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Alan Wake

 

Alan Wake

ESRB: Teen - T
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Horror
 
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Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Official Alan Wake Game Site

Features

Players: 1
1.65 MB to Game Save
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p
In-Game Dolby Digital

Even since I was a youngster, I have always had this enthusiasm for horror and thriller type games. Whether it be Konami’s Silent Hill franchise, EA’s Dead Space, or most recently THQ’s Metro 2033, I always enjoy a good scare. Some of these games might not always generate favorable reviews; but more often than not they manage to effectively accomplish their goal: scare the bejeebers out of us. Along comes Microsoft’s Alan Wake which has seemingly been in production for an eternity. Advertised as a Psychological Thriller, it has been compared to some of the aforementioned games and it is one of the more anticipated titles of early 2010. I still recall watching some of the brief gameplay snippets from E3 a few years ago, and what I saw back then looked great. Well after some time spent with the game, there is no question Alan Wake is truly in a league of its own. Although I was not spooked as much as I thought I would be, nor was it the goriest experience I have had in recent memory; the game's atmosphere, visuals, and storyline is second to none. Right from the get-go, Alan Wake is a game that reeled me right in to the point where I could not walk away from it, something that has not happened for quite some time.

Graphics

Visually, Alan Wake is stunning. There is no question that the game truly maximizes the Xbox 360’s hardware and it is clear the development team must have spent an unbelievable amount of time crafting a product that is seemingly flawless in the graphics department.

The most jaw-dropping aspect of the game is the environments and picturesque landscapes. This may be a bold statement, but they are simply the best I have seen on the console to date. The level of detail and attention that has gone into the gorgeous landscapes, mountainous regions, thick forests and Pacific Northwest setting is incredible. Being from the Pacific Northwest myself, I almost felt like Bright falls, where the game takes place, could have been a town close by to my own hometown. The size and scale is accomplished with perfection. Bottomline, Bright Falls looks incredibly life-like as everything is alive in this small deceptively idyllic town.

In addition to the great looking environments, the presentation and cinematic experience of the game is incredible. Alan Wake creates the perfect mood and much of that has to do with its presentation. Alan Wake is set-up like a dramatic TV series. Fans of LOST, Twin Peaks or the X-Files will appreciate the way the game is presented as it is just like watching an episode any of these TV shows. It is a fascinating experience and one you will want to watch until the end. Even at the beginning of each episode you are greeted with a "last time on Alan Wake" segment. It was a nice little touch indeed.

Alan Wake’s lighting and weather effects are also another stunning aspect of the game. Light is essential to your survival, so it comes as no surprise that so much attention was given to the game's lighting and shadow effects. The way the light beams from your flashlight in the nightmarish forest is incredibly life like. Also, the game employs various weather conditions throughout so the same environment can rapidly change from calm and quiet to nasty and unforgiving. The result is an incredibly life-like experience which creates just the perfect mood for the occasion.

At the end of the day, it is hard to find any flaws with Alan Wake’s visuals; however, my only complaint, if you want to call it that, rests with the characters themselves. On the surface they look nicely detailed and rendered. Our main hero looks sharp and all the characters he encounters on his journey look decent. However, upon close inspection some of the facial expressions seem to lack some fluidity and just do not move as they should. The facial expressions seem a tad lifeless and just do not appear natural at times. That being said, this is a minor complaint indeed.

Technically speaking, Alan Wake is very smooth and I did not experience any major slow-down. On some occasions you may notice a vehicle that does not move as smooth as it could, but for the most part no major frame rate issues surfaced. I should also mention the draw distance of the game is simply spectacular and Alan Wake is a game that should unquestionably only be experienced in high definition.

Sound

As with the visuals, the audio in Alan Wake is solid and I was simply amazed at how great it sounded even at a low volume. For starters, the musical score and soundtrack is fantastic. It is perfectly suited for the game and gives Alan Wake that unnerving and "never know what is around the corner" feeling. As good as the games soundtrack is, the in-game sound effects are just as good and had me jolting in my seat on a regular basis. Nothing like listening to the music lulling you into a false sense of security then "BLAM", a disfigured ghostly figure comes charging at you from behind wielding an axe. The dynamic music works very well in the game and it will certainly give you the jitters at times. From hearing forest animals settle in on a creepy rainy evening to accidentally knocking over a random object in a quiet cabin, the sound effects are atmospheric and should only be experienced in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound.

Other sound effects in the game are as equally impressive. Sounds of demonic voices in the distance and the unsettling wind are just a few great examples of how the developers in the audio department paid close attention to every little facet in the game. The results are fantastic and lends to a terrific ambiance. The voice-over work is nothing spectacular but it does the job. They voice actors are believable and effectively convey the story; however some of the voices tend to overlap in small areas which can be tad annoying at times. Overall I have no major concerns with the games total sound package and I am left with the opinion not much could have been done to significantly improve it.

