Publisher: Remedy Entertainment/Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Remedy Entertainment/Nordic Studios
Release Date: 02/16/2012 (PC), 05/18/2010 (X360)
MSRP: $29.99 (PC), $59.99 (X360)
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I always come back to Alan Wake every few years because it’s just such a good game. Great combat, storytelling, varied gameplay, well-written characters, and overall solid experience. Almost a decade after the original release I went ahead and played through the PC version again and it’s helped up surprisingly well. Despite its graphical age, it feels like it could have been released yesterday.
You play as Alan Wake who is a writer that takes a vacation to the Pacific Northwest in Washington and stays at a cabin in Cauldron Lake. Alan has a scuffle with his wife and wakes up not really himself or anything around him for the matter. Without spoiling too much, the story revolves around darkness and always wondering whether what’s happening to Alan is real or it’s all in his head as you will see major story landings in which this question comes up. Even at the end of the game this is never really answered, and maybe it’s best to leave the player guessing a little.
The story is well told and might take a couple of playthroughs to get everything, but it does keep you pushing through the 6-hour story until the end. Characters such as Barry, Alice, Sherriff Wheeler, and even the doctors and radio station host are all just so well written and memorable. Other story tidbits include finding manuscript pages, watching live-action episodes of “Night Springs” clearly inspired by “The Twilight Zone” and radio station bits by finding radios. It’s nice to see the story unfold outside of cutscenes and it really gives you an insight to what’s going out in Bright Falls outside of what Alan is doing. The whole premise of Alan Wake feels special to me as I originally played this living in Southern California and not really caring where it was set. Almost ten years later I now live in the PNW just outside Snoqualiamie, WA where the setting was inspired. It’s awesome to personally experience this setting and then coming back to the game, I appreciated it so much more.
The main gameplay element here is your flashlight and guns. Light is a huge role in this game as the story is centered around it and your flashlight is a weapon. You can boost the flashlights beam and a circle will get smaller on enemies and once the circle is gone, and you beamed away from the darkness, they become vulnerable and can be shot with the gun. There are easy and hard enemies, a few fast ones, and inanimate objects become enemies later on in the game such as boss fights with harvesters, cranes, trucks, and barrels. It’s interesting how the combat is designed and you have to be afraid of everything around you, even birds! The use of the flashlight and guns is just so well done with great controls and the guns feel satisfying to shoot. You always have to be on your toes and every gunfight is never the same with limited ammo, no flashlight, and then some times tons of ammo to make you feel powerful. There are even lights in the environment you can use to take the Taken down such as spotlights, floodlights, and headlights on cars in the few driving sequences.
The game, however, is extremely linear and you rarely get to stray off the beaten path. These are only seen in the car sequences where you can stop at a house or two to find collectibles and then continue on. Despite this, the heavily scripted events are fun and there’s so much variety and the pacing is spot on. Going from chaotic dark forests to a New York apartment and then the psych ward and even a cafe is a nice touch. It let you breathe.
Overall, Alan Wake is one of the best games during the Xbox 360 generation with fantastic character dialogue, an interesting story, and fun gunplay with variety in level design and great pacing. The PC version adds DirectX 10 lighting and features such as ultra-widescreen support, FOV slider, slightly better textures, and character models. Overall though, the textures still look really muddy, even during its release, and there’s obvious LOD and draw distance issues with pop in that the PC didn’t need to experience.