Alan Wake Review: The return of the eerie and psychological gameplay.

25 05 2010
 
While Red Dead Redemption was on practically everyone’s consoles this past release week, The Pause Button instead invested in the other heavy-hitter release on Tuesday for the Xbox 360: Alan Wake.

The game's protagonist and namesake, Alan Wake, is a struggling author who is thrown into a nightmare experience in Bright Falls.

Alan Wake is a game created by Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Max Payne 2) and revolves around a writer who vacations in the rural town of Bright Falls in order to escape the stress of being unable to write anything for the past two years. The first night in though, Wake’s wife goes missing, the townspeople become “the Taken” (beings that are overcome by darkness and exhibit murderous tendencies), and Wake is thrust right into the middle of a story he doesn’t remember creating.

The game itself plays like any other third-person shooter, but uses ingenious methods of combat to keep the player engaged. 

Since all of the “Taken” are enshrouded in darkness, weapons utilizing light become almost more useful than the normal firearms at Wake’s disposal. Flashlights, flare guns, and flash bang grenades all are key to survival, which takes Wake a slight notch above other games where it is simply point-and-shoot gameplay. Admittedly, one of the game’s most entertaining and involved sequence makes use of fireworks against hordes of enemy “Taken” (thanks to a couple of aging rocker residents of Bright Falls).

The Taken enemies must first be cleared of darkness before Wake can damage them. While this makes gameplay a bit more tedious, it forces gamers to be more strategic in the use of flash weapons.

The main driving point of Wake however, is definitely the way the story is told and how great of a  suspense/psychological experience it delivers. 

The story itself follows Wake as he pieces together clues about what is happening, as well as where his missing wife is, and who may be potentially pulling all the strings behind the scenes. This Stephen King-inspired plot serves the suspense well, as gamers are constantly wondering where Wake might end up, mentally and physically, at the end of each “episode” of the game. 

The pacing of the story seems kept in time until the fifth episode, then it becomes a little tedious to get to the very end. However, alot of the sequences inbetween involving fighting the darkness and exchanges between Wake and Barry (his manager) serve to break up the sometimes monotonous missions.

As far as the psychological aspect, Alan Wake is not afraid to mess with gamers for no apparent reason. When directing Wake through the treacherously dark areas, noises will occur without any explanations or reason, mysterious gusts of wind will kick up preceding enemy spawns, and lit areas that will keep you safe from the “Taken” will suddenly go dark as soon as you reach them. 

In this respect, the game truly hearkens back to others in the psychological/horror genre such as Eternal Darkness for the GameCube or Silent Hill for the Playstation One, where creepy or unsettling things happened, simply for the sake of keeping the gamer on their toes. It also goes farther with the psychological ideals though with the story elements beginning to be deciphered by Wake and the final (somewhat anticlimactic but still very satisfying) ending.

While Alan Wake is definitely a game worthy of any players attention, it lacks in replay value. 

In Alan Wake, lit areas can heal and protect you from the "Taken." Some however, must be jumpstarted by generators as pictured above.

There are only two other levels of difficulty open for anyone who’s beaten the game on Normal (which clocks in at around 9-10 hours gameplay, 12-15 for those who are explorers or item mongers), with some collectible items (for achievements) that can only be unlocked and recovered in the hardest difficulty: Nightmare. There have been reports of some DLC ahead for the game, but how much content it will have and how engaging it will be remains to be seen. 

It seems that a game with eerie atmospheres and tons of suspense like Wake are hard to find these days with other horror titles such as Dead Space dominating the scene with jolting scares and enemies. Hopefully Alan Wake will begin a new trend of psychological thriller games in a sort of resurgence in the genre.

Gamers should definitely try Alan Wake at least once to get a refreshing psychological experience and fluid gameplay, but it may not be for everyone so don’t rush out to buy it if you haven’t tried it. Definitely rent it first to get a feel for it or to just play through it once.

Alan Wake is currently available for the Xbox 360 for $60 USD.

Check out the audio post below for commentary on interesting moments of Alan Wake and game mechanics. Also includes some funny and odd raw audio recordings of The Pause Button’s gamers playing through the game.

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