Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Alan Wake on PC Review

I recently played through Alan Wake. Going into it, I didn't know what to expect. I have heard some good things in general about it as it was out on consoles for a while before its fairly recent PC release. However, I wasn't keen enough to look into just what this game is all about as it didn't really affect me at the time. I can now say that this game flew WAY under the radar. This is a game that should be a highlight of your recent gaming endeavors.

Alan Wake is awesome. What is so good about it? Well, the game itself is kind of a halfway between Dead Space and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, two games I have very much enjoyed and for very different reasons. Alan Wake is more action than Amnesia - afterall, you do get weapons and can kill the baddies. On the other hand, it's nowhere near Dead Space with your futuristic arsenal of ass-kicking. Until the later game, your main weapon is a simple pistol that pretty much takes a full clip to kill the "medium" baddies. The Shotgun and Rifle round out your gun choices, with a few other tricks like flash-bangs, flares, and a flare gun... not to mention your trusty flashlight!

 Alan Wake is based around the concept of darkness. There is a darkness in the lake; it is evil, and it wants out. Almost all the enemies are corrupted, dark versions of real people you meet in the game, which gives those encounters an extra chilling effect. The story starts with the protagonist, Alan Wake, going to some little town out in the mountainous woods with his wife. Alan, or Al as he's often referred to, is a writer suffering from writer's block, so his wife thought going out to this relaxing little town could be of help. You wind up at this cabin on a small island on the lake, where things quickly take a turn for the worse. And by "for the worse," I mean things go batshit insane.

 If you played Bastion, you probably enjoyed the narration. In Alan Wake, Al is the narrator. Quite often he will describe his thoughts as you come across various things as an internal monologue. Generally this works very well and helps enhance the story. On top of this, you collect manuscript pages of, well, a story of what's happening. You can access these in your menu and Al will read out the pages. I don't want to put any spoilers in this review, but these pages are central to the game. The point is, the game manages to keep you interested with this narration as it gives you something to focus on when maybe not a lot is actually happening in the game. It definitely adds a lot to the character of Al, making him much more believable and it helps create a bit of a bond with him.

The game is split into day time and night time. The day time is when you meet the sheriff, the doctor, the waitress... and the night is when you fight. Again, without trying to spoil anything, the short of the story is that you are trying to get Al's wife back. You're led by the nose a little bit, for a little while, but then about halfway through the game steps it up a bit and Al seems to be more driven to end his nightmarish adventures and things get very intense.

During the nights, you generally explore an area. The game is not open world, but the levels are large enough and so well designed that it does feel fairly open. I never really felt like I was "on rails" or anything, and often you can go off the beaten path to find manuscripts or additional items. At all times during the night, Al has his flashlight turned on. It acts as a cross-hair during combat, as Al always aims right down the beam. The enemies are shrouded in darkness, so you have to use your flashlight to burn off the darkness and make the enemies vulnerable to weapon fire. The flashlight can run 100% of the time normally, but you can hit a button to "focus" the beam and burn the darkness faster - however, this also consumes battery power. If you stop focusing, the batteries will recharge, but you also find many batteries and can just swap them in on the fly as needed.

 The game, sadly, doesn't have many puzzles. Off the top of my head I can only think of 1. I think that is a bit of a shame, but fortunately the tense atmosphere and often chaotic combat keeps things interesting. It's also a heavily story driven game, which is something I definitely appreciate. In fact, I have to say, the way the game ended was rather impressive. Not exactly a happy ending, but appropriate. Bittersweet would describe it best.

 There's a few levels of the game that are just outrageously fun, there's levels that are very creepy, there's a little mix up with the action gameplay here and there. Probably the worst executed aspect to the game is the driving controls... the cars handle horridly, but I don't mind. It's a pretty minor aspect of a couple levels that just switch things up.

I'm not big on number scores, so all I can say is that if you like "horror", "thriller", and "action" games then this is a must play. If you don't believe me, here's a video I shot of one level up until I was murdered. Very minor spoilers, if any (but proceed with caution).

This video is somewhat spoiler-ish. It's basically a full level near the end of the game, though it's not going to spoil the interesting story bits: