Friday, 14 May 2010

Game Review: Alan Wake (X360)

For generations now, the horror franchise is a staple in the video game industry. Many key games and characters have developed from this portion of the video game world and scare-tactics, atmosphere, gripping audio, all have infinite potential to be used in such a way as to scare the daylights out of gamers. The concept of darkness itself is quite an intriguing one because like ghosts, phantoms and such, it is a metaphorical presence. Games that encompass zombies, aliens and the like can be scary, but it is what lurks in the unknown, that is truly terrifying. Alan Wake takes you on a narrated adventure where a flashlight, a weapon of choice and your own thoughts are the only accompaniment you will get while traversing ominous forests, foraging through abandoned cabins and trying to survive against an enemy that all the way through the game, you cannot really be sure, if it is real or not. Indeed Alan Wake is an action packed, thrilling and down right scary psychological thriller that only fortunate Xbox 360 owners will get a chance for the time being, to get their hands on.

Alan Wake puts you in the shoes of yes you’ve guessed it, Mr. Wake himself. After not being able to write a new novel after a best selling hit, Alan Wake takes his wife up to a remote mountain village where he hopes peace and tranquility will give him the time and inspiration he needs to put pen to paper and create another successful novel. Unfortunately for Alan, the story he writes comes to life in this cleverly unfolding story. Alan narrates what goes on around him in very fluid prose that help push the story along while doing everything he can to uncover the secret behind the darkness trying to envelop him and his wife. The perfect blend of questions and answers help to make it really believable that Alan has no idea what is going on around him and fortunately for you, it is him that is stuck in the nightmare.

Alongside Alan Wake’s story telling are the optional, yet recommended pieces of abandoned text and parchment that lay ravaged across the game. It is made very clear that to collect this extra content you will be straying off your main path and into subsequent danger, but it is more than worthwhile as you begin to learn that Alan had already written the story that was unfolding before his own eyes and finding these scripts can help you prepare for what could potentially be coming next in the story’s thrilling build up. On top of that the game also shows off its interactivity by letting gamers tune in radio stations and turn on TV’s that offer further insight into the town and story.

After playing Alan Wake for a while, the game really reminded me of Silent Hill. Just as much as fog was your enemy in the latter, the darkness is as much of a threat here. Throughout the game Alan carries a flashlight that he can use to weaken and stop the dark figures that haunt him. When they are weakened you can take them down with whatever weapon you are holding and with the addition of awesome upgrades like flash-bang grenades, you will soon learn that using light in interesting ways will help you overcome the enemies that outnumber you. The game offers other additional weaponry like a hunting rifle and a shotgun, but once you master the flashlight and shoot mechanic, weapon choice rarely matters.

There are segments throughout the game that offer you potential light sources to hide in, ironic that you must hide in the light isn’t it, but of course these are segments where you must fend off enemies while attempting to secure a checkpoint. Unfortunately the game needs to be played on the harder difficulty if it is to be much of a serious challenge as the game offers a lot of ammunition on top of your health bar regenerating after every battle. The regenerating health bar is a huge problem in Alan Wake and I feel the game could have benefited much more from a health pack type mechanic, making survival a lot tenser as opposed to healing periodically after every fight.

While Alan Wake really turns on the scare-factor early on in the game, you will find that after the first few hours when you have adapted, that there really isn’t much else that actually takes you to the edge of your seat. The opening segment of the game really sets up an intense adventure and while it does by no means, fall flat on its face, it just hits its high point at the beginning and never really rises above that. Alan Wake excels in incredible story telling and because the fighting mechanics are so thrilling, you won’t mind that things don’t change that much, but if you were to pick a hole in this game, versatility and variety of scares could have used some work as most things become predictable and at times, rather stereotypical of the genre.

Technically Alan Wake is also very impressive. The graphics are top notch, Alan himself is not the best character design we have seen on a next gen machine, but the phenomenal atmosphere the haunted forest gives off is just so incredible. It oozes terror and tension every single time you step outside with Alan and your flashlight really feels futile amidst the engulfing darkness of the forest. I guess one of the most terrifying aspects of Alan Wake is that because there is darkness all around you, this technically means that the enemy is always stalking, hunting after you. The demons in Alan Wake hunt like raptors, circling and constantly torment you, forcing you to keep them at bay with your flashlight. This creates great tension and really forces you to move and want to find the next available flicker of light that will allow you to rest. Also like anything from the horror franchise, the musical score adds to the terrifying tone of the game, subtly creeping up your spine as you navigate throughout the game.

To be perfectly honest, the storyline is the main selling point of Alan Wake. Fortunately, it does have a very innovative, interesting and well implemented fighting mechanic as well, which helps it to promote the game even further. Alan Wake is an incredible experience, one that gamers should not miss, great horror games are few and far between but this one does a very good job at delivering tension, excitement and horror. Alan Wake wants to write a gripping tale, well here it is, alive and in motion.

Just on a side note, there are actually 4 episodes on the Internet called ‘Bright Falls – the prequel to Alan Wake’. These are very creepy and strange video segments that lead up to the actual game. They are well worth checking it for those about to jump into the game and those already completed it, some thrilling stuff going on the videos. Now go get the game!

CeX (UK) Contributor


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