6 hours in Bright Falls – Alan Wake review

There was a reason I was in Birmingham city centre at 8.30 this morning. As well as picking up a free Seattle Latte from Starbucks, I was there to pick up the first game I have ever pre-ordered; Alan Wake. At 9am the doors to the shop opened, and by 9.13am I was on a train back home. At about 9.45am I took a deep breath and started a new game.

The only reason I stopped playing was that it was 5pm and my parents were suspiciously absent.

A little bit of background first. Alan Wake was first announced at E3 way back in 2005, with Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment teaming up with Microsoft Game Studios for what was originally meant to be an Xbox 360/Windows DirectX-10 title. It was only in February this year that the Windows title was dropped in order to focus on the ‘more compelling’ 360 release. The European release date was brought forward a week to today, with the US release scheduled for the 18th. Also, the first DLC for the game is set to be released on 27th July- entitled “The Signal”, those players who bought the Collectors Edition will be able to use a supplied code to get the download for free.
Even more glad I bought the Collectors Edition now.

I’d heard the game being compared to Silent Hill, Twin Peaks and the Resident Evil series, and I can definitely see the connections. I can also see the influence of Stephen King, which is by no means a bad thing. The game certainly earns it’s ‘thriller’ genre sticker, as the poor friend I was on Xbox Live Chat to at the time will attest. There were times where rational thinking was overtaken by ‘oh shit that’s a possessed bulldozer coming to get me why the hell did I use up all my flares’. And there were many occassions where it was only as the dramatic music died away that I realised I’d been holding my breath.

I was also pleased to see that Remedy have avoided my own personal gaming bugbear- bad voice acting. The cast don’t sound like they’re just reading lines in a studio; they are fully in character (with the exception of Dr. Emil Hartman in places) and watching the cutscenes is more like watching a TV drama. Which is good, as that is a feature I believe Remedy were going for; the game is split into Episodes, each one ending with a cliffhanger and starting with a short review of what happened last time.

I even like the inclusion of little quicktime events, such as pressing A at the right times in order to crank up a decrepid generator. Not just a straightforward survival horror, Alan Wake requires you to think about things and even presents little puzzles. And it commends you for walking off the beaten path- a sudden glimpse of glowing words on a boulder as I passed it made me backtrack and shine my flashlight on it again. I was rewarded with a short series of arrows pointing me towards another series of boulders where someone had handily stashed a crate of batteries and ammunition.

As someone who is deeply interested in the psychology of games (ludology, if you will), I have got a lot of admiration for the Remedy team’s use of the manuscript pages. Not only a key narrative device to give the player a sneaky hint as to what lies ahead, they are effectively used to heighten the drama and tension. I picked up one which told me of possessed birds attacking people- and from them on I stopped dead every time I spotted a bird on the path ahead. They always simply flew away- until about half an hour later, when a whole flock of them suddenly performed a divebombing attack on me. I’d known they were coming, I just hadn’t known when. Similarly, a feeling of dread washed over me when I read the words ‘Then I heard the chainsaw’. After another half-hour or so of making my way tentatively through the logging plant, the dread had dissipated. And then, of course, I wandered into a clearing and heard the roar of petrol-powered teeth powering into life. And the dread came flooding back, along with a stream of curse words.

Put simply, I love it. While the concept of possessed enemies is nothing new, it’s how it is presented and dealt with that makes an impression. The hero is not a ‘hero’ in the standard sense. He’s just an everyman writer trying to find out what happened to his wife. He gets tired after running about a hundred metres, he’s not a master with a gun. But that just makes him all the more believeable, and all the more endearing. The events that are happening in this sleepy town may be horribly true- or it may just be that Alan has lost it after two years of writer’s block.

Three episodes down, three more to go. I have every faith that I will have finished most, if not all, of the game by Monday.

And then I’ll go back and play it on Hard difficulty. And then on Nightmare, so I can find the extra hidden manuscript pages.

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~ by Tegan on May 14, 2010.

One Response to “6 hours in Bright Falls – Alan Wake review”

  1. Hey Tegan! Thanks for a great review, i look forward to more. Your subjective from an interesting perspective but also informative. Thanks! Back to Bright Falls!

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