Gameplay

Remedy Entertainment is best known for their May Payne franchise. So it comes as no surprise Alan Wake features strong narrative and an unforgettable storyline featuring a unique approach where the game is told in a series of episodes. Set in the small Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls, Alan Wake, the character, is a famous writer and has undergone a bad case of writers block. His wife Alice suggests that they go on a vacation to relax and clear his mind. Alan agrees and they head to a cabin located in Bright Falls. Once they arrive at the cabin, Alice, who is wearing some skimpy panties and a tank top, introduces Alan to a room. Unfortunately it is not a room to ‘get it on’, but rather it is a den with a desk, typewriter, and plenty of paper to write a novel. Much to Alice’s surprise this enrages Alan; so he heads outside for a walk to clear his head. Moments later, Alan hears a shriek from inside the cabin and he runs back into the cabin only to find that Alice has disappeared. So the nightmare begins as Alan attempts to unravel the mystery behind Alice’s disappearance and other strange happenings. I could go on but I would undoubtedly spoil the story for many.

Overall, the storyline is top-notch. It does leave you scratching your head at times and sometimes you will be questioning the direction the game is taking you; nevertheless the ride is thrilling. Alan Wake keeps you guessing at every turn, similar to TV shows such as LOST and Twin Peaks. At times I found myself desperately attempting to make sense of things as the game does not do much to explain the plot, unlike so many other games already on the market. You will however be pulling for our hero, Alan, at every turn. I found him to be quite likable despite his many issues. In fact, at times I questioned whether the dude was sane. At the end of the day however Alan Wake’s storyline is deeply engaging.

While Alan embarks on his journey to discover how his wife disappeared, he encounters a large number of characters that he interacts with while also faceing some unexplained demonic figures. These shadowy grimacing figures are referred to as the Taken. In the game you face many different types of these foes. There are the standard ones who are relatively easy to take down and there are the larger and quicker ones who are equipped with chainsaws or launch flying axes your way. There are enemies whom seemingly disappear and reappear. The enemies are not incredibly original and will remind you enemies you have encountered in other recently released games such as Bioshock 2. That said, the combat is enjoyable and the boss fights do become increasingly difficult as the game progresses.

The Taken, or the game's evil spirits for lack of a better description, can also manipulate objects. Whether ripping off the roof of a cabin or possessing a bulldozer to push you over a cliff, you never know what is coming your way. Even the birds attack you at times. The result is an experience which is truly unnerving and unsettling.

The combat system is fun but did take some getting used to. Alan Wake features a nice ‘play as you go’ tutorial which gives you various hints to take your enemies down. Light is critical factor in the gameplay and becomes an integral part of your offence and defence. Light can heal also heal you. Your flashlight becomes your primary weapon in the game. Shining it on an enemy will weaken and slow them down. I must say, shining some light directly on an enemy and blasting them with your shotgun is incredibly satisfying. Shining your flashlight on one of those shadowy figures is simple and accomplished by merely pulling down on the left trigger. Once they are sufficiently weakened, you have several options at your disposal to eliminate the enemy as you pick-up shotguns, pistols or rifles as you venture throughout the game. The only frustrating aspect of the weapons system is that at the start every episode you have no weapons at all. At one point I accumulated some flash bang grenades, a shotgun, a rifle, and several torch guns; only to lose them all when I started the next episode.

Aside from merely shining your flashlight to take down the enemies, there are also other ways to ‘light-up’ your foes. For instance, as you progress through the story's levels you will locate generators scattered around the environments. Firing-up the generators is accomplished by playing a quick and easy mini-game of sorts. It is nothing too complicated as it is merely a series of timed button presses, but it can be an incredibly stressful event when you have hordes of enemies closing in on you while attempting to start a generator. There are also several light standards located throughout the game. Standing underneath the light recharges your health. You will also find giant search lights located throughout the game which can take out possessed gates and wipe out hordes of enemies at one time, and this is also incredibly satisfying. Flash-bangs, large flares, and flare guns also pack a punch but come in short supply.

In Alan Wake you can perform cinematic dodges in a Max Payne slo-mo-like fashion by pressing the left bumper and left stick in any direction. Although great in theory, this function does not feel all that natural and is difficult to master, besides, I really found it unnecessary. That being said, it makes for a slick looking segment. Alan can also sprint away from his foes, but be forewarned he runs out of breath early and often making you wonder if has no lung capacity or that he must be chain smoker. It was frustrating how quickly he tired and how long it took him to get his breath back. There are also some vehicle sequences which mixes-up the gameplay a bit which is a nice addition to the overall combat. Mowing down the enemies in your vehicle is a thrill, I just wish there were more of these sequences.

Alan Wake is heavily based around the games storyline and much of that story is told in the games cut-scenes. The amount of cut-scenes can take away from the gameplay at times, and I found some momentum would be lost as the game seemingly breaks into a cut scene at every corner. Fortunately they become less frequent as the games progresses deeper into the story.

For the most part, Alan Wake is a linear experience, but this is not necessarily a bad thing as the game offers up a high level of exploration and replay value. Alan Wake features collectable items such as manuscript pages and coffee thermoses. There are 106 manuscript pages which act as almost a pre-cursor to what Alan is about to face. Reading about an evil darkness which is lurking around the corner can be an extremely intense experience when you start to approach that corner. Additionally, the manuscript pages explain the town of Bright Falls and some of the strange happenings in the town. The manuscripts are not vital to the storyline but merely offer gamers a much richer experience. As for the coffee thermoses, I haven’t quite figured out why they are a main collectible in the game; however there are 100 of them. Achievement junkies will undoubtedly take pride in collecting all 100 though.


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