Announced all the way back in 2005, Alan Wake was set for a simultaneous Xbox 360 and PC release upon launch of the Xbox 360. However, things changed, and after many delays, the news came that the game would now be exclusive to the Xbox 360. We now know this was attributed to Microsoft wanting the franchise to be a flagship exclusive for the Xbox. Originally pitched as a massive, open-world game with tons of places to explore, the title would now be a more linear affair, and, believe it or not, this was a good choice. While there is a sense of exploration and going off the path to find hidden areas, it’s guided enough to keep up the pace and immerse you in the story. It works very well. Fast forward to 2010 and Alan Wake is finally released on the Xbox 360 to generally favorable reviews. The PC version includes both DLCs previously released on the Xbox 360. It was nice to see that for the money, you are getting a complete package, despite the fact that this is an older title.
You are Alan Wake, a successful horror writer from New York suffering from a lack of inspiration for his next book, entitled “Departure”. So what better way to clear your head than a trip to the mountain town of Bright Falls, Washington? The kind of place where everyone knows everyone, and people live slow, simple lives. But what kind of thriller/horror game would this be if everything was as it seems? Upon arrival in Bright Falls, we’re treated to the beautiful scenery and surroundings of the town aboard a ferry alongside Alan’s wife, Alice. The difference in graphical quality is immediately noticeable, and I’m already blown away. In typical horror movie style, you’ll be staying in a creepy cabin in the middle of nowhere. After settling in, things take a turn for the worst, and you’re on a mission to save your wife from the darkness that has taken her.
The game presents itself in a TV show episodic format, which is executed very nicely. Each episode begins with a recap showing highlights of the story up to that point. The TV presentation is given an extra edge from the cliffhanger endings to each episode, and it all flows very well, something wouldn’t have worked so well if Remedy has stuck with the original sandbox world. Things get creepy when Alan discovers all the weird things going on are from his next, still unwritten book “Departure”. Throughout the game’s world, you’ll find pages of the manuscript written by Alan, but he has no memory of writing it.
A large focus of the game and its combat is the use of a flashlight. You can’t just shoot the enemies and expect them to drop; first you’ll need to drain them of “the darkness” by shining your torch at them, and follow that up with a few shots to take them down. You’ll need to replace the batteries when they die, which will happen a lot, but there is an inhuman amount of branded batteries scattered throughout the game world. Alan will gain the use of a few different weapons, such as revolvers, shotguns, and flare-guns. The game doesn’t suffer through lack of guns to use, but it keeps it realistic, so none of the weapons seem out of place and you’re not left thinking, ‘Why did someone leave this rocket launcher on this log?’ The enemies in question are known as ‘The Taken’, and are regular townspeople who have been, well… taken by the dark. While there isn’t a great deal of variety when it comes to enemies, the game does mix things up when you’re attacked by birds and inanimate objects, such as cars, barrels, and doors that have also been “taken”.
Alan Wake somehow manages to separate itself from any other horror title out there in terms of atmosphere and the way the game feels. The atmosphere pulls you in within the first few minutes, and manages to keep you engaged in the story all the way to the end of its 8-10 hour campaign. With references to several classic horror movies and books throughout the game, you can’t help but notice the influences in its style and story. A horror game is nothing without its audio, and that stands true as ever here. While most of the game’s score is heard during cut scenes, the gameplay is not without its brilliant sound design. It was clearly a deliberate choice by Remedy to leave a lot to the imagination. Just the sounds of the wind, faint whispers, footsteps in the distance, make you constantly question your hearing and leave you on the edge, never feeling safe.
As mentioned earlier, Remedy developed a certain blockbuster series: the Max Payne games. Personally, I noticed a lot of Max in Alan Wake, with its depressing spoken narrative from the leading protagonist and the feeling of helplessness when faced with the seemingly unachievable goal. Earlier, I mentioned the linear path with the ability to wander off the given path and find secrets. These secrets range from collectible coffee flasks to radios that broadcast the local station, giving you an insight into local goings on, and even mentions of events in the town you had an impact on. Also, every so often you’ll find old, dusty TV sets, that, if turned on, show short episodes of a fictional show named Night Springs, with an atmosphere eerily like that of the town you’re experiencing this nightmare in. There’s no real use to watching these, but it’s a nice touch, and you’ll often find yourself watching each one until the end.
The one downfall of Alan Wake is the way the characters are presented. While the voice acting is strong, they just aren’t memorable, and we don’t get to know them well enough. We don’t even learn a great deal about Alan himself, other than that he’s a writer who lives with his wife Alice in New York, and that he has a temper. With all the detail gone into the world, it’s just a shame the people inside it come across as nothing more than slightly below-average B-Movie stars. It’s not that big a deal when it comes down to it, though; it’s just something that could have been better.
The majority of the time, you’ll be exploring the town in the dark, since this is the only time “the taken” can hurt you. However, there are daytime parts to the game, giving you a chance to take a break from being attacked by axe-wielding maniacs. It’s a nice change of pace and gives you a real chance to get the most from the visuals. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks stunning at night, with the beautiful, dynamic lighting effects, but the world comes to life during the day. With the PC version’s draw distance and improved textures, it’s up there with some of the better looking games in recent memory. Remedy assured us the PC version would see no signs of a shoddy console port, and I’m happy to say they have delivered on this. Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, FOV Slider, LOD slider, and all kinds of variable options of texture, shadow, and lighting detail. With full support for keyboard, mouse, and Xbox 360 controllers, whatever your preference, you’ll be glad to hear both work brilliantly.
Alan Wake manages to nail the length of the story perfectly, not outstaying its welcome any longer than necessary. However, I do feel Remedy could have made better use of some of the time, including adding depth to the character interactions or improving the ending, which leaves you with more questions than answers. The PC version is bundled with both DLCs previously released as add-ons for the Xbox 360 version, ‘The Signal‘ and ‘The Writer‘. They’ll give you a few more hours to branch between the ending and a possible sequel. There is quite a large jump in difficulty of the DLC compared to the base game, so while sometimes frustrating, the DLC added a nice element of extra challenge.
Overall, I’m very happy that not only is Alan Wake on the PC, like originally planned, but it’s a true PC title with actual PC features, with little-to-no sign of the game being a bad port. The visuals are stunning for the most part, aside from a few muddy textures, and the audio is some of the best I have ever heard in a survival horror game. The town feels alive, and it’s clear a lot of work and love went into creating it. There isn’t a great deal of re-playability other than finding all the collectibles and playing through on harder difficulties, but I’m already looking forward to my next play through. Alan Wake is an engaging, immersing, fun experience that has earned its place as one of my personal favorite games of all time. Let’s hope the possible sequel gets a simultaneous PC release alongside the Xbox 360 version.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Steam version of Alan Wake by Remedy Games
- Excellent Story Structure
- Stunning Visuals
- Best Audio Direction in a While
- Not Much Replayability
- Weak Voice Acting