Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sketched Games: Alan Wake

Get out your flashlights and revolvers, we're reviewing Alan Wake!

Alan Wake(Mathew Porretta) is a famous writer who needs a vacation.  He and his wife decide to get away from it all by visiting the small town of Bright Falls. Things quickly take a turn for the weird when Alan's wife is kidnapped by a dark presence and he's the only one that can save her! Minor spoilers ahead.

Alan's got a short temper and he talks a lot.
Alan Wake is a pretty fun action thriller.  I wouldn't necessarily label it a horror game, but it depends on your level of scary.  Usually I'll play a game in spurts over a few months but with Alan Wake, I was so engrossed with the story I finished it two weeks after I purchased it. Play time should average around 10-15 hours, which I'm pretty content with.

The story really sucks you in. I really wanted to find out what was going on and why! It starts out simple enough with dream sequences and partial amnesia, but the plot keeps twisting and turning. It really gets going when you start to find manuscript pages of one of Wake's novels that he doesn't remember writing. The manuscript pages describe random events, but pretty soon you find pages that descibe events that have already happened in the game. Then, you find pages of events that haven't even happened yet! It creates this weird sense of foreshadowing and dramatic irony that I love, and it's meta as all hell. The designers do a great job of strategically placing the pages in spots that turn the story on its head.

Barry is the best!
The game is very reminiscent of things like Twin Peaks, X-FIles and anything by Stephen King. It's broken up into "episodes" and each episode has a recap and an outro with some great music. The game developers put so much content into this game. Other than the manuscript pages, there's random descriptions of places in-game, tons of dialogue from side-characters, and Wake's narration of everything going on, which makes it feel liek you're playing through a novel.  They even made mini TV episodes of a fake show called "Night Springs" that they must have acted out themselves. It's a real treat to look for all the episodes.

The gameplay is pretty simple to get into and fun to play in spurts. Shine a ligh on the baddies with your flashlight, flares, spotlights etc, and then shoot them with your firearm. There's enough variety in the weapons to give a sense of choice and to keep things from getting too stale. In fact, if they have a sequel, I really hope they have multiplayer.  Think how interesting it would be if one character held the flashlight while the other held the gun!  Or y'know, 2 flashlights and 2 guns I guess. Also, one character could control a giant spotlight while the other runs and guns. Just putting that out there.

There's a very creepy atmosphere to Bright Falls. I don't know if I'd classify it as scary as there aren't really any jump scares; they give you plenty of time informing you of your impending attackers. But whenever the "taken" talk it's always a weird distorted jumble of dialogue. Also, I kept expecting the slender man to pop out, so there's that...
There are some minor annoyances in the gameplay. Some of the controls can be buggy or clunky, and the dodge mechanic can be ineffectual if there's multiple enemies. It's especially annoying when tryign to jump over or climb on to things.  The driving feels tacked on and none of the cars are especially fun to drive. I almost wish they had left it out.  The puzzles are ok, but not especially hard.  It gets a little long toward the end, but I enjoyed adventuring through the woods and running around interacting with townspeople.

Alan Wake is a fun engrossing adventure with some creepy atmosphere and great meta narrative. It's an interesting enough story I might buy the add-ons and the new semi-sequel American Nightmare.

THE GOOD: great story with satisfying payoff, fun gameplay, creepy atmosphere, great soundtrack, lots of quirks and extra content, nice game length.

THE BAD: some of the controls are clunky/buggy, dodging, car parts aren't especially fun.

THE VERDICT: $$$$ Buy it! It should be pretty cheap to pick up now. You might even be able to rent it and beat it in a week.  If you liek action-horror and meta-humor, you'll enjoy Alan Wake.

THINGS LIKE IT: Twin Peaks, Gravity Falls, Silent Hill, SHutter Island, 

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: You find a manuscript page on the ground detailing how Alan fought a possessed bulldozer, but you haven't fought a bulldozer...yet...

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