When I picked up Alan Wake
, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. One trip through Bright Falls later, it's still a bit hard to classify, but story-wise, the game box says it best: a "psychological action thriller". Gameplay-wise, it's a mix of third-person shooting, adventure, and driving. But while it may be hard to define, it's nothing short of great.
While not a notably scary game, the developers said they weren't making a horror game, and the horror was for atmosphere - an aspect they definitely succeeded in, helped by the game's excellent lighting. Washington's dark forests always seem creepy and foreboding, even if you're carrying enough equipment to outfit an army; but you probably won't, because Alan is a fairly normal guy. He doesn't even have any crosshairs, and instead relies on the flashlight to help him aim. It's easy to get the feeling that he's in over his head, and the only thing keeping him from running all the way back to New York is Alice.
Alan's normality, in some ways, helps make the combat more intense than traditional shooters. It's one thing to be attacked by a squad where you have an assault rifle, two tons of grenades, and can recover all your health in two seconds. It's quite another to have an ax-wielding shadow advancing on you as you stumble backwards and reload each individual bullet into your revolver and you remain at low health after killing your enemy. Instead of standard, shotguns and hunting rifles feel very powerful.
The story is fairly good, and always keeps going somewhere - each of the six episodes has a little mini-story, ensuring that, no matter what, something's happening. The characters might not be the most original, but they're well fleshed-out. Interestingly, since the Shout Outs
are mostly given by characters, they feel more real than they would otherwise. For example, Alan's trapped in a trailer with a Taken smashing the door down with an ax, and mentions The Shining
. A cliche? Maybe, but who wouldn't
reference it in that situation? The people in the game act like people in real life would, making them feel like they've had their own experiences that we haven't seen.
All in all, Alan Wake
is highly satisfying from start to finish. Its characters, unique gameplay, and dynamic story deliver an experience unlike anything else in games today.