Alan Wake Xbox 360 Review

July 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher – Microsoft – Developer – Remedy Entertainment – Genre – Action/Horror – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 15+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

Stephen King is one of the most imaginative and bestselling writers in the world. It’s really quite surprising that more games haven’t been inspired by his work, or that he hasn’t been involved in any gaming stories himself, although surely he’s been approached on a number of different occasions to pen such a story.

Even if developer Remedy hadn’t of spoken of their Stephen King inspiration, it’s clear to see that they were very much inspired by his writing when putting together the story of Alan Wake. It has the sort of bizarre imagination that you could imagine King dreaming up, and thus the story could quite easily have come from the pages of one of his books. The premise sees Alan (a bestselling novelist) and his wife Alice going to the small town of Bright Falls for a hopefully placid holiday, but when they get there things start becoming overly weird. Alice is abducted and Wake begins to find pages from a book manuscript that he can’t remember writing; it’s therefore one part mystery and one part psychological horror. The episodically structured story is most intriguing, very well voiced and has some superb revelations as the truth becomes less murky for the tortured and well developed novelist character.

The game itself is psychological horror, although this isn’t a slow paced horror game in the same manner as, say, the original Resident Evil as it has plenty of enemy encounters for you to deal with. Also, in a nice change, the game isn’t particularly violent as enemies disappear in a yellow and bloodless flash, although the sense of dread that the well developed world evokes is something else entirely different.

Wake is surprisingly adept with a gun. He can also sprint and dodge out of harm's way.

Bright Falls is one of those small weird towns that Stephen King could have quite easily dreamt up. The atmosphere of the town and its surrounding forest has been expertly engineered into the game – swirling mist, bright lights in the distance, ominous wording painted on surroundings that can only be seen when a torchlight is put across it and more. All the latter collectively makes Bright Falls a memorable and eerie place.

The enemies are also memorable and eerie. They say some rather strange stuff and killing them can only be done by first shining a light on them and then shooting them until they become nothing more than a yellow flash, leaving behind no evidence that they actually existed. This light versus darkness mechanic is an original twist in a horror game and is one of Alan Wake’s most successful ideas – using torchlight and other sources of light to extinguish the darkness that surrounds them is very satisfying indeed. You regularly have a said torch in hand, in which pressing a button will strengthen its beam and deplete its energy, and whilst the torch recharges slowly, when in a bit of a bind and you need light quickly, popping in some more Energizer batteries (product placement, of course, but it does make things feel all the more real) will do the trick.

Other enemies come in the form of objects in the environments that are controlled by the dark presence. Having things lobbed at you, in what has to be the some of the worst outlet of anger I have ever seen, results in some memorable moments, but such objects can also be destroyed by focusing light on them until they disperse into dust. It’s just a shame that there’s no proper boss encounters as such – using light sources in imaginative ways against tougher enemies is something that Remedy should seriously think about if Alan Wake is to become a franchise.

To get back on track, I’ve already mentioned the torch beam as a source of light, although there’s also light sources in the environment such as giant spotlights and lights which can be switched on or swivelled around to burn your enemies up as if they are a couple of feet away from that big glowing fireball in the sky. As for your own equipment, the flare gun and flash grenades are particularly satisfying to use and really do the job when enemies are coming at you thick and fast or you need a quick saviour when health (rechargeable like always, but rises quicker when under a pool of light) is close to zero and things are looking bleak for the poor writer.

There’s driving, too, and, whilst it isn’t a regularity to be behind the wheel, it’s serviceable enough when it does appear. As it’s just not as fun as it should be, driving, however, isn’t exactly the reason that Alan Wake will be remembered for. There’s still satisfaction to be had in using vehicle headlights to burn away the darkness, and it’s a nice change of pace from all that on-foot horror.

Enemy ambushes will sometimes force you to make the most of your light sources just in order to grab yourself a breather.

For those who like hunting for collectible items in their games, there are manuscript pages to find and coffee flasks. The scattered manuscript pages are an interesting inclusion as they further flesh the story out and you’ll often learn of things that are to happen later on. There’s not even any spoiler alerts, but I think it’s a great way to add some tension to the story and to fill in some of the gaps, so to think of these pages as spoilers would be completely missing the point.

Visually, Alan Wake is a beautiful and atmospheric game. The lighting is some of the best I’ve ever seen and the environments are picturesque during the day, whilst they’re less so at night, with swirling mist and foreboding shadows. The visuals are certainly successful at drawing you into the game and giving you a real sense of place. It’s very much like a Stephen King backdrop come to life.

Five years is certainly a long time to wait to end up disappointed with a game upon its eventual arrival, but fortunately Alan Wake is far from a disappointment. The story is wonderfully intriguing and very well paced, the light versus darkness makes the combat feel refreshing, and it’s very much like a Stephen King book in gaming form. I’ll be looking most forward to the downloadable content, although I hope the poor sales haven’t ended any chances of Alan Wake becoming a future franchise.

If only they had managed to get an endorsement from Stephen King himself published on the cover of the box…