A final word on this game.
I know I’ve talked about Alan Wake in the past and done a “review” and “update” on it before. Well, this is the final time I talk about Alan Wake. Not that I haven’t enjoyed this but I think the third time should be the charm. So, here’s my thoughts on Alan Wake. American Nightmare should be posted soon.
A Paladin’s Review: Alan Wake. Thrills and Dark Chills in this Darkness VS Light Story.
- Genre: Third Person Psychological Horror Thriller Shooter.
- Developed and Published by: Remedy Entertainment (on PC).
- Platform: Windows and Xbox 360.
- Business Model: Base Game
- Copy purchased by myself in a Humble Bundle.
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Alan Wake plays out like a television series or interactive book with six episodes and two special chapters afterwards. A linear story with the writer Alan Wake trying to battle the forces of darkness that have sprung up in a small town while trying to find out what happened to his wife, Alice Wake. If you’re thinking this might be a survival horror game, no, it’s definitely not. AW is more focused on the action and gunplay than it is about surviving things that are trying to scare you to death. It’s a game that works to build up the tension in the player as he/she experiences the weirdness going on. There are some jump scares but I think they rely more on you being tense than trying to break your speakers with a loud noise. In that, Alan Wake is very effective. I often jumped when getting attacked by an enemy to the side and the constant creeping atmosphere keeps you on edge. Especially when they combine that with visuals which make liberal use of shadows and visual warping to distort what you’re seeing as well as limiting the amount of ammunition Alan Wake will be able to find. Nothing is quite so horrifying as running out of bullets and still be surrounded by enemies. I’m not into the horror genre but I do really enjoy thrillers that work to build tension. Alan Wake is one such thriller that’s very memorable and one of my favorites.
Bestselling book author Alan Wake is taking a vacation with his wife to the fictional town of Bright Falls to get away from the pressures at home. Ever since he published his last book, Alan has had a severe writer’s block that’s prevented him from doing any writing for the past couple of years. Subsequently putting a strain on his relationship with his wife, friends and publisher. His hope is that the vacation will help reinvigorate him to write again. But not all is as it seems at Bright Falls. Alice Wake, his wife, disappears. Alan is suspected of foul play. He sets out to figure out what happened to his wife, to discover what darkness is lurking at Bright Falls and fight it. Along the way, Alan realizes just how much of that darkness he’s been carrying inside himself. Of course, he can’t fight it alone so he enlists on his friend Barry who shows up when all the craziness goes down. I don’t feel like spoiling Alan Wake so I’ll just end the explanation of the story here. Suffice it to say though, it’s well paced and keeps a good balance of lightheartedness and dark themes.
I think a lot of what appeals to me about this game is the central themes it explores. A lot of them have to do with being a (successful) writer, having self-doubt and writer’s block and what it does to creative individuals and those around them. Perhaps the only thing that I can’t relate to is the damage it does to Alice and Alan’s relationship. I’m not a writer and certainly not a best seller in any sense of the word. I certainly can’t say that I’ve been where Mr Wake has been in this story. However, I can empathize with many of his struggles. Back when I had originally played this game, I had been suffering from severe writer’s block off and on, making it difficult to keep the blog running. It was difficult to not get frustrated by it. So, from my perspective I can see where Alan is coming from. The battle of light vs dark also appeals to me and to see it implemented in such a unique way was definitely reason enough to keep playing.
Light, Darkness and Gunplay Mechanics
To defeat enemies, you simply need to shine enough light on enemies to clear the darkness off of them and then shoot them until they disappear. However, those enemies aren’t simply going to stand around and let you do that. The amount of darkness that surrounds enemies will depend on the type you’re facing. Enemies are shadowy figures that take on a human look, often times looking like firefighters or loggers. While they look human, they aren’t. There’s the usual grunts that will attack you with melee weapons, others that will throw axes at your face and more that have a lot more health or speed. Luckily for the player, none of them have guns. (As the game explains it, it’s because the darkness can’t properly handle complex weapons). There’s a couple of other enemies including birds that swoop on him and environmental objects that get thrown about. There’s also some disturbing boss fights and big arena fights that Alan will need to survive through. For the most part, it’s enough variety to keep the gunplay interesting though I do feel towards the end it starts to lose steam. The AI for enemies is pretty intelligent for the most part. While each enemy isn’t that big of a threat, they will often try to attack from multiple sides and side-step the flashlight being shone in their direction. Worse, most battles take place in cramped quarters with enemies dropping down from all around Alan. This can lead to some rather intense battles throughout the course of the campaign. So, the player needs to keep as much awareness of his surroundings and keep moving as much as possible.
