Thursday, 14 February 2013

Replay: Alan Wake Review

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Alan Wake is a game that I had heard near endless praise for and yet had never played or seen in action. So when I asked for an Xbox to replace my broken PS3 I was sure to try and get Alan Wake at long last. Alan Wake is a third person survival horror style game that manages to be different to anything I have ever played whilst drawing on many of the staples of the survival horror genre that have been absent from games for several years now.

The game follows the story of Alan Wake, a ridiculously successful writer who is on holiday trying to get away from the fact that he hasn't been able to write a single word for two years. To get away from his struggles he takes a vacation to Bright Falls, a small, picturesque town surrounded by lakes and forests. People in the town recognise him, one even asks for an interview, but he is still confident that he can get the peace and quiet he needs. Sadly things don't go his way as strange and supernatural things begin to occur in his dreams and then in his life and, after a row with his wife Alice, he awakens in a crashed car only to find her missing. The game follows Alan Wake as he tries to find his wife, figure out what the hell is going on and restart his writing career. The story is a very engaging one, with great characters and a great setting. There is a constant sense of mystery but things are revealed fast enough for your interest not to wane. There is also a fantastic mechanic used where you can find pages from a manuscript that Wake has written but hasn't actually written yet. The manuscript reveals things that you have yet to play through or adds depth to things you have already done. Although the description of this mechanic makes no sense it really does work to progress the story in a way that is utterly unique and very interesting. The story is one of the most engaging stories I've ever witnessed in a game but that doesn't mean it comes without flaws. One of the things I had an issue with was how predictable the initial setup of the story was. Of course Alice only took him there to try and fire up his creative juices and of course they'll have an argument and then she'll go missing and of course, in a game where the dark itself is out to get you, your wife would have a crippling fear of the dark. These flaws don't ruin the story, it's still a great tale, but it can be a bit heavy handed at times.

The gameplay is equally unique. The game controls much as you'd expect a third person game to but your enemies and the way you kill them makes it unique. Your enemies are controlled by and protected by darkness. To remove the dark protection you must either shine a flashlight at them or use a flare, the use of light removes the dark protection and then you can attack them with the various weapons you can find. This means that you must manage things like flares and batteries as well as bullets and in a large fight it can be hard to keep your light powered up and your gun loaded. Also as enemies are faster and stronger than you a lengthy fight can be a bad idea, sometimes you just have to run for it. The fights, though numerous and sometimes quite large in scale, never feel too much like the sort of fight that might belong in action game. They are fights that are done very much in the same vein as the classic Survival Horror games of the past. This is because the developers managed to get a perfect balance between ammo and light management as well as enemy numbers, strength and speed. Sure your battery may recharge but with four guys coming at you you'll have to lower your flashlight to change the battery. You might not have enough batteries and/or in the time it takes you to change the battery, you could get mauled by a group of Taken. This becomes slightly less of a concern as the game progresses because you find better guns, like a shotgun, and also better ways of creating light such as flares which you can hold on to or throw, and flare guns which are great for taking out groups of birds that are possessed by the darkness.

Light is also the way you get more health, stand in a well lit area and you will have your health recharged, you'll be safe too because enemies flee from the light. Though the mechanical side of the gameplay is unique the game does rely too heavily upon it. Most of the gameplay consists of roaming through forests and buildings fighting Taken, there are occasional puzzles but these usually consist of little more than finding and activating a generator. The gameplay is unique so the lack of variation isn't totally mind numbing but still, I found that even with the awesome story the game could become a bit dull in lengthy sessions thanks to the unvaried gameplay. On top of this the camera takes some serious getting used to because, although functional, it just feels floaty and, at times, a little bit sluggish.

The game is also a good length, which is crucial as it is a strictly single player affair. A quick play through will take you about twelve hours but if you are interested in exploring and searching for some of the numerous collectible items then the game can last you fifteen to twenty hours. Also there is some replay value as finding certain pages can change how deeply you understand certain events.

Graphics wise the game is a real sight. The environments are very detailed, with lush forests, decrepit cabins and shimmering lakes looking stunning in broad daylight and menacing in the darkness of night. There are even nice touches like the fact that bushes move as you move through them, a detail which I really appreciate. The graphics are complimented well by the soundtrack in terms of their efforts to create tension. Footsteps, enemies roars, gunshots, the flight of birds as they are startled, all of them add to the tension that the game builds. There were moments when I genuinely jumped, like when a barrel fell over to reveal an axe wielding maniac charging at me. A maniac who was strong and took six bullets to kill. Not scary at all right?

Alan Wake is one of the most unique and enjoyable games I have ever played. The story and gameplay are unlike any other game that I have ever played and the graphics, soundtrack and script are all top quality. This is definitely one of the best games the 360 has and is one of the best games from this generation overall. It's a real shame it's taken me so long to play it.

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