It’s rare that horror and first class storylines align in the video game world; one need only look at the original Resident Evil with lines such as “I hope this is not Chris’ blood?” robotically churned out. For further proof, turn your heads to Left 4 Dead, a title that offers much in the way of zombie execution but very little story. Prepare for this trend to be well and truly bucked; enter Alan Wake, a writer plagued by troublesome writer’s block for the past two years who, in stereotypical style, to rediscover his creative zest, visits the mountainous retreat, Bright Falls.
Unfortunately in a moment that reverberates part George Stark, part Dexter Morgan’s Dark Passenger, Alan Wake finds himself confronted by the dark presence – a shadowy construct straight out of his own manuscript that engulfs his lake bound wife Alice and the inhabitants of Bright Falls. Knee-deep in fear, Wake must save his wife and understand the dark presence.
It becomes quickly apparent that Wake has written himself into his latest novel, as he discovers pieces of the work-in-progress scattered throughout his surroundings. Wake narrates his actions and reads the fallen extracts, adding to the Stephen King vibe. Sometimes these are prophetic, exposing the gamer to a hidden danger or axe-wielding maniac lurking nearby, other times these reflect a recent occurrence.
One of the most attractive elements of Alan Wake is the storyline. Not only is it split up into neatly crafted episodic chunks complete with ‘Previously on Alan Wake’ introductions, but the twists, turns and small details are enough to rival some of the finer efforts to grace the cinema in recent years, bearing similarities to Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Wake is not your generic hero, he battles a troubled past, alcohol addiction and short fuse that Alice suffers on occasion. This imperfect human quality helps gamers identify with Wake as he presents himself at face value, exposing his scars. Wake’s agent, Barry, is another fine example of characterisation; his constant badgering and love-hate relationship with Wake make him unforgettable.
Alan Wake is the first game to truly pit light against darkness, right down to the combat mechanics. To kill the possessed, Wake must first expel the evil shroud, via the torch in his left hand, before delivering a hefty bullet from the gun in his right. This torch-gun combination occurs throughout and is complemented with Max Payne esque slow-down for dodging enemy attacks. Whilst repetitive to a point, where combat veers towards a chore, the latter half of the game takes a turn for the better with the introduction of flashbang grenades, flares and an assortment of interactive elements to cast light upon the taken. Although this does not fully compensate for the laborious torch-gun approach, juxtaposed with the magnificent visuals, eerie soundtrack and spectacular storyline it is almost unnoticeable.
For the most part, Alan Wake takes part in the forests, obscured in a murky mist with a soundtrack to match that echoes Silent Hill. Visually it’s a delight to the eyes, particularly the lighting effects that illuminate the grim woodland and send enemies plunging back to the depths of darkness from which they originally clambered.
There’s plenty to keep gamers occupied in Alan Wake aside from the main story. Throughout, there are radios broadcasting local happenings and televisions showing ‘Night Springs’ a The Twilight Zone stylised series. If that wasn’t enough there are various hidden areas and collectibles, including the rather useless coffee flasks.
Despite the questionable combat and repetitive environments, Alan Wake is one of the best horror games to have been released in a long time. Whilst kills aren’t as satisfying as Dead Space and the environments aren’t as eerie as Silent Hill at its best, the cinematic story, endearing characters and spectacular visuals make Alan Wake a must play for all horror and action fans.
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