There was a lot of action on offer this weekend with the highlights being StarCraft II (obviously) and Xbox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake. In addition to my Friday flavoured thoughts on Blizzard's long awaited, space-faring RTS follow up, the mission design is top notch. Very rarely is the principal objective to destroy the enemy base (or a large opposing force). While sometimes you are tasked with destroying targets, there are usually time and resource constraints which will force players to approach missions with a creative, and at times experimental mindset. Completing secondary objectives doesn't just add to your achievement point tally, they can also provide opportunities to acquire research points and unlock new units and permanent upgrades to your existing arsenal. I've replayed several missions already, and the rewards are greater than points and upgrades, there is genuine excitement on offer, even after the first playthrough.
I was lucky enough to be gifted with the Collector's Edition of Remedy's foray into the survival horror genre, Alan Wake (thanks Carls!). I'm yet to delve into any of the extra content packed in with the game, preferring to jump straight into the macabre adventure. From the get-go I noticed a few presentation issues that, while minor, are serving to take the gloss off this long-developed title. The lip-syncing during cut-scenes is entirely unconvincing. Whether screaming in terror or sharing a quiet word with his wife, Wake's mouth moves in a similar, almost robotic fashion. Further to that, characters' faces also seem to miss audio cues by a slight margin. There are also noticeable instances of screen-tearing when you pan the camera too fast, or when the action gets too hectic.
All that negativity aside, there are some shining lights (ha! torch pun) that serve to make up for these shortcomings. Finding pages of a manuscript that Wake does not remember writing, provide some foreshadowing of future terrors. Further to that, the central character's constant narration throughout the action adds to the tension and serves to develop the story. The episodic structure of the narrative works in the game's favour as well, as the combat is fairly repetitive and excess exposure to Alan Wake the character can be nauseating. He is not entirely unlikable, however his selfishness and predeliction to douchery discount from the positive impression made by the unusual narrative mechanics and gorgeous town and wilderness of Bright Falls. The lighting and environments are truly exceptional, and most of the time you won't mind scouring through the forest for more manuscript pages. Microsoft's unrelenting hype machine has exposed Alan Wake to a greater level of scrutiny then I would normally afford other titles. I was expecting a great game refined to a perfect one after a five year development cycle. What I got was a good game with some great ideas, seemingly (at least so far) undermined by some technical issues and cliched characters.
I plan to complete both of these blockbusters. StarCarft II because it is the sequel to a childhood favourite and Alan Wake because I can see a good game behind my litany of complaints about an adventure game that explores the perils of writer's block.
What did you guys play this past weekend?