Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thoughts on Alan Wake

So, what did I do for the month or so that I was offline? Well first I finished Metro 2033, and that is one criminally ignored game. It starts out pretty slow, but if you stick with it, it gets so much better. I can't wait for 2034 to drop. But if you read the post title, you know that game isn't really what I'm here to talk about.

As soon as I finished Metro, I started Alan Wake. The plot basically goes like this, Alan is a writer who has suffered from writer's block for a while, and his wife suggests they go on vacation to a secluded mountain town called Bright Falls. Hopefully some time away from the city is going to help Alan get through his creative dry spell. When they arrive, everything seems normal enough until the first night in their cabin, after Alan and Alice have a fight, Alan storms out, then hears Alice screaming from back inside. He rushes back just in time to see her fall into the lake. He dives in after her, but can't find her, then blacks out. When he awakens, he's behind the wheel of their car which has been in an accident.

Alan spends the rest of the game looking for his wife, trying to make sense of what happened, and fighting for his life against the town's residents, known as the Taken. The town seems to be under the influence of some dark presence that takes control of not only the residents, but even inanimate objects (like bulldozers!). While he makes his way through the nightmare, Alan also comes across pages from a manuscript chronicling the events as if they were from a book he'd written, only he doesn't remember writing it.

Alan Wake completely took me by surprise. I knew it reviewed well, and that's rare for a survival horror game, especially one that doesn't have a "Resident Evil" or "Silent Hill" anywhere in the title. I knew I'd probably enjoy it, but I had no idea how much. I got completely wrapped up in the story, so much so that I felt more like I was watching a really good movie instead of playing a game. And I think that speaks volumes not only for the writing, but for the gameplay itself. Everything about Alan Wake is very well done.

The story is interesting, with lots of little nods to some big names in horror fiction, from King to Lovecraft. One particular reference that I loved was when Alan was running through the redwoods in a national park, and one tree with a path cut through it was labeled as "The Great Old One". Little things like that are all over the place if you take your time and really pay attention to the game. You almost feel like you're playing out an interactive Stephen King novel. The voice actors all turn in pretty good performances, with Alan in particular being the best, which is good considering he not only has dialog but also narrates the game.

The rest of the game is just as good, controls are tight and for the most part make sense, I would've liked a little better control for aiming but it's forgivable being that you're playing a writer, not a mercenary with years of military training. Enemies are fairly smart, they dodge attacks and react to what you're doing believably. It plays out in sections that act almost as episodes from a television show, even going so far as to start new chapters with a "Previously in Alan Wake" recap of the last chapters events. I like this approach, it's not something I've seen in a game before, and also is a cool way for the developers to continue Alan's story through new dlc "episodes" in the future.

Of course the game's not perfect, and unfortunately it's got one major flaw that came pretty close to breaking my heart and ruining the whole thing. It's the end. I was running along, absolutely devouring the story, finding every manuscript page that I could, thinking I had a pretty good grasp of what was going on, and honestly I even thought I knew how it was going to end (dont' want to say though as I don't want to spoil anything). When the end finally came, what happened I couldn't spoil for you if I wanted to. I have no fucking idea what happened at the end of this game. I understand that the plan all along was to continue it in downloadable episodes, that's cool, sign me up, but just go ahead and hit us with a "to be continued" or something rather than the absolute mind-fuck nonsense that almost ruined the whole experience for me.

I was a little late to the party, and so the first add-on was released while I was playing Alan Wake. I haven't downloaded it yet, but from what I've seen online it's supposed to pick up where the game ends, but does very little to explain what's happened and is primarily combat based content that lasts for about an hour. That's not exactly what I was hoping for with the new episodes. Hopefully developer Remedy will raise the bar with future add ons, and the eventual true sequel will unravel the mystery a little more.

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