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When it came to buying a new console last gen, I skipped the Xbox 360 in favor of a PS3. This is a decision I do not regret in the slightest, as Sony did, and still does, produce more games that I'm interesteed in. However, there are still a few games exclusive to Microsoft's big white box that I've always wanted to try. And so, since 360 prices are at an all time low, I figured now was as good at time to scratch them off my bucket list as any.
Alan Wake was always at the top of that list. It's a video game about a writer whose story is coming true in front of his eyes. A video game about writing books? Those are my two favorite things rolled into one! How could this possibly be bad?
Spoiler warning: it isn't.
The titular character, Alan Wake, and his wife Alice are going on vacation to Bright Falls in the scenic Pacific Northwest. Alan, a famed crime drama novelist, has had writer's block for two years and hasn't been able to write a word. He hopes this vacation, away from the city, the noise, and the work, will be what he needs to get the words flowing again. When Alice surprises him with a typewriter, revealing this was all a ploy to give him a new setting to write in, he loses his temper and storms out-- just in time for his wife to get kidnapped by a Lovecraftian horror known only as the Dark Presence. He wakes up a week later behind the wheel as his car topples over a cliff. People possessed by the darkness are now trying to kill him, and pages of a story written by him, that he has no memory of writing, are littered all over the place. The story is about him-- and everything is coming true.
If you couldn't tell, Alan Wake has a fantastic story. One of the best I've ever heard in a video game. I'm impressed too, because Alan isn't exactly the kind of character you'd expect to play as in a video game. He's not a cop or a bounty hunter, he's just a normal guy in a bad situation. Heck, this entire story is something I'd expect to see in a book or a movie, not a video game. Even so, it tells the story amazingly well, and the game is well crafted around it. There are a couple of bad voice actors, and admittedly the plot becomes a little hard to follow toward the end, but all in all I am one seriously happy dude here.
The gameplay pulls a lot from other horror/action games like Resident Evil 4. You view Alan over his shoulder, and holding the left trigger gives you a better angle for aiming. More important than that, though, it "focuses" your flashlight. The baddies here are called the Taken, normal people possessed by literal darkness, and that makes them immune to any sort of physical harm. By shining your flashlight on them really hard (did I just write that?), you burn away that darkness, making them vulnerable to all the happy little bullets that want to become acquainted with their insides. Focusing the beam drains your flashlights battery, but it will recharge on its own when not in use. That said, when you're being ganged up on by enemies your battery can and will go down really fast, so you'll have to put new batteries into it or be left helpless against the Taken. Batteries are just as important as ammo, which the game enjoys throwing at you in liberal amounts. Some might get annoyed, like the game is babying them, but I never look a gift horse in the mouth-- especially not when possessed redneck zombies are chasing me (it happens more than you think).
By far the worst part is when the game throws wave after wave of Taken at you, and you have to kill them all. The combat is perfectly fine when you're in a wide open area and only three or four enemies to deal with, but when it shuts you into a cramped area and gives twenty or thirty all rushing your at once, it freaking sucks. This isn't Gears of War, and you're not playing Horde Mode. This is an action/horror game, and I died more times during these parts than any other part of the game.
You're completely safe during the daytime, meaning you spend those hours talking to people around town to help unravel the mystery. You meet some really fun people, and I never got bored of listening to them ramble on. Pretty impressive for an action/horror game, right?
When the sun goes down, the Dark Presence will come at you in force again. Nearly all the nighttime segments. You'll be dumped in the middle of a forest, surrounded by Taken, and of course the one place you need to go will be on the complete other side of the country. You'll shoot your way there, and... yeah, that's about all there is to the game.
Therein lies one of Alan Wake's biggest problems. You only do two things: talk to people, and shoot monsters. There's nothing wrong with that, and the combat works really well, but the fact that the levels are sooooo looooong really began to grate on me. You run, you shoot, you reach the checkpoint, and then you run and shoot some more. There are only a couple puzzles, and they're all so easy it's almost insulting. Again, there's nothing wrong with the core gameplay, but when that's all you're doing for entire levels without stop it becomes boring. And the levels can take over two hours each to complete. True, there are plenty of ways you can go off the beaten track to discover secrets, like ammo stashes and manuscript pages, but that only makes things last even longer!
Credit where credit is due, though, the levels are beautiful and incredibly well designed. Most of them take place on old hiking trails, so be prepared for plenty of soaring views and other things like that. When you get high enough, its fun to look around and see places you've already been. The game is linear in design, but I can't help but wonder if it would actually work as an open sandbox game, because everything seems to fit together perfectly enough for that to be possible.
That said, while the landscapes here are beautiful, they're all very samey. If you've seen one forest at night, you've seen them all. While you'll occasionally go somewhere different, like a hedge maze or an heavy metal concert, 99% of the game takes place with you surrounded by trees, trees, and more trees. That definitely doesn't help when things start to feel dragged out.
I guess that only leaves the question, is Alan Wake scary? It's a horror/action game after all. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is... I don't know. Video games don't tend to scare me, apart from the occasional jump scare (which this game is free of, thank God), so I'm not sure if I can give an accurate appraisal on the scariness factor.
It's worth noting, though, that having the Taken spout out things like, "Omega 3 fatty acids are good for your heart!" and "I once caught a fish this big!" doesn't exactly make me tremble in my boots...
Despite all these complaints, none of them ruined the game. Not even close. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but I still wouldn't hesitate to call it one of my favorite games of all time. Get it, get it, get it! And if you need a 360 to play it, get that too!
I give Alan Wake for the Xbox 360 a 9.0/10!
When this game first came out, it sounded good, but not unique enough to give it my time. Then I read your post in "Now Playing" and finally thought that maybe I needed to pick it up. Even added it to my "to buy" list. Now based on this review, although positive, makes me think I'm not missing much new here. So I'm back on the fence again.... Either way, thanks for sharing and getting me to think about this game again.
Yeah, there's not a lot here that can be called new. Wearing enemies down by shining your flashlight on them is neat, but nothing groundbreaking. Still, I recommend it just to experience the story. That's the main draw here, at least for me.
I actually think this game is a bit overrated. I finished it, but it didn't really feel 'special to them'. I mean, it's very well produced and the atmosphere is very well done, but the gameplay is a bit repetitive, the game is very linear and the major premise of the plot becomes clear very early in the game. In my opinion it's good, but not fantastic.