Review – Alan Wake

Alan Wake is exciting, terrifying, and features a unique storytelling style that makes it stand out from other games released today.

Alan Wake tells a story that is equally influenced by Stephen King and HP Lovecraft. It is dark and twisted – a true nightmare.

Alan Wake is a best-selling thriller writer who is suffering from writer’s block. Two years before the beginning of the game, Alan wrote the last book in his famous thriller series, killing off his main character and effectively rendering him with the need to create a new series. But, with his main character dead, he doesn’t know where to start. Resorting to drinking, and self-loathing, his wife Alice suggests they get away from New York City and go to the Pacific Northwest to relax.

They arrive in the small town of Bright Falls and retreat to a cabin on Cauldron Lake, a deep lake in the crater of a volcano. Nearly upon arriving, Alice, who has a terrible fear of the dark, disappears when the lights go out in the cabin. Alan finds himself, a week later, clinging to the edge of a cliff in his crashed car and discovers that the woods are sinister. Darkness is taking over the people of Bright Falls, turning them into horrifying entities called “the Taken” whose only weakness is light. He must fight them with light and conventional weapons, and he must find out why a week has elapsed without any memory, and what has happened to his wife.

Alan Wake succeeds because it focuses on a terrifying story that plays on many people’s fears. The dark is evil, and that evil is accentuated through frightening characters who speak in a frightening growl, turning common sentences into frightening threats. “Don’t feed the bears,” growls a Taken park ranger. The possessed people of the town lunge out of the darkness with a frightening suddenness, and the fact that light is needed to destroy their protection and expose them only makes their appearance more frightening.

The best moments in Alan Wake are those when the flashlight runs out of batteries and you find yourself surrounded. You hightail it for the nearest light source, a distance speck in the woods, listening to the insane ramblings of the Taken hustling behind you. It’s pulse-shattering in its ferocity.

The combat in Alan Wake is finely tuned. Alan doesn’t have a huge arsenal – it consists of four series of flashlights ranging from regular to heavy duty, each providing increased strength of light, and several guns – a revolver, a shotgun, a pump-action shotgun, and a hunting rifle. Beyond that, Alan can find useful weapons such as flashbangs and flares that can remove the Taken’s protective darkness or destroy them outright.

This combination of using light sources and conventional weapons requires a test of the nerves. If several Taken are closing in around Alan, shoving a flashlight or flare in their faces removes their defenses and causes them to slow down or back off, but it’s a slow process and Alan can only hold off so many at a time.

It is a joyful, tightly-wound experience as Alan fights Taken and some possessed objects as well.

The only real qualms with Alan Wake may be with the facial animations and Alan’s sometimes stiff, awkward movement. When characters are speaking in cutscenes they often don’t seem to be synced. Their mouths move at a different pace than their voices, which can cause a slight disconnect within the otherwise amazingly detailed world.

Beyond that, Alan moves smoothly through the woods, but when confronted with a jump, he often seems unable to figures out where he should jump to, which can lead to some accidental falls (and deaths).

But, those minor quibbles don’t really take away from the experience at all. Alan Wake is a stunning game. The end of each of the game’s six chapters made me want to play through the next one. It was nearly impossible to put the game down. The twists were excellent, the execution was near perfect, and the action was fast-paced, and frightening.

It’s been a long time since a horror title this good has come along. Wake has picked up the torch that Silent Hill 2 dropped, and was worth the five-year wait. Pick it up if you’re a fan of scary games, and pick it up as well if you just like a good yarn.

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