Bright Falls was more than a just an town in the Pacific Northwest of America. It was a living character in Remedy’s Alan Wake. It was creepy and cruel at night, but pleasant and welcoming during the day. It’s not easy to create a convincing world, so I can see why it took over five years to develop this game. As with anything with a long development cycle, expectations are high. I enjoyed Max Payne I & II very much and thus anything developed by the studio which brought me those games could have my money without much convincing.
A survival horror (or “psychological