RETRO – What can be worst for a bestseller writer, then losing his creativity, and not being able to write anything over two years? Well, what about – apparently – both losing your mind and wife as well in the eerie little town of Bright Falls?
That’s what happens to Alan Wake, a famous horror writer, the hero of the game made by makers of Max Payne: Remedy Software. The game was first announced at E3 2005, but Remedy – being a small team – couldn’t finish it until now. The long wait paid off for both the development team and us: Alan Wake is an excellent survival horror.
Alone in the dark
The story begins somehow similar the first Silent Hill: after driving too fast, the main protagonist runs over with his car a complete stranger. Alan gets out from the car, and investigates his surroundings, while his “victim” (who appears to be some kind of an “undead”) gets up, and gives him a good chase with an axe in his hands. Alan almost gets killed, but of course, it’s only a nightmare – which is the recurring theme of the whole game.
One of the strongest points of the game is its top-notch narrative, which is reminiscent of the books of Stephen King and there is also some David Lynch movies and Lost flavours to it. For example, the town of Bright Falls is unmistakably similar to Twin Peaks, with typical places and folks, like an old local radio host, the mentally challenged coffee pub servant girl, who is a fanatic of Alan Wake, and the seemingly crazy old lady, who is worried about the lights all the time. Also, the tormented and sympathetic Alan Wake is a very likeable hero: he’s like a cross between James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2, and Gabriel Knight from the adventure games of the same name. The other characters are interesting as well: nobody is really wicked, or evil, since the town folks are only possessed by the supernatural force called the “Dark Presence.” The main evil behind all the events isn’t really shaped up, but Remedy has confirmed that Alan Wake is only the first season of a bigger story, opening the door for future sequels.
Those bloodthirsty “Taken” are more dangerous and harder to kill, than the zombies in other horror games (like Resident Evil for example): some of them can move super fast, and can massacre us in no time. Speaking of those monsters: the scare factor of the game is generally pretty good, even if it’s still a long way from Japanese horror classics like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame. Like a good beverage, which is better served cold, Alan Wake is better played alone, and in a dark room, with at least a 5.1 audio system.
And there must be light!
Light plays a very significant role in the basic gameplay and combat strategy as well. The Taken” cannot stand light, so Alan must always use either a flashlight or an environmental light source to slow them down, or completely stun them before killing them or getting away from them. If we are out of any kind of light source, it’s almost impossible to fight the Taken effectively, since they are so fast and brutal. Also – like in classic survival horror games – ammo is scarce, so we better aim precisely and it’s so much easier with the “lights on”.
Besides being a weapon, some light sources (street lamps) serves as checkpoints and healing points. We never find any health packs in this game since Alan is healed with the light of street lamps. Also, if we don’t get hit, our health bar slowly regenerates. The difficulty of the game is pretty accurate: “normal” isn’t too easy either, but the real challenge is the hard mode. If you play through hard mode, you can access the “nightmare”, which a nice option for masochists.
Old movie star, with a facelift
Since Alan Wake was so long in preparation, those five years weren’t kind to the engine of the game and it shows. The game is pretty enough, but it’s still looking more previous generation, then the current one. This is especially visible on the faces of the characters and even the main protagonist has some wooden features and a strange, vacant look in his eyes like a blind man.
The environments are quite nice, especially the eerie woods, but there are also some bland textures, and many buildings aren’t really special looking or interesting either. All in all the game looks OK, but the visuals are far from being the strongest point of the game. The audio is noticeably better, with good voice actors and an excellent soundtrack with some music from some famous movies.
Alan Wake is an excellent, moody survival horror, with top-notch plot and a memorable hero. The graphics are a little old, and the gameplay gets somehow repetitive towards the end, but it can be forgiven. It’s not the best Remedy can do (Max Payne was more of an accomplishment in its time), but still, damn close to it.
+ Excellent story with likeable hero
+ The Taken are memorable enemies
+ Gameplay is exciting
– Graphics were a little old even in 2010
– Gameplay is a little repetitive towards the end
– No sequel!
Developer: Remedy Software
Genres: horror TPS
Publication: May 14, 2010