Friday, August 6

In case you haven't played it: Alan Wake Review (X360)

Released during May, or as I like to call it: the mid-year gaming glut, Alan Wake is an Xbox 360 exclusive, survival horror title. Developed by Max Payne creators, Remedy, this oft-delayed 3rd person "Psychological Action Thriller," details the titular character's violent holiday to the town of Bright Falls. After a short time in this small American town, it becomes apparent that there is something in the water and Wake's sabbaticle turns into a waking nightmare.

The Good
Cliffhanger - The overarching story arc in Alan Wake is among the year's best. The lure of further exposition, in the form of well-directed cinematics and collectable manuscript pages kept me playing through some of the more tiresome sequences on offer throughout the adventure. Even when I read about an approaching threat, or story twist, the heavy foreshadowing never spoiled future sequences, rather they added to them.

Stay in the light - The lighting effects on show in Alan Wake are technically and artistically impressive, and very rarely will you notice a hitch. A repetitive combat system is saved by the clever implementation of light as a weapon, but more importantly it almost always looks spectacular (especially when you add a flare gun into the mix). The shadows that possess the Taken and give dark life to inanimate objects are also a visual delight.

The middle - The strongest sections in Alan Wake are after the main premise has been established, and before its prolonged final chapter. Combat and exposition are balanced expertly in the third and fourth episodes. Further to that, some of the more memorable characters are introduced, or at least developed to the point where they were no longer unlikable. One of the best set-pieces I've played through involves a rock concert and a brilliant pyrotechnic display.

Not entirely original soundtrack - Alan Wake employs some exceptional licensed tunes to signal the end of each episode, and in one instance, accompany a tense fight in a warehouse (look for the conveniently placed radio towards the end of the 5th episode). Some of the tracks are a bit hammy, but they do match the mood of the game quite well.

The Bad
Clone Wars - There are about 6 different enemy types in Alan Wake and they repeat ad infintum. After I had dispatched my 300th sickle-wielding, plaid shirt-wearing, Taken; any sense of tension was lost in the visual tedium. Too add to the overwhelming sense of repitition, every enemy acts with the same mandate: rush Wake. There is no flanking, no strategy, just aggro enemies that spout jibberish. Some Taken carry stronger weaponry (like chainsaws) but their approach is frighteningly similar.

Cake Walk - On normal difficulty, Alan Wake completely fails to present a challenge. The only segments that required multiple attempts were poorly constructed platforming sequences which frustrated me to no end. Even the most fearsome of enemies can be dispatched with some strafing and mindful pressing of the "use battery," button. The greatest indictment is that in this survival horror game, you always have more ammunition than you could possibly need. You never feel stretched, or fatigued from a lack of resources, you tire rather from a lack of genuine challenge.

Constant (although minor) visual hitches - Alan Wake is one of the better looking games to be released in 2010, with expansive, gorgeous environments and as mentioned previously, lighting effects without peer. For all of its grandeur and visual splendour however, you'll encounter instances of screen-tearing and blurred, ugly textures that muddy an otherwise unspoiled canvas. This may sound like nit-picking, but it happened enough to hurt the strong impression made by the town of Bright Falls.

The Ugly
No change of pants required - For a "Psychological Action Thriller," I sure managed to keep it together while playing through Alan Wake. The Taken aren't especially fearsome, and as discussed on Glaring Omission, there is no strong, obvious consequence for failure. There are no jump moments in this survival horror title, and very few moments where I felt anything close to anxious.

The last episode - One of the worst examples of level design I have had the dubious honour of playing through, Alan Wake's sixth chapter is part shooter, part driving game, all tedium. What should have been a quick, tension-filled ride to your final confrontation with the Dark Presence turns into a mind-numbing series of tired road blocks and combat set pieces.

7/10 - For every great idea explored in Alan Wake, there are several tired design choices that prevent it from being the Game of the Year contender it should have been. The story is worth seeing through to its conclusion, but my word the level design makes you work for those scraps of exposition. A survival horror game with no frights, Alan Wake features a repetitive combat system and poor level design which detract from the innovations on display. Trying too hard to be too many things, Rememdy should have taken (ha!) the less is more approach. Jack of all trades, master of one.

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