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Customer Review

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Outer Limits for gamers, 31 May 2010
This review is from: Alan Wake (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
Coming into this game expecting traditional survival horror is likely to leave many disappointed. At first the dialogue seemed to balance between average and shoddy, occasionally cheesy and jarring to initial preconceptions. It's only after a while that it becomes apparent that the game shares more in common with a straight to TV Stephen King adaption than any truly spine chilling horror. Once this realisation occurs it makes the game much easier to absorb and enjoy as Remedy really play to the strengths of this sub-genre of horror.

The concept behind the plot of Alan Wake is quite unique and certainly one of its biggest appeals. A writer whose story comes to life around him gives Remedy many chances to play with plot concepts and the player's anticipation. Finding manuscript pages throughout the game often cues the player into what is up ahead and adds nicely to the tension when you realise that some pages are about to lead you towards a great evil. It ties into the episodic television series nature of the game providing a neat and hard fought trick of combining story telling narrative with the direction and presentation of the game.

Alan Wake himself is an interesting protagonist, one who is not always likeable but has enough weakness in him to still feel very human. He's certainly not an invincible superman, whilst understandable concessions have been made that allow you to take an axe swing or two without instant death. It's always encouraging to see developers explore characters that are not muscle bound heroes or top heavy, skimpily dressed heroines who walk the path between sympathetic and arrogant. Alan has a lot of problems in his life and is far removed from the perfect all action hero stereotype so often played upon in gaming.

The game crafts a fairly well tuned sense of horror, occasionally cheap flash bang shocks are used but for the most part a spooky atmosphere is created to provide uneasiness and tension in the player. Whilst it fails to reach the heights of horror genre highs such as Silent Hill 2, Resident Evil and Project Zero/Fatal Frame it certainly gives enough atmosphere to the player to make it rewarding.

There are references abound throughout the game that provide pleasure to those familiar with horror and thriller media and culture. There are some very obtuse references to Stephen King and his novels from the off, event some of the more subtle ones including some very clever nods in the direction to the likes of Hitchcock. However even the majority of these references actually get name checked by the characters. This would have added an extra degree of enjoyment to the game as Remedy pays homage to some of the genre masters if they hadn't beaten the player about the head with them. Some of the obligatory nods are unsurprising given the narrative direction of playing a horror writer but more subtlety like the Twilight Zone homage "Night Springs" would have been welcome.

Unfortunately the game makes occasional unnecessary concessions to gameplay mechanics that drag the player away from the narrative and atmosphere. Having 100 coffee flasks dotted around the game world is an unnecessary collecting trope that is guaranteed to unintentionally break the fourth wall and pull the achievement hungry out of this immersive world. Perhaps if this had come before Heavy Rain which proved that traditional gaming mechanics weren't required to create something compelling there would be less of a problem. Regardless, unnecessary steps like this take away from the player suspending their disbelief and entering Remedy's atmospheric world fully. A game shouldn't reward you when your goal within the story is to get from point A to point B to save someone as quickly as possible by putting some ammo, manuscript pages and a coffee flask at point C. It may add a sweeter smell to any repeated play-through but collection tasks, especially in this case, are an unnecessary and almost cynical ploy to increase longevity, even if the game is brief enough to warrant it.

Alan Wake is a fairly short adventure, booking in around 10-12 hours of gameplay with an extremely linear path. There are no real opportunities to explore the world of Bright Fall which is a shame, instead the player is mostly funnelled down narrow paths to the next checkpoint. This feels like a missed opportunity, especially in the daylight sections where the option to explore the area when in a vehicle almost seems so tangible it could be made available. The linearity does work for those moments where Remedy has created some well directed set pieces but these are not frequent enough and are smattered with a lot of wandering through forest, lighting up and shooting dark spawn.

To kill your adversaries requires shining your torch on an enemy to remove the "darkness" until they are weak enough to be shot. It's an entertaining mechanic that works well but does outstay its welcome towards the end. The use of light and dark on a visual level however is very impressive with shadows tricking players into seeing apparitions that are not there. In fact the game excels visually throughout and comes close to being a benchmark for the 360. Bright Falls is realised exceptionally well and the style is naturalistic and down-played yet still awe-inspiring.

The question of whether this game is worth the five year wait is virtually moot, most people would struggle to find a game that could live up to the level of anticipation created by such a long timeline. However Remedy have concocted a reasonable survival horror game that may not be an essential triple A but certainly stands out in a hardware generation starved of quality in this genre. Just expect that this is more House on the Haunted Hill than The Shining.
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G. Hanks
(REAL NAME)   

Location: United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 208,276