If by last year you told me to sit down and play through an extensive horror game, I’d have shaken my head and hid under the nearest table I could find. However, if you’d have told me to sit and play Resident Evil 4, I’d have happily sat down and walked through the game like it was just another casual day. Alan Wake is not a game that fits the genre of survival horror, or even arguably, horror. It is a psychological thriller based around an interesting and well written character; Alan Wake, who goes out on vacation with his wife to the small coastal town of Bright Falls, where Alan’s darkest demons await him.
The game starts out with a cut scene of Alan driving frantically down a mountain road, with scenery similar to that of the game’s main setting, when all of a sudden he runs down a hitch-hiker. Alan stops and gets out his car, only to find that the man he’d hit had vanished. Classical move, Remedy Entertainment. Alan turns around to see the man he had just ran down appears behind him as a shadowy figure wielding an axe, and that’s when we learn how to run. This section of the game serves as a tutorial, as a mysterious and cliché white light descends out of nowhere to hand us a flashlight and a gun, all the while telling us that “light is their weakness.” After practising combat with a few of the shadowy pursuers, we are forced to run to a lighthouse while a huge black storm hurls objects at us from a distance and breaks bits off of the ground in front of us. As heart pounding as this would have been, I could never shake that same old ‘This feels awfully scripted.’ feeling as I predetermined where the debris would fall on the pier, and had no need for retries. After getting to the light house and once more making a break for the big ball of light, Alan wakes (Hehehe) up in his car while his wife comforts him, telling him it was just another nightmare.
Once more, we get a tonne of exposition through boring cut scenes of Alan taking his wife around the town and arguing with her about how he didn’t want to write his next book. Way to go, Remedy. It’s not long after this when Alan takes his wife up to their cabin, after been given the keys buy a mysterious old woman dressed in black, that night falls on Bright Falls (I’ll stop.) After Alan gets into an argument with his wife and storms out in a hissy fit, he hears Alice scream from the cabin, and the same swarm of darkness Alan saw in his nightmare, not ten minutes into the game, surrounds the house as the generator suspiciously dies. Oddly enough, Alan’s wife has a phobia of the dark. Isn’t that just convenient for us?
The game continues in episodic chunks as we venture through Bright Falls trying to uncover the truth behind Alice’s disappearance. As Alan goes deeper and deeper into the mystery, we uncover segments of one of Alan’s book, entitled ‘Departure’, none of which he ever remembers writing. It then occurs to Alan that he himself is the character in his own novel come to life, and as we go through the game, we find more and more of these manuscript pages. This serves primarily as a way to offer more exposure to the story through in-game collectibles, which is something I really didn’t like that much. As practical as exposure through narrative is, and as much as I enjoy a good story, I truly didn’t enjoy listening to Alan drone on and tell us what he’s doing, when we’re the ones making him do it. Still, at the right times, Sam Lake’s writing shines through, as Alan also gives us some back story about his character, and creates the perfect atmosphere for the game’s location, which has a ridiculous amount of pretty set-pieces to look at. It needs to be said that Alan Wake is definitely one of the most beautiful games to come to the PC ever, even for a release from 2010. Mikael Kasurinen did a spectacular job with designing the rural area that is Bright Falls, all the while getting the lighting of the game on point, and really giving it that significance it needed. Huge emphasis has gone on the light and dark mechanics in the game, and of course, they had to. Combat revolves around Alan’s flash light, as you can only shoot the enemies once their shield of darkness has been depleted. The horror elements that eventually give you a little jumpscare or make your heart beat a little faster than usual are all done well due to the fantastic lighting, but more importantly, when you’re in the dark, you can’t see shit.
Overall, Alan Wake compares to quite a few games I’ve seen in the past. Taking elements from games like Alone In The Dark (As unpopular as that game was, it was still a good game.) where Alan must explore the environments to try to find things he can use to his advantage, and with a similar combat system, Alan Wake really manages to put you in some tight positions that require quick thinking and initiative to get out of. But, unfortunately, it still never rids the feeling that everything you’re doing is planned out, and the game is holding your hand through a tight corridor on your first day at school.
In closing, Alan Wake is no Resident Evil, but it stands on its own two legs as far as story and gameplay mechanics go, with impressive visuals to boot. But with little to no re-playability factor, Multiplayer, or anything else to do but run through set pieces and fight the same enemies as you have been all throughout the game, it’s really only worth picking up if you’re bored.
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