Writer, Alan Wake, and his wife have gone off on vacation to Bright Falls to get away from their troubles and try and cure Alan’s writers block. However, this sleepy town turns out to be a nightmarish prison. Alan’s wife goes missing and at night the Taken stalk the town folk. Alan sets off to find his wife and unravel the mysteries of this town, all the while finding manuscript pages written by him for a book he’s yet to actually write.
It’s a great premise and one that can’t help but intrigue you. There are barriers to your immersion of course. There’s more than its fair share of absurd dialogue, questionable narrative decisions, clichéd horror moments and irritating characters that all break the atmosphere, but fortunately the atmosphere is so dense with intrigue and fear that the experience, as a whole, doesn’t suffer. It’s a testament to the amount of detail and care taken with the setting. There’s no denying what a compelling tale Alan Wake delivers despite its flaws.
The narrative maintains a steady pace as you make your way through six standard chapters and two additional DLC chapters bundled with the game. Structured episodically like a serialised TV show, discovering the source of the strange evil that engulfs Bright Falls will take you a good 8-10 hours. Additionally the narrative does a marvellous job of unfolding around your character’s actions, not bogging you down with cut scenes, keeping dialogue snappy, as well as providing plenty of supplemental material such as manuscript pages and other objects to convey more narrative and set the scene. They too can occasionally break your immersion, with the manuscript pages in particular pausing play so you can read them as well as hinting strongly at what’s coming next, removing some of the fear, but it’s a genuinely interesting story in an excellent location.
Bright Falls’ dark forests, sleepy town and rugged mountains are a perfect environment for both the vacation this getaway is supposed to be for Alan, as well as the mystery and horror. There’s a sense of isolation and a feeling of the unknown with the location and its residents that compliments the genre and narrative spectacularly.
It’s a linear adventure, though, with only the slightest of detours available to scout out hidden items, extra ammo and batteries for your all important torch. But this focuses the experience, resulting in excellent pacing. Pistols, hunting rifles and shotguns complimented by a flashlight, flare gun and flash grenades make up your arsenal, and this survival horror does take more than a few turns at Action Avenue, but the combat is satisfying and interesting enough to resist repetition and not sully the horror. Light is your friend, warding off enemies as well as weakening them so you can finish them off with a conventional weapon.
The actual actions you’re performing out of combat tread familiar territory. You’ll solve rudimentary environment puzzles, shoot aggressors, find keys to locked doors, or simply run from point A to point B. What’s unique, however, is how well Alan Wake uses lighting, playing on the primal fear of the dark and having you performs these everyday videogame tasks surrounded by it and the evils that lurk within. It’s another example of the brilliant atmosphere taking centre stage. It makes what could so easily have been a repetitive adventure all the more interesting and gloriously disturbing.
You’ll frequently be running through the forest or down streets, sticking to any light source you can find or jump-starting generators to create an oasis of light. Occasional vehicle sections allow you to use headlights as weapons before running down you foes and multiple set-pieces make a lasting impression. It’s a well crafted game, thoughtfully paced and designed to create a truly memorable experience.
Enemies pose a real threat and can tear you apart quickly if given half the chance. Getting caught under equipped is terrifying. Enemies chase you relentlessly; your eyes play tricks on you as every dark corner seems to contain more horror. There’s a real sense of dread despite the action heavy combat. The presentation helps with this immensely, with the town and vegetation looking absolutely spectacular. People look less believable in the light but in the darkness everything looks menacing and great. Audio also plays a big part in the immersion and atmosphere. Sound effects are spot on and the score invokes the same eeriness as The Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks, two TV shows that were obviously are great source of inspiration.
Indeed Alan Wake is a magnificent horror game. It balances action and horror elements in just the right way and the experience is crafted to imitate clichéd horror TV shows in an endearing manner. Product placement can get irritating and there are some poor characters with equally poor dialogue to break immersion, even Alan himself proves to be unlikeable on more than one occasion, but overall it’s a complete success.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Platform: PC Release Date: 02/03/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Alan Wake for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.