- slide 1 of 7
Welcome to Bright Falls
There is a heavy feeling in my gut. I'm all alone in a dark forest, armed with only a pistol and a flashlight. Somewhere, I know, a dark presence is hunting me, sniffing me out. I must press forward, but I dread doing so. I know that eventually it will catch up to me. Eventually I will round a corner and they will be waiting. Shadowy figures, their flesh replaced by darkness, axes laying heavy in their hands.
- slide 2 of 7
Story and Atmosphere
This is Alan Wake. It is a frightful game, yet it is not a horror game. It is, rather, a thriller. The opponents that you face throughout the game, mostly possessed citizens carrying knives and axes, are devious but not impossible to defeat. They'recertainly no pyramid head, and at no point does Alan Wake attempt to scare you through shock. Alan Wake is game with a very deliberate pace which slowly piles its terror on you until suddenly you find yourself scared to move on, not because you're expecting surprise but because you know, without a doubt, that the dark presence which stalks you throughout the game will soon be challenging you again.
The game's main character, Alan Wake, is a writer known for writing thrillers. This coincidence at first seems like cheap foreshadowing, but as the game unravels it becomes evident that the game's story relies heavily on the main character's skills as a writer. His ability to write is, in a sense, the reason why the game's story is so well paced. The game keeps this theme relevant by littering the game with "manuscript pages" which alternatively foreshadow future events and provide back-story for events which have already occurred. The pages were themselves written by Alan, but he can't remember having done so, and discovering how the pages came into existence helps provide the player with a connection to the story. This is an important plot device, as most of Alan Wake is spent navigating Alan through thick forests far from human contact.
- slide 3 of 7
It isn't just the manuscript pages which are well written. Alan Wake has the best characters I've encountered since Half Life 2. Alan's wife, Alice, has little time on screen but never the less appears to be a committed and loving wife. Even better is Barry, Alan's agent, who arrives after finding out that Alan is in trouble. His pudgy stance and wise-cracking nature makes it seem to be an obvious candidate for sacrifice in the name of drama, but Alan Wake isn't so dumb. Instead Barry is a frequent on-screen companion. While obviously scared shitless, Barry also manages to keep his composure, providing Alan with support throughout the game. He claims to be Alan's best friend, and his actions make it clear that his friendship is true.
- slide 4 of 7
- slide 5 of 7
The outstanding writing does not mean that gameplay has been ignored. The dark presence which opposes Alan throughout the game takes possession of people and objects, using them as tools. In doing so it covers them with shadow which renders them invulnerable. The shadows can only be destroyed by using a light source - usually a flashlight, but there are some other tools you'll get to use on occasion - when burns the shadows away, rendering the possessed person or object vulnerable.
Alan Wake is technically a third person shooter, but this mechanic makes it far more strategic than, say, Gears of War. The shadows don't burn away instantly, so you have to make decisions about which enemy to focus on. Should you try and take down the big guy who can do the most damage but can also endure more light before becoming vulnerable, or is it a better idea to take out the smaller, quicker opponents trying to flank you? Alan Wake is not really survival horror - you'll be well stocked with ammo throughout the game - but there are some extremely tense situations which require quick thinking, and there are even a few situations where you'll be forced to give up and run for your life. Alan Wake is not an easy game, and this will certainly frustrate some gamers. However, I highly recommend that you play on normal, if not hard. No game can properly terrorize if the opponents don't pose a real threat.
- slide 6 of 7
Graphics and Sound
Visually, Alan Wake is a mixed bag. The lighting effects are without a doubt the best lighting effects to ever grace an Xbox 360 game. The flashlight beam feels tangible, and the way the shadows burn off opponents as you shine your flashlight on them is pure art. Alan Wake also has beautiful, well designed levels which use graphical cues to ramp the tension up and down as the plot requires. The main knock against the game is the facial animation. Most of the game's characters appear to have been taking Botex injections. Facial movement exist, but looks strained, as if it smiling in the world of Alan Wake requires more effort than dead-lifting a pickup truck. The sound design, however, is rock solid. The voice acting is top-notch and the noises made by the darkness as it stalks you are truly heart-wrenching. This is not the kind of game you want to play in a dark room after midnight.
- slide 7 of 7
Alan Wake is a damned near perfect game. It isn't revolutionary, and at around ten hours it is rather short, but it does what it sets out to do - thrill. Alan Wake is an expertly crafted single player experience and is without a doubt the best single-player game to be released so far in 2010.