Finnish development studio Remedy Entertainment has been working on Alan Wake for more than five years. The game was first announced at E3 in 2005, and since then it has had Xbox 360 owners enraptured. In the years leading up to its final release, the title drifted in and out of the spotlight, sporadically reappearing to remind us of its existence before all anticipation died completely. It really has been a long time coming and with Microsoft getting behind the marketing and hype, the level of expectation is huge. Has the five year wait been worth it?
The eponymous character, Alan Wake, is a talented and published author who has been battling with writer’s block for two years. In an attempt to coax his creativity back into existence, his wife Alice takes him to the small town of Bright Falls – an idyllic community tucked into the mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest in America. While there, Alice disappears and Alan is plunged into a nightmarish search for her before an evil entity can claim her forever – an entity which Alan has brought to life in the pages of a novel he has no recollection of writing at all. The plot is steeped in Stephen King and Clive Barker tropes, and fans of either author will revel in what Remedy Entertainment has produced.
Central to the plot and gameplay is the theme of light and dark. At night time, the entire area of Bright Falls becomes a victim to this evil entity that Alan has penned into existence. The evil is darkness personified and the only defence against it is light. The quintessential narrative device, the struggle of light against dark, good versus evil, has been taken literally by Remedy, and in doing so they have crafted a compelling game mechanic that celebrates the essence of all horror and thriller novels.
Alan Wake plays out over six episodes of varying length, and the game in its entirety will take about 12 to 14 hours to complete. Each succeeding episode starts off with a “Previously on Alan Wake” TV-styled recap of the events so far. It’s an unnecessary but nice touch that adds to the already dramatic narrative and creates a feeling of segmented progression through a much larger story.
Alan Wake is essentially a third-person action game. As far as action games go, this one is a solid experience. This comes as no surprise considering the developer’s previous experience with games like Max Payne. The shooting mechanic is simple but fresh: the enemies (called “the Taken”) are literally shrouded in darkness and possessed by the evil. This shroud is impenetrable to ordinary gunfire until a light source is shone directly onto it. Light literally burns through enemies’ protective barriers leaving them open to bullets. This also means that weapons like flair guns and flashbang grenades are particularly devastating as they combine both intense light and firepower into one. Generally the guns are weighty and the sound effects for each add to the feeling of impact they have on the enemies. Aiming and controls are responsive and well mapped out. The same cannot be said for the few driving sequences found in the game as the cars handle abominably and the attention to detail in the sound of the guns seems to have been lost in thecreation of the sounds for the vehicles.