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Alan Wake Review

Despite being nearly two years since its initial release, Alan Wake has finally been ported to the PC. Remedy Entertainment have claimed that this decision was made in order to honour the loyal community that pushed the popularity of their original smash hit Max Payne and its sequel and while this is certainly a noble gesture was it actually worth the effort?

You play the role of self titled protagonist Alan Wake, a bestselling novelist from New York who has been plagued for years with severe writers block. Hoping to find himself creatively Alan takes a vacation with his wife Alice to the quiet country town of Bright Falls. From there sinister events occur as Alice is kidnapped by an evil force that commands the very darkness of the night itself, alone and without direction Alan is forced to wade into the darkness hoping to find Alice and return her to the light of day.

Contrary to the notion of presenting itself as a horror game, Alan Wake provides little scares. Set pieces while interesting are few and far between and when they finally do arrive are often predictable detracting from any possibility of shock factor. Spoiling the surprises even further are the manuscripts that are scattered throughout the landscape for you to find. While they add a lot of additional texture to the story they contain descriptions of events to come and before you know it you may have just read what could be the next major cut scene or set piece.
Flashlight + Dark place = One awesome horror show.

Though despite the overall lack of horror that the storyline provides, Alan Wake more than makes up for it by being rich in both atmosphere and intrigue with the tension being derived from an intense psychological overtone rather than cheap thrills. The tale that runs throughout the course of the game is a sheer delight and you will certainly find it hard to put the game down as you will want to keep powering through to see what happens next.

One of the greatest strengths of Alan Wake’s story is the effective use of well written character dialogue which too much surprise is very natural and organic for a video game. Characters react to their surroundings and set events in a fairly realistic manner and will even question you when you do actions that are out of character like turning off a light switch when in a room with others or refusing to follow people and stray off the linear path. For once Alan Wake provides you with a game that holds believable dialogue rather than the constant dribble that plagues a lot of its contemporaries.

Another testament to the potency of the script is the use of very subtle touches that other games rarely attempt as characters will often mention the absurdities of what is going on around them. Alan especially does this as he acknowledges how unusual it is to see out of place weapons or pick-up’s sitting in the middle of nowhere. It is rather refreshing for a game to question this oddity rather than simply dismiss it.

Alan Wake is a true spiritual successor to Max Payne and not just in its cinematic storytelling but in its gameplay mechanics as well. Like Remedy’s previous title both games share the same familiar third person run and gun control scheme but with a bit of a twist, enemies are shrouded in darkness and Wake must first use a light source such as his torch to dispel the darkness around them, only then will you be able to fire off a few bullets to finish them off.

The overall gameplay is split into episodic chunks that give a remarkably robust pathos to the experience. The presentation of each episode emulates a TV style format complete with an intro, outro and a recap at the start of the next episode. This effect while no longer original in video games suites the tone of the story perfectly and is superbly executed, adding additional polish to its overall presentation.
Got to protect yourself!
Though the story and the pacing are well executed Alan Wake does suffer from many bouts of repetition which will occasionally test your patience. Enemy variation is scarce and the majority of the threats and obstacles are introduced way too early on which will certainly trigger an inept sense of déjà vu when progressing through the later stages of the story.

Despite being redesigned for computers, like many console-to-PC ports, Alan Wake almost feels like it’s punishing you for not using a wired 360 pad. Also to rub salt into the wound 3rd party pad support is nonexistent and while the default PC controls are reminiscent to that of Max Payne movement can sometimes feel rather clunky and cumbersome. Some careful platform hopping is also required which can lead to overwhelming frustration as attempting these pitfalls will more often than not result in you plummeting to your death for taking seemingly the most minor of missteps.

In addition to the movement aiming during combat can also be awkward and slightly obscuring as the light that shines from Alan’s flashlight also doubles up as the games aiming reticle which can make aiming accurately a real chore when surrounded by enemies.

Despite being a two year old game with the power of PC behind it Alan Wake has been graphically updated and looks absolutely beautiful. Environments and landscapes range from pinewood forests to vast country plains that are well rendered and they offer a staggering contrast in tone when the locations of the game shift between the calm serene of day to the hostile tension of night.

The majority of the special effects are used with precision and establish the current mood especially when the creeping darkness fades in warning the player of for coming dangers; this cinematic swarm of shadow conjures a powerful image that resembles an aggressive ink blot and serves as an effect means to keep the player on edge. Alan Wake also sports a plethora of wonderful lighting effects, ranging from your humble torch to the scorching blinding effect giving off by a timely lit flare. There are however a few little niggles to be seen, shadows can be occasionally fuzzy during daytime sequences and look surprisingly subpar compared to the blending between the shades of light and dark in the night time sequences. Also occasional draw distance issues can occur which sometimes detracts from the mood when trees pop in during one of the many establishing shots of the natural landscape.
Take them out!
Alan Wake is also complemented by some very impressive character modelling however even these are tainted with minor issues that can’t be ignored. The most alarming of these stem from some of the facial expressions used. Sometimes the act of smiling or showing genuine human emotion usually ends up resembling one of the Deep Ones of Innsmouth rather than an actual human being, and this comes across as plain creepy and not for the games intended purpose. Combine this issue with occasional lip sinking problems during cut scenes and it all adds up to further detract from the enjoyment of the games story and destroys some of the well built tension.

The game is also accompanied by some fantastic audio that is as rich as its story sporting an impressive soundtrack that bridges the various episodes of the game together. But rather strangely the in-game audio is extremely quiet even when all settings are turned up to max; luckily this can be simply remedied by turning the speakers up but do expect a shock when you go to do something else on your PC.

Final Verdict
While being far from flawless, Alan Wake is a true gem none the less. The budget price in addition to the inclusion of all the previous extra downloadable content certainly adds incentive but for those of you who have already played the Xbox version you will find no reason to return to Bright Falls. However If you’re new to Alan Wake then this is the most definitive version of the game to date which offers a unique experience that you won’t soon forget.

Story = 9/10
Gameplay = 6/10
Graphics = 8 /10

We Know Gamers Final Score = 8/10
Had a chance to play the game? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments section below!
Alan Wake

Reviewed by Spencer Marshman
on Feb 29 2012

Rating: 8/10

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