Alan Wake is equipped (eventually) with a flashlight and a six round pistol at first. Shining the flashlight regularly will eventually clear the darkness but if you focus the flashlight, it’ll clear off a lot faster. The downside is that the camera will zoom in and your field of view will be smaller. This gives enemies a better chance at sneaking up or to the side of you. Shots need to be taken with care as reloading takes time (mashing the reload button will speed this process up). Additionally, when you’re reloading you can’t focus the flashlight so enemies have free reign. They will use that instance to attack. Throughout the course of the game, Alan will eventually find a shotgun, a flare gun, flares and flash grenades. Shotguns do more damage but have less shots. Flare guns can be used as a sort of grenade launcher as one shot from it can clear a pretty good area of enemies and clear the darkness from the rest. You’ll only be able to carry a few shots at a time so careful conservation and utilizing it when the need is most dire is the best course. Flares act as a deterrent to keep multiple enemies from charging you and can be activated quickly. Flashbangs take a little longer to go off but when they do they’ll clear an area of weak enemies and stun stronger enemies for a short time. Throughout the course of the story, Alan will be eventually be able to locate new weapons and flashlights that are straight up better. Al has no defense to rely on outside of light and his slow-motion dodge move that he can perform. There are times when running away will be your best course of action.
PC Port Report and Visuals/Audio
Alan Wake is very well optimized and comes with a plethora of PC options that belies its console origins. It comes with all expected resolution options, fullscreen on/off, Vsync on/off and HUD enabled/disabled. Advanced graphics options include: antialiasing up to 8x (which seems to be MSAA) and FXAA off/low/high quality. That seems a little bit odd that FXAA and MSAA could be mixed but they can be. Anisotropic filtering goes to 16x, shadow quality low/med/high, SSAO quality low/high, godray quality off/high, volumetric light quality low/high and finally backdrop quality low/medium/high. You can also adjust the level of detail, draw and grass distance with sliders that don’t quantify what you’re adjusting but at least you have them. There is a field of view slider (in the controls section of the settings menu oddly enough) but it also doesn’t quantify what you’re adjusting. According to PCGamingWiki, they make recommendations on what your value should be for your particular resolution. Still, there should have been an in-game number to tell you what it did. All of the keyboard keys can be rebound while the controller only offers an alternative control scheme. Finally, there are four separate audio sliders for music, sound effects, speech and cinematic volume. All in all, outside of AW missing some in-game explanations for what everything does, the PC settings menu is very well done.
Alan Wake goes for a fairly realistic style that’s heavily punctuated with bright lights and dark shadows. It looks rather good and the setting of Bright Falls feels like a town that definitely could have existed in Washington or Oregon. Their attention to detail and setting sells the Pacific Northwest vibe you can get while exploring. I will mention that there is some awkward/slightly off animations with cars, facial expressions, body movement and other little things. You can notice it but it’s not enough to ruin the experience.
The soundtrack is an orchestral performance with plenty of string usage, especially when they try to amp up the intensity of the horror elements. However, it’s the Poets of the Fall’s singles that really stood out to me in this game and the semi-sequel. They perform some really great 70s-era rock music that fit in with the story. The three tracks they perform are included on the soundtrack that Steam sells. However, one track they perform that’s in American Nightmare, called Balance Slays the Demon, can only be found on Google/Amazon/iTunes. I recommend picking that up if you enjoy the other songs in this game. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve heard in a videogame.
Alan Wake has a great atmosphere, style and combat. The visuals still hold up and the use of shadows, fog and bright lights is very effective. Bright Falls feels like it could have been a real town in the Pacific Northwest. The combat system is really unique and quite enjoyable, even if your enjoyment of it may fall off towards the end of the game. The story is also well paced, constantly upping the ante without getting overwhelming and the characters are well designed and memorable to boot. One of my favorite thriller games I’ve ever played and well worth experiencing.
Thanks for reading!