When it comes to films, TV shows, or video games, it takes a lot for me to feel a sense of suspense or fear. That’s not to say that I have nerves of steel as I always avoid any sort of confrontation from anyone at all times. I guess when it comes to those previously mentioned forms of media, they need to really draw me in for me to feel fear or suspense.
With that said, Alan Wake’s main selling point is being a psychological action thriller unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. With light being your only ally against the gathering darkness, does Alan Wake deliver on instilling a sense of suspense and fear to the player?
Alan Wake is a well known, best-selling author who has been bouting with a serious case of writer’s block for the past two years. Alan’s wife, Alice, takes it upon herself to take him to a small town in Bright Falls, WA in hopes it’ll get his creative juices flowing once again. They arrive to the town, talk to some of the locals, and proceed to make their way to their cabin located just outside of town. Alice surprises Alan with a study equipped with a typewriter to try to get him to write again. Alan storms off, angry at Alice’s attempt to fix his writer’s block. When Alan returns to the cabin, Alice has gone missing and it’s up to him to find out what exactly happened to her.
During Alan’s search, he’ll come across pages from a manuscript lying in random locations throughout Bright Falls. The manuscript at first doesn’t seem to hold much importance, but as Alan continues to find more pages, its importance becomes obvious as much of what’s going on in Bright Falls can be explained through it. Every so often, Alan will inject his thoughts on his surroundings, people, as well as direction on what he believes he should do next with internal monologue.
From start to finish, Alan Wake’s story is one that is filled with twists and turns. What was supposed to be a simple trip to Washington turns out to be anything but as Alan searches for his missing wife. Chapters are broken up into “Episodes”. At the end of each episode, you’re given an “End Of Episode” screen which is accompanied by music that is directed to what has occurred recently in the story, similar to how popular dramatic TV shows tend to do. Then, at the start of the next episode, a recap of the previous episode plays to help remind us of what Alan has gone through. I felt this way of presenting the game was unique compared to other games of a similar genre. Splitting up chapters in the game as episodes and treating them as TV episodes helped in blurring the line between Alan Wake being a video game & television program.
In Alan Wake, light plays a very big role. Through Alan’s adventure, he is equipped with a flashlight which helps illuminate the way through dark and unknown territory. As Alan makes his way through a level, he’ll come across a number of illuminated checkpoints that act as a “safe haven”. Safe havens can save your progress, heal you, as well as keep whatever creepy crawly that’s lurking in the darkness from ripping Alan’s face off and using his intestines as dental floss.
When the Darkness takes control of an enemy or object, the wind will pick up and the surrounding area will become distorted and dark. Since the enemies Alan will encounter rely heavily on the darkness, Alan is dependent on using light to weaken them. Alan for the most part can rely on his trusty flashlight to get the job done, but he’ll also come across other useful light sources such as flare guns, which can be used to take out a group of enemies, flares which can help keep enemies at bay, and even headlights from vehicles can be used. Once Alan’s enemies are weakened, he can then use a number of firearms to dispose of them. Not all enemies are created equal as some might require a bit more light to weaken than most enemies, so being able to distinguish between a stronger enemy to a weaker one is important.
The combat system isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s downright simple in its execution. Weaken your enemy with a light source. Shoot the bejesus out of them. Rinse. Repeat. A small reticule appears when Alan is draining darkness away from a Taken or possessed object that acts as their possession gauge. When the reticule shrinks to nothing, that’s when Alan is able to attack. What drew me into the combat system wasn’t the combat itself, instead it was the uncertainty of where the next attack would come from. There’s very little contrast between your enemies and your surroundings, which made me paranoid any time I suspected an enemy was near by. In a good way.
Alan Wake is certainly a feast for the eyes. All of the characters you’ll come across have a high level of detail to them. Locations, both man-made and natural, all look amazingly realistic, and the changes in weather and time of day are very well done. Considering how much detail there is in Alan Wake, especially when there are never any noticeable loading times, I’m highly impressed Remedy was able to fit all of it onto 1 disc.
Final Thought: Alan Wake delivers an interesting and gripping story from start to finish with some twists that’ll keep you guessing until the very end. all in a beautiful package. The combat mechanics aren’t exactly stellar, but instead, it’s what is going on around the combat that will keep you in suspense anytime the darkness is lurking.