Alan Wake, first announced back in 2005 and now in my reviewing hands, is the tale of a writer searching for the wife that the darkness of the small town Bright Falls has taken from him. Already, you can see that Alan Wake has great focus on the powers of darkness, as well as the opposing power that is light. As Alan, players control the power of light in their hands in the form of a simple flashlight which, alongside a gun, may be all he needs to save his beloved wife, Alice.
“My name is Alan Wake. I’m a writer,” says the protagonist as he introduces himself at the beginning of the game. Players start off the game lost, alone and confused. As the result of speeding, Alan hits a hitchhiker unknowingly, where after a series of events occurs, he realizes he’s living out the story of a novel he’s written. The skyline is dark and the lighthouse is the only place to go for safety. Alan heads to the lighthouse only to wake up and realize that it was all a dream. He wakes up in his car, docked to a boat on which the small town Bright Falls can be seen in the distance. It’s there he and his wife are vacationing, where hopefully a spark will go off in Alan’s head, curing the writer’s block he’s had for the past couple of years. However, it is also there where Alice is taken from Alan by an unexplainable darkness, all penned down by himself in a story he doesn’t remember writing, thus beginning the story of a game named Alan Wake.
As the game begins, you’re introduced to the gameplay mechanics of Alan Wake. Just because you have a gun, I can assure you this game is only semi-shooter. Believe it or not, Alan’s best weapon is nothing other than a flashlight running off Energizer batteries. Enemies are shrouded in a cloak of darkness, protecting them from any form of hurt that you may try and sick onto them. In order to vaporize that shroud, players must aim their flashlights at the enemy until their shroud (indicated by a closing circle) vanishes. On some enemies, it takes longer to vaporize, and some much shorter. After it disappears, the player can attack the enemy with whatever weapon they prefer until their bodies disperse into the wind. What makes using your flashlight interesting is that its battery drains as you use it, so when there are multiple enemies to be killed, you’ll find yourself loading in batteries or running and dodging waiting for your battery to restore itself. At first, using the ‘flashlight, then gun’ mechanic was a little iffy by me. I wasn’t used to it. After you kill so many of them, though, you’ll actually come to like and enjoy it – especially with the more challenging foes.
While players have a flashlight for the bigger part of the game, there are times when Alan is flashlight-less, or has other options available to him. Players will occasionally run into generators, small construction lights, or pick up weapons like a flashbang and flare that they can use to rip the shrouds off of multiple enemies at once.
Who exactly are you fighting, though? Most of the enemies you kill are regular people, but possessed by darkness and equipped with a furious fist or axe. They’re called “The Taken”, for reasons you can probably piece together by reading the beginning of this paragraph. You’ll come to find important figures in the game as enemies during some point – whom are all unwillingly possessed. These guys could probably be tagged as Alan Wake‘s version of boss fights, as they guys are usually much, much harder to kill.
Now, I say “most of the enemies” are regular people, because not all of them are actually people. Crows and poltergeist objects also need to be taken down in Alan Wake. There are two boss fights dedicated to introducing the two – where in one situation you have to take down a sky of crows and in another a giant, killer bulldozer.
Environmentally, Alan Wake is gorgeous. For the most part, you’ll play through various forests and green surroundings where everything is paved out miraculously well. There’s a set road for you to take, but the game’s not so linear that you won’t come across forks in the road or anything. There’s usually a lot of exploration, secrets, and goodies to be found in Alan Wake. With your flashlight, sometimes you’ll find disturbing messages on the wall and arrows guiding players to a secret chest, which can only be seen when the light is shined upon it.
There’s a lot to find, too, because there’s a lot to play. Alan’s adventure takes place over the course of six episodes, all of which start and end just as a TV show would. Each new episode provides a recap of the last episode and at the end of each, a song is played as the game fades out and shows off the logo. Each recap is accompanied by scenes from the previous episode with Alan providing narrative as to what happened. It adds to the feeling that it’s more than just a game, but something greater.
What I enjoyed about Alan Wake the most was definitely the story and the game’s dependency on light. Not only will you find yourself caring for what goes on, but you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat playing, urging to find out what happens next. It’s emotionally engaging, enthralling, and genuinely distinguished from other titles. After you get to know Alice, Barry, and other characters close to Alan, you’ll find yourself knowing them, as well. They’re memorable, just as the game itself. It’s a mature and brave plot that plays out like a movie, and Remedy’s many years of hard work are all clearly displayed on screen.
Not only is the plot well done, but the game really knows how to put a scare into you. There are so many situations where you’ll be lurking the area only to be startled by three shrouded enemies popping up from out of no where behind you. It’s a natural chill. It’s a game that you will want to play alone in the dark.
Alan Wake doesn’t struggle when it comes to shining the light. It’s is an amazing game that I would aptly suggest any Xbox 360 owner purchase. Its small-town-with-the-lights-out story, light-mandatory gameplay, and memorable cast are all part of a darkness worth defeating. If that’s not enough, maybe the fact that it’ll put a few scares into your system might help. Remedy’s crafted something amazing here – a magical experience that will have you wondering what really goes bump in the night.
Alan Wake was reviewed on an Xbox 360. The game was played to completion. Alan Wake launches for Xbox 360 in North America on May 18, 2010 and in Europe on March 14, 2010 for an MSRP of $59.99.