychological mind trip of either. Still, the plot is intriguing, and executed well enough, and uniquely at that. The voice acting and supporting characters are also excellently performed, in particular Alan’s sidekick/agent, Barry.

Each section of the game is broken up into Episodes, complete with a recap of the previous episode, title card, and ending credits/theme. I really enjoyed this creative approach to telling the story, and the game does feel like a television series.

On the graphics front, Alan Wake is a very good looking game. Lighting and fog effects stand out in particular, which is important, since light plays a huge part in both the game play, and the story. Character models are well done, especially during the cutscenes, which use higher detail models. Lip-syncing isn’t quite right, but it’s passable. Environments are relatively detailed, but there are some low texture objects that tend to jump out when everything else looks so good.

Game play is one of the better parts of the game. It mixes up combat and exploration, with the only real negative being that Alan tends to find himself roaming around dark forests more than just a little bit in this first adventure. I wish that there was more variety in the environments, and more exploration in the few sections that take place in the town of Bright Falls proper.

Combat is enjoyable, as Alan must utilize his flashlight to break down the shadowy defenses of “the Taken,” the game’s primary antagonists (I won’t reveal more about the taken, as I don’t want to ruin the story). After significantly weakening them with the flashlight, Alan can then finish them off with a few shots from his weapons arsenal. Flares also help to keep the Taken at bay, allowing some time for brief strategy or recovery.

There are also numerous manuscript pages scattered throughout the game’s world. The pages are from Alan’s novel, which appears to be writing itself as game events unfold, with the written passages of the manuscript serving as an ominous precursor to upcoming events. I both enjoyed and disliked this approach. On the one hand, I really like the concept of finding pages of Alan’s story. On the other hand, the pages are written by a pretty poor writer, and they tend to lessen some of the tension of not knowing what’s to come next. Maybe if the passages were more cryptic, or served as more of a setup, not a revelation, of upcoming events, the concept would work better. I think that the manuscript pages were a big reason why I didn’t find the game particularly scary.

I also felt that the developers mis-stepped when it came to implementing music in order to increase the tension, something I feel the Silent Hill series did incredibly well. As an experiment, I even uploaded the various Silent Hill soundtracks to my 360, and played a few sections of Alan Wake with the soundtracks playing, and it truly did add a more ominous, scary vibe to the game.

It may seem like I’m being hard on Alan Wake, but I did enjoy the game, and the story has potential. The setting was intriguing, and the game play was enjoyable, and the overall atmosphere of the game was solid, but I felt that it was not only missing some key elements to truly make it a psychological thriller, but I was disappointed in how the game is left too open ended, with Remedy demanding gamers purchase the DLC to get the rest of the story. Alan Wake is a neat concept, with slightly above average execution.

VERDICT: RENT – I had been anticipating Alan Wake for years, so I was ultimately disappointed in the end result. The visuals are good, and the story is adequate, but a lack of real dread and fear, as well as it’s short length and insistence on purchasing DLC to get the “complete story,” keeps me from recommending this as a buy. Which is a shame. A bit more polish, and it could have been one of the Xbox 360’s top games of 2010. As it is now, I highly recommend it a more than worthy rental, but I’m not so sure it’s worth a full price purchase.

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