Alan Wake Review

Alan Wake (Available on Xbox 360 & PC)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Remedy
Release Date: May 18th, 2010

Parent Talk: Compared to most other games that require the player to fire a gun [like Remedy’s own Max Payne], Alan Wake (T for Teen) is relatively tame.  This horror-style adventure is more concerned with the psychological rather than shoving entrails and red liquid pools in your face.  This gives Remedy’s latest a pass for violence, but there’s no ignoring the coarse language and substance use.  If you’re a parent that doesn’t want his/her child to be exposed to such, it’s advisable to avoid AW.  For everyone else, game on.

My favorite memory of Alan Wake has nothing to do having played the game.  I’ll never forget last year when our head honcho Jarrod Nichol received a related t-shirt after attending a closed-door demonstration of the product.  At least ten people over the course of two hours approached him asking if he was a developer on the project.  Talk about fifteen minutes of fame, eh?  Unfortunately, I haven’t walked away from the actual experience with anything nearly as fond.  Alan Wake is entertaining, make no mistake, but the quality presentation is undermined by combat mechanics and repetition that left me wholly aggravated.

The Great:

The plot.  Despite confusing moments, Alan Wake is a great story within a story.  Our protagonist is unsurprisingly a famous author trying to enjoy a rare vacation with his somewhat ignored wife.  Sadly, supernatural forces have taken down Wake’s number, and are out to ruin his time off.  The enemy attempts to do so through manuscript pages scattered about that Alan doesn’t recall responsibility for, in addition to TVs and radios that add to the solemn nature of the conflict.  This tale runs much deeper than simple words on virtual paper, as the game takes on a fascinating, borderline Silent Hill vibe.

The Good:

+ The voice acting.  A dialogue-heavy story requires equally talented actors and actresses to maintain the illusion.  Alan Wake succeeds with flying colors.  The characters are distinct, emotional, and manage to present a convincing account of virtual personification.  Even Barry proves that sidekicks don’t have to be overly goofy or serious to add to the equation.

+ The visuals.  Despite one of the Bad items, Alan Wake is a great-looking game.  The polish brings the environments, buildings and characters to life.  Even the lip-syncing is impressive.  Seeing Alan’s actor likeness on TV is especially surreal.

+ The manuscript.  It’s a shame that I missed some of the pick-ups, because how the various loose pages bring the whole concept together from start to finish is really cool.  Remedy did a wonderful job of offering a mix of foreshadowing, past clarification, and in-the-moment tension.

+ The music.  I’m usually not a fan of licensed soundtracks, but it’s more forgivable when paired with original compositions.  That’s what Alan Wake brings, and it’s brought well.

The Bad:

– The combat.  You’ll likely want to crucify me for this, but it doesn’t change how underwhelmed I felt eliminating the Taken.  The flashlight plus weapon mechanic is undeniably neat, but way too simple and repetitious for its own good, not to mention plain unexciting.  Alan Wake is probably the first game where you could liken enemy death animations to a pathetically amateur fireworks show.  It’s not good when flash-bang grenades are your favorite toy; this coming from a gamer who adores the boomstick.

– Forests, mountains and Taken , oh no!  Alan Wake has forever turned me off from wanting to hike through dark forests and up/across shadowy mountains in a video game.  I understand that Remedy wanted to exploit humanity’s common fear of the dark, but pushing past gloomy tree after tree came off as a sorry excuse for the darkness-consumed Taken to pop out whenever and wherever.  I often thought, “Ooo boy, here come some more…” when enemies spawned because a lack of dramatic effect killed any tension.

– Screen lag.  It’s prominent throughout most of the adventure to witness a ripple effect on the screen.  I don’t know why the rendering has such a tough time keeping up with the action, but it does.

The Ugly:

The camera.  Alan Wake frustrated me with blind-side enemy attacks and overly sensitive view rotation (especially when driving).  It’s cumbersome to keep groups of three or more Taken in plain view, and it results in one too many cheap attacks that often led to my defeat.  I’d also like to know how those sickle punks knew where to toss their blades from 20+ feet so I would dodge into them.

The Lowdown:

Every so often, I disagree completely with most other critics, contradicting the bandwagon of hype.  Alan Wake has received glowing reviews across the board, but it just isn’t from me.  That doesn’t mean the game isn’t worthwhile, because it definitely is; I simply believe that the more important elements weren’t executed well.  I think it’s a little messy where it matters most.  I recommend experiencing the intriguing story at significantly less than top dollar.

3 thoughts on “Alan Wake Review”

  1. While I haven’t played the game first hand, Alan Wake really doesn’t seem to be my kind of game. After seeing rave reviews, I thought it would be one of those “you have to play it” experiences, but all the negatives in the review seem to parallel my skepticisms. Again, I haven’t played it myself.

    The light/dark thing seemed cheesy. The combat seemed stale and prone to the same problem as RE4 (where it was just the same enemies constantly funneled to you, over and over again, to the point of mundane repetition). And I’m apparently the only one bothered by the flashlight. Sure, it’s fitted to the gameplay, but that’s not how a real flashlight works. I can’t be the only one bothered by the narrow, forever piercing cone it illuminates.

    If and when I get a 360, I’ll probably pick this up due to Twin Peaks love, but it definitely looks flawed in my eyes.

  2. Erm…didn’t I see the flashlight combat somewhere before (coughLuigi’smansioncough)?

    Seriously though, my young bro was underwhelmed by the game as well. Combat got stale fast…not to mention the routine made it easy to get through eventually. The storyline looked really good from what I’ve seen. So yeah, very fair review, Justin. I’m honestly surprised by the high marks it’s getting everywhere.

  3. The story has been the most interesting aspect of the game thus far. I’m currently in the 5th chapter, of 6, and the game has remained interesting. That said, I agree with just about everything Justin has said. The combat is no longer fresh and the scare factor decreases as you play just because you slowly get used to the whole I’m alone in the woods at night with nothing but a flashlight. The first few chapters scared the living crap out of me, but that stopped the minute I realized the entire game was going to be the same thing over and over again.

    I think this was a good experiment, but if they plan to make any other games in this franchise, they need to think outside the books. Variety is the spice of life.

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