I actually finished Alan Wake on the Xbox360 earlier this week, but I needed time to gather my thoughts before writing about it. After all, it was quite a ride, and like many of the good ones it was over way too quickly.
Combat – I outlined in an earlier post about why I decided to pick up the game in the first place, but despite my optimism I still had my concerns. Footage I had seen of Alan Wake was action-filled and intense, but the entire game seemed to take place in the woods, with very little variation in setting. Trees, trees and more trees…that could get tedious.
The creators of Alan Wake, however, saw that coming. They’ve done an extremely good job at mixing up the action. For one thing, I love the way you kill the bad guys in this game — before you can pump them full of lead, you first have to destroy them with light. It’s a great take on just your plain old shooting in an action game, in my opinion. Thus you’re provided with an arsenal that includes devices such as flashlights, flare guns, and flash bangs on top of your other firearms, and deciding when and where to use what’s given to you can mean the difference between life or death.
Story - the game promised a story-driven experience and on that front, they delivered. The plot gradually unfolds as you play through the “episodes” and discover more as to what’s going on. This keeps the player on their toes and also encourages them to “explore” (I use that term loosely though) off the beaten path in order to find more clues.
Horror and thriller fans will also find homages to classics like Twin Peaks or the works by Stephen King. For more on this, I recommend going over to Screaming Monkeys to see his take on the game. I have a feeling he’s more well-versed in the genre than I am, and as such probably picked up on a lot more easter eggs than I did!
Without giving away any spoilers, I felt that the only downside was the ending. It was a tad anti-climatic, and in the end it did not provide all the answers I was looking for. On the other hand, others might prefer it when some of the mystery is left unsolved, so I can understand that. In any case, there’s very little replay value once you’re done, unless you want to do it all over again on Nightmare mode. It was also much too short. Raptr shows that I finished it in about 15 hours, and even then it was with much dawdling, pausing and idling.
Yeah, but was it scary?
I think that depends on who you are and how you approach horror survival games. I think achieving the state of being “scared” is a two way street. On the one hand, the game has to provide you with the right elements: visuals, music, atmosphere, and the like. On the other, the gamer has to “let go” in a way, and allow themselves to be taken away by all of this. For example, I don’t find slasher films or games that use excessive gore or loud noises very appealing, or all that frightening for that matter, because I refuse to open myself up to cheap tricks.
Psychological horrors and thrillers seem to have better luck with me. My mind is my biggest enemy here; give me something chillingly subtle instead of in-your-face, and I’ll freak myself out in ways you can’t even imagine. Alan Wake falls more into this category for me, and I let myself get so absorbed to the point I couldn’t play it at night. As a young child, I was afraid of the dark and would imagine bad things lurking in the shadows. This game sort of brought some of that back.
That isn’t to say Alan Wake is without its fake-outs and cheap shots. But surprisingly, those weren’t the moments that made me jump. Oh no, every time I did jump, it was always in one of the more innocuous daylight segments. While nothing threatening was happening on screen, I still found myself wound up tighter than a $2 watch. I didn’t realize until then that this game had its hooks in me good.
Some examples of my pathetic-ness:
- Standing in daylight while panning the camera caused a bush in the foreground to flash across my screen really quickly. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
- While running around indoors in a brightly lit country lodge (again, in the light of day), an NPC gives a loud and cheery “Hey, Alan!” causing me to jump and yelp. Not my proudest moment for sure.
- Then there was the hedge maze. And we all know how I feel about those. It was like this game was out to get me.