Guest Author - James Shea
A third-person horror game, "Alan Wake" delivers an interesting narrative alongside a reasonably standard set of game mechanics.
The game's protagonist is the eponymous Alan Wake, a horror writer on vacation in the small town of Bright Falls, Washington. Shortly after arriving, the unnatural - or supernatural - nature of the town becomes more and more evident as Wake discovers that the contents of his book and his writings are coming true. The story is structured similarly to a Stephen King novel - the writer protagonist, the small-town setting, the mysterious and unexplained supernatural horror - and the game acknowledges this by mentioning King in its very first lines.
The game's main enemies are the Taken, shadowy humanoid figures covered in inky darkness. By directing light at them through any available sources - flashlights, flare guns, flash grenades, and so on - Alan can strip the Taken of their shadow, exposing their human bodies. At this point the Taken can be destroyed through conventional means such as firearms. "Light" in its many forms serves as the game's primary mechanical concept; Wake must move from lighted area to lighted area in order to stay safe, and must make use of any available resources to protect himself.
I'm not a particularly jaded or hardened gamer, but despite this I didn't feel a lot of suspense from Alan Wake. It's certainly trying to evoke fear, using light and darkness as its foundation, but the nature of the enemies and the gameplay didn't really make me feel afraid, and I don't see how it could really affect anyone. The most it can really do is "surprise"; the enemies aren't particularly grotesque or terrifying, and apart from the very basic survival elements of conserving resources, there's just not that much to worry about. It really felt more like a supernatural-themed action game than a "horror" game, despite the occasional jabs at things like pop scares and unsettling imagery.
The game's graphics are serviceable, if not particularly inspired. The small-town imagery is used fairly well early on, but the somewhat dull "realism" gets grating after a while. The darkness itself is not enough to be intriguing or exciting; it's just sort of there. In fact, that's the general motif of the game's construction: it vaguely works. The story is "good", the mechanics are "good", the graphics are "good". The light-based mechanics are an interesting idea, but then there's nothing else to really say about them. The game's functional, but "functionality" by itself isn't really enough to work with.
One specific complaint I had was that (on the PC version) the camera was really jittery and over-reactive, but that was somewhat resolved by simply turning the mouse sensitivity all the way down. The camera itself is somewhat problematic, being located several feet to Alan's right or left, which makes it kind of useless for directing your own movement. Oh, also at one point the game autosaved while I was falling off a cliff, forcing me to restart the whole game because there was only one save file. But other than those things, Alan Wake is a decent, if uninspired, "horror" game.
We purchased this game with our own funds for the purpose of doing this review.
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