Alan Wake has been a long time coming.
Originally announced by developer Remedy at the 2005 E3 media summit, it began life as a multi-platform open-world action game. In the five years since then, the title has been chopped and changed considerably, resulting in a far more linear action experience which leans toward survival horror. All in all, it appears these changes have been for the better.
The premise behind Alan Wake will be familiar to fans of Steven King novels and pulp horror stories. The eponymous hero is a famed author suffering from a serious case of writer’s block. Searching for inspiration, Wake and his wife embark on a relaxing retreat in the remote town of Bright Falls, situated in America’s picturesque Pacific North-West. Within hours of arriving, unnatural events begin to occur and before long Wake discovers himself alone in the woods, his car crashed and his wife missing.
Alan Wake’s fiction is nothing if not compelling. The game is presented as a six-part television show, complete with opening and closing credits, as well as a short recap before each chapter. This episodic format had previously been utilised in 2008’s ill-fated Alone in the Dark reboot, however Alan Wake is the first game to really nail it. The pacing is near flawless; each episode throws up its own set of questions and answers, and finishes on brilliant cliffhanger. It’s a gripping formula, and one which should lend itself well to the game’s upcoming downloadable content.
Narrative is delivered mainly through pre-rendered cut-scenes and character dialogue, though the protagonist will also find pages of a mysterious manuscript that he doesn’t remember writing. Reading these pages gives the player an indication of what to expect next, and it quickly becomes apparent that Wake’s writing has a prophetic quality to it. The voice acting and writing throughout are gloriously melodramatic, completely in keeping with the B-Movie aesthetic which pervades the game. Alan Wake is clichéd and tacky in parts, but it’s endearing, and disbelief is willingly suspended throughout. It is a shame that the character animations are not particularly well done, but overall this doesn’t detract heavily from the playful discourse. Additionally, the cast of characters is fleshed out nicely in the manuscript pages, and radio broadcasts, the latter of which also serve to provide a broader perspective on the strange happenings in Bright Falls.
It should be said that the real star of Alan Wake is the setting. The town of Bright Falls is the most brilliantly evocative location in a game since BioShock’s Rapture. The attention to detail Remedy has given to the town and its surroundings is commendable, and there is significant reward to be had in examining the game’s varied locales. The sense of cabin fever elicited by the town is compounded by the looming mountains and encroaching forest that enclose it. It’s a credit to the developer that one never feels completely at ease at any point in the game. And all this despite some of the most shameless and distracting product placement seen in a game. For a taste of the atmosphere that defines Alan Wake, look no further than the excellent prequel web series, Bright Falls.
Click to page two to read the conclusion of this review.
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