I loved the Alan Wake debut trailer that was shown last year at Microsoft’s E3 press conference. So did the rest of the crowd there as they all gave it an enormous cheer throughout the showing. The story of Alan Wake stars Wake as the main protagonist who, him and his wife Alice, decide to take some time to relax in a small, woodsy town called Bright Falls in the Pacific Northwest. While there, Alice goes missing and strange things are happening to the people of Bright Falls, especially at night. Citizens are becoming corrupted and turning into dark creatures called The Taken.
At first you would think that Alan Wake is a psychological survival game but it’s not. It’s actually an action / adventure title. The Taken are most vulnerable to light so things like flares and your flashlight will weaken them while other light based weapons such as flare guns and flash bang grenades are powerful enough to completely destroy Taken enemies on their own. Your flashlight is with you for almost the entire game and it’s what you will be using more than anything. Once the Taken have been weakened by your flashlight, then you can blow the living hell out of them with conventional weapons such as shotguns, hunting rifles and your revolver.
Basic shooter controls apply here; movement with the left stick and looking around with the flashlight with the right stick. Instead of a targeting reticule, wherever the flashlight points is where you will shoot. As you use your flashlight you will have to replace the batteries once they are drained. Batteries and ammo are scattered across the terrain in supply boxes and hidden chests. Although the gameplay is pretty linear there are many instances that keep things lively such as a puzzle to solve here and there as well as some driving stages. There are also a lot of “collectable” tasks to be done along the way, and I mean a lot! You’ll discover hidden chests, collect coffee thermoses, listen to radio shows, shoot stacked cans and watch episodes of Night Springs on TV which is an in-game TV show spoof on The Twilight Zone.
The voice acting is very well done. The “big city” voice acting of Alan and his agent Barry is particularly different than the “small town” personality of the residents of Bright Falls which makes things very believable. Citizens of Bright Falls might come off a little corny and seem to giggle at every little quip but a lot of times you will actually run into people like that in small towns. Regardless, all of the characters in Alan Wake have a deep personality which weaves the whole story together seamlessly and keeps the player interested at all times; none of the characters turn out to be generic flack. Even when recognizable citizens are corrupted by The Taken, their personality still seeps out in their demented ramblings as they try to kill you. Also, the music always fits the mood. I still get all tense when I hear the particular tune that plays when you are about to be attacked by Taken.
Art & Animation
Alan Wake is huge on art! The game is never short on atmosphere. The Remedy team actually traveled to Washington and Oregon for R&D to take close to 60,000 reference shots so they can produce the environments of Bright Falls. They even camped out in the woods to take notes and record ambient noises at night. It definitely shows as Bright Falls has some of the most gorgeous in-game visuals to be found on the Xbox 360. Outstanding looking landscapes, lakes and structures are accentuated by the use of particle and smoke effects. The lighting techniques that are used in Alan Wake make light to be a substantial aspect of the game instead of a passive characteristic. However, sometimes the lighting can get either absolutely blinding or so dark that you can’t see a thing.
That being said about the art, the animation is another story; specifically the ambient character animation. The FMVs look fine, everything is fluid and believable in the cinematics but the in-game facial animations have a hard time expressing the character’s emotions while the ambient body language also looks off. To be honest, the character animations move around like the robots in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.
Framework of Alan Wake has the story play out like an ongoing TV drama such as Flash Forward or Lost. At the beginning of each new level, or episode, the player is shown a clip of what happened “last time on Alan Wake”. It works out quite nicely. I’ll say this though, Alan Wake has some of the most gratuitous in-game advertising I’ve ever seen in a video game. It’s not that the advertising gets in the way of gameplay or anything, it’s just that it’s very, very bold! The batteries you pick up for your flashlight are all Energizer brand batteries and billboards advertising Verizon Wireless are very common. The game even gives you an achievement if you watch a full length Verizon Wireless commercial on one of the in-game TVs. Granted; you don’t have to sit there through the whole commercial to get the achievement.
Mind you, these are all minor things that don’t get in the way of gameplay. Alan Wake is what I would call a “must play”. Not only did I love playing the game but I loved watching the whole story of the game unfold; it’s a refreshing and fantastic piece of production. It’s just one of those gaming experiences that you don’t want to miss. The gameplay never gets repetitive, the story is engaging and the game promises more Alan Wake adventures to come in the future regardless of the extremely confusing ending.