Alan Wake: The Signal, The Writer DLC [Available only on Xbox 360]
ESRB Rating: T
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: July 27th, 2010 (The Signal), October 12th, 2010 (The Writer)
Parent Talk: Alan Wake is about psychological horror. Yet unlike other horror games, the focus isn’t on gore or blood, but on shock value and surprise. This game is actually more suitable for children, because while it can be scary, it’s not as crazy as titles like Dead Space. There is profane language and suggestive content though, so be forewarned. If you’re considering a gift for a teenager who likes some scares, AW is a wonderful choice. Younger children should stay away—not just because of the content, but the subject matter may also not click with them. Alan Wake is very story and character-focused.
*For the sake of clarity, this review will cover both Alan Wake DLC packs—The Signal and The Writer. They’re linked after all, so it’s a must to experience both. In order to understand and enjoy The Writer, complete The Signal, and of course the main Alan Wake scenario. As such, there are potential spoilers in this article.
Alan Wake is essentially Microsoft’s answer to Heavy Rain, a dark, narrative-driven thriller. You may have noticed two “special episodes” listed under the DLC tab on the main menu of the game. Experiencing them is essential to learn the “true” end of the adventure. You say the original conclusion is sufficient? Remedy apparently disagreed.
Excellent story. Alan Wake’s highlight is its plotline; it’s like playing a Stephen King novel (or maybe a film adaptation directed by David Lynch?). While the gameplay becomes repetitive, the scenario is interesting thanks to a dynamic protagonist and a compelling canon that plays out like a television series rather than a traditional video game. The Signal and The Writer expand the main campaign, picking up immediately after the end of the game. The episodes make up the “real” ending of the game and explain what happens to Alan after he writes himself out of the story and saves his wife. The Signal should be played first. The Writer is the finale. Both require a few hours to complete, but significantly contribute to the story, focused more so on Alan Wake battling himself, his own dark side, and own story. The plot is more dreamlike and bizarre than the main game, where situations and scenarios blend without rhyme or reason. It’s jarring and dark, creating a tense atmosphere from the get-go.
+ Expanded gameplay. At the end of Alan Wake, Remedy introduced using the flashlight on words from Wake’s manuscript to “activate” them. Alan could shine his light on a word (like “recharge”) and its batteries would materialize out of thin air. The expansions run with that concept, which fits in well with the setting. Some portions require you to exploit words to create platforms, or eliminate enemies. The implementation is extremely clever, more so than the main game.
+ Action-packed. The Signal throws a LOT at you right away and doesn’t let up. The Writer also features heavy action, but is not as combat-focused. The Writer instead is more about dialogue and character development. The rush to the end is particularly impressive.
+ Excellent dialogue. Yes, this has been mentioned, but the dialogue warrants more praise, especially for The Writer. The Signal establishes the premise of the DLC, in which Alan is trapped inside his mind and fighting his darker, irrational side. The Writer highlights Alan’s relationships with other characters, how he interacts with his delusions, and how he grows. Because the chapters are short, you might expect a rush job, but that isn’t the case. There’s no filler, and the pace is perfect.
+ Meaningful revisits. Both DLCs have you revisit areas. This makes perfect sense though, because the expansions are “re-telling” Alan’s story. Rather than a linear stage-to-stage progressive though, the locations are mashed. They change sporadically, which enhances the dreamlike, surreal quality of the narrative. You may enter a building, leave, and find things completely different. The locations in The Writer are particularly striking.
– Length. Each episode can be completed in a couple hours. You’re paying $7 for 2 hours of gameplay, with $14 for the package to expand the whole story. Because of the excellent presentation, I’d argue that the price is worth it regardless, especially after experiencing the main game. After investing in the main scenario and seeing it to the end, you’re missing out to not complete the DLC and learn where it goes. The expansions are short, but they pack a punch and are significant. They also offer additional achievements.
*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT* After completing the expansions, you’re slapped with a big fat “To Be Continued” before the credits roll. It’s easier to swallow than the bitter-sweet sensation of the console ending, but fans may still feel cheated by it, like the developers are saying “You want to see the end we really have in mind? Well fork over another $60 for another game and maybe some DLC!” Alan Wake is an excellent ride and the DLC is too, but not all fans respond well to knowing that an adventure comes with a steep price tag. I argue that everything is worth your investment, even so.
If you finished Alan Wake, download The Signal and The Writer both. They are the last pieces of the puzzle and should be considered a “must download” if you own the game.