[Game Review] Alan Wake (Xbox 360)

System: Xbox 360 (Also on PC)
Developer: Remedy
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Action Thriller

When Alan Wake was first announced, gamers were ecstatic. It looked to be a unique, refreshing and innovative story-driven game with a fantastic premise, creepy environments, and some very good ideas. Then the game, for whatever reason, failed to find a publisher. Remedy had a decent amount of support and hype behind their game, and I never quite understood why no publisher had scooped up the rights for what was clearly a very promising title. The game fell out of the media’s eye and off of the gamers’ radars, presumably falling into development limbo.

After some amount of time passes without hearing any word on Wake, it explodes back onto the scene with news of finally securing a publisher, and that publisher was Microsoft. Armed with a new partner, Remedy was finally ready to release their game.

Review:

In Alan Wake, you take control of a successful author struggling to write a new book. He and his wife are sharing a nice vacation together, in the small mountainside village of the cleverly named Bright Falls. However, as luck would have it, things start going awry as soon as the couple arrives. A very mysterious woman hands the two a key to the cabin they rented, and as soon as they show up, things go right down hill. A series of events lead to Alan’s wife falling off of a cliff and their cabin disappearing into thin air, come to find out that it hasn’t existed for several years according to the locals.

It’s mysteries and unexpected events like this that really drive Alan Wake and make it a very engulfing experience. And it’s a good thing the story is so well-executed, because in terms of gameplay there just isn’t enough to sustain the game on it’s own. Alan Wake plays like a cross between Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, with likeness more akin to the latter thanks to the heavy focus on use of a flashlight. It is worth noting however, that both of the sources for Alan Wake are much better at doing what Remedy borrowed from the. RE4’s over-the-shoulder camera and combat far surpass that of Wake, and Shattered Memories flashlight mechanic is insanely superior, both effectively and graphically.

Early on in the game, the unique combat of shining your light on enemies to break a protective barrier made out of darkness before blowing them to hell is quite interesting and very fun. Problems arise, however, when you realize things don’t change much throughout the experience, with the exception of gaining more powerful flashlights and guns alongside a few items like flairs.

Still, things are generally made more exciting by the fact that you’re pretty much always running from something if the sun is down. Couple that with the fact that Alan Wake’s story, which seems lightly inspired by Secret Window, is one that will grab onto you with a firm grip and won’t let go until the very end and you’ve got something you can sit down with for a few hours at a time without getting bored or tired of the gameplay, no matter how repetitive it may be.

Alan Wake’s visuals were definitely dated upon its release, which is understandable since the game was first announced way back in 2005, meaning many technological enhancements and new engines had been built that could’ve better supported the game by the time it came out, but not much seemed to change in the five years the game spent cooking. That’s not to say it looks bad, but a few textures are noticeably murky, and the lighting effects are no where near as good as they should’ve been. Which brings me back to the Silent Hill comparison I drew earlier. Shattered Memories, running on the Wii, is a far more graphically impressive package than Alan Wake in terms of lighting effects. The flashlight in Shattered Memories looks real, whereas Wake’s operates more like a concentrated pointer, and really doesn’t look like a real flashlight beam at all. Overall though, the visuals are just fine despite the dated appearance.

The audio is the part of the game’s presentation that really shines. Professional and extremely well-done voice acting helps bring the characters to life through excellent scripting, and the music and sound effects bring the whole package together in a very engulfing manner. When you play Alan Wake, you’ll often be sucked right into the adventure thinks to the awesome audio work.

Final Words:

Had Alan Wake released four years ago, it would’ve been an absolutely amazing game. However, thanks to many gameplay and graphical advancements made since 2005, Alan Wake is simply a great game. And if it weren’t for the interesting and immersive story, Alan Wake would only be a good game.

Thankfully, the writing is so well-done and executed so wonderfully, that Alan Wake plays like an excellent book that you just can’t put down. It’s a very satisfying experience with top notch voice actors, and though the game is fairly short overall, the promise of downloadable content helps Alan Wake’s heart ticking even after you’ve finished the campaign. I think it could’ve been a few hours longer, but at the end of the game I felt I’d gotten my money out of it.

Score: 8.0/10 (Great)

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