by Bane Williams
previewed on X360
Six Years in Development
Over six years have passed since the success of the first Max Payne games but the people at Remedy Entertainment haven't just been resting on their laurels. Their latest game is styled; Not in the grit, smoke and whiskey of film noir, but in the autumnal hues of the Pacific Northwest. You play as Alan Wake, a writer on vacation in a small American town of Bright Falls with his wife, Alice. They are all ready to start relaxing in the quiet little town until that night, when Alice goes missing. While searching for her, Alan encounters pages of a book he can't remember writing, each page telling a terrifying tale of murder, mystery and intrigue… a story that is coming true.
Considered to be a Psychological Action Thriller, the game puts a heavy emphasis on storytelling and cinematography as well as trying to maintain a balance of audience participation and action. From what little I have played of the game so far, I can tell you that Alan Wake seems to hit that balance perfectly.
Immersion is Key
Everything in the world of Alan Wake is lovingly crafted to give the player as an immersive experience as possible. While playing the game, it is impossible to think of anything but what is going on inside of it, and even just watching the game I found myself regularly thinking about what would be going on in my head if I were Alan himself.
With so much of the game crafted from real world environments, and ideas that come from popular culture, it is no wonder that it feels 'just right'; everything in the game feels at once very familiar and extremely foreign. Shrouding so much of the game in darkness creates several opportunities for dramatic lighting, and Remedy do not miss a chance to do so.
The game is progresses similarly to a Television series, with the entire game broken up into segments, complete with 'previously on Alan Wake' sections that add to that almost cinematic appeal. But the game is more than just an Interactive show, with you regularly having to fight for your very life, to say nothing of your sanity.
You find yourself wandering through a dark shed, keeping your eyes peeled and scanning the area with your trusty flashlight. Breathing a sigh of relief you can relax for a moment, there is no one here. Moving through the rest of the shed you see many farming implements and general tools of the farmer's trade, this is a fairly remote town after all. Your brain doesn't even really notice the Combine Harvester, but the chill running down your spine as you hear the unmistakable tone of its engine starting up makes you wonder if you should have paid more attention.
Combat in Alan Wake is dealt with primarily by the creative use of light. Much of the games inhabitants are violently allergic to it (being that they are creatures of darkness), and Alan must use a variety of means to dish it out. Some of these beings require only a light source, but many of them also require good old fashioned bullets to put them down for good.
The game is incredibly inventive in its sources of light, from flashlights and flares (flare guns, also) to car beams and generators, there is a lot to think about - believe me, nothing will give you that tense feeling better than being slowly advanced upon while floundering away at a generator.
While games like Heavy Rain and Silent Hill have done wonders for setting the right tone, pitch, and feel for a game, nothing comes quite as close to that cinematic feel as Alan Wake. With the games episodic nature, the way lighting effects work (Watching a helicopter light as it travels through the dense forest, for example), as well as the tense soundtrack all make the game feel like you are a character in any one of the series the game draws inspiration from (Lost, Twin Peaks, etc).
Interactivity in games with cinematic feels has often been a failed experiment, or resulted in very niche games that only a small selection of people enjoy, but I don't see that happening here. Everything about Alan Wake is so polished, so refined, that it feels incredibly intuitive. My experience showed no frustrating controls, nothing gimmicky that will draw your attention away. It's nothing but a pure, brain engaging thriller, from start to...well, I will get back to you on that.
With the games extended development cycle, Alan Wake looks to have aged like a fine wine. If you are looking for a truly immersive story experience, and don't mind that occasional feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach, then this game is simply a must buy.