Monday, 23 May 2011

Review: Alan Wake

First shown in 2005, Alan Wake is a game that has been in development for nearly 5 years. Over this time, it's suffered overhauls and cancellation on the PC. Many will ask if it was all worth the wait, and I dare say that it certainly was.

The game's story centres around it's titular character, Alan Wake, an accomplished writer who has been suffering from a major case of writer's block as well as intense insomnia for the past two years. In an attempt to clear his head, he decides to take a vacation with his wife to the remote forest town of Bright Falls. However, the peaceful holiday is disrupted when strange things start to happen. After the disappearance of his wife, Wake suddenly finds himself in a car wreck with no memory of the past week. At the same time, some of the residents of Bright Falls seem to have gone crazy with a strange dark twist in their behaviour, and he starts to find pages of a manuscript, which he does not remember writing, that seems to be coming true. The game puts a heavy emphasis on the idea of light vs. dark, the affected residents appear to have been taken over by darkness, when they start to attack Wake while being susceptible to any form of light from any source.

The controls are like any standard third person shooter, left stick moves the player, right stick controls camera, with left and right triggers handling the gunplay. Where the game play differs from the standard, is the weapons at your disposal and the way in which you use them. You are given a gun and a torch, normally enemies are bulletproof but they can be weakened by light, so you use the torch to weaken them and use your guns to finish them off. A squeeze of the left trigger zooms in and “focuses” beam of light, which drains more battery but stuns your enemies quicker, making for an easier kill.

This basic combat system is really easy to learn and master, but this doesn't make the game easy. There were many times that I felt very tense, running through the darkness and trees, with dozens of enemies surrounding me, towards the one singular lamp that would save my life.

There is also an attention to detail in the game that is almost indescribable. Trees rustle in the wind with such realism and chaos. The way the controls flow and how Wake animates make it feel like he is a real person and not just some avatar for the player, each turn and swerve that you make is just fast or slow enough for the situation, at no point did I feel frustrated due to the controls.

That is not to say that there were not moments of frustration. A few times, I felt cheated due to there being cheap enemy placement, or a case of a constant tirade of enemies when I felt I deserved a rest for a few seconds at least. The camera can be a little annoying as well, constantly shifting either side of Wake, depending on which way you last turned. I was very often clicking in the right stick just so that the camera was on his right, because that's the way I prefer to play. These flaws are just nit-picking though, and when a game has this much attention to detail, it's very easy to lose sight of these issues.

Many of the little details are in fact what make this game brilliant. There are a huge number of collectibles, which will have you coming back to the game after completion to get everything. The best though has to be the manuscript pages, when found, you can immediately read each page which gives you a small hint into the back stories of characters as well as small previews as to what is to come. Making an excellent and unique way of conveying the story. What is also unique about its storytelling is the structure. Each chapter of the game is conveyed almost like a TV show. The game is split up into 6 episodes with each one ending on a cliff-hanger and starting with a "previously on Alan Wake" to sum up the events of the game. This is not to put down its use of standard story telling either, the voice acting in cut scenes is excellent and is very well written, though heavily inspired by Stephen King, with many twists and turns along the way that will keep you surprised up until the conclusion.

Overall Alan Wake is a great game. With an intense, story which is told brilliantly through its unique methods as well as its great voice acting and controls and combat that flows almost perfectly. The few flaws in this game rarely detract from the overall experience. I would advise that all Xbox 360 owners at least give this game a try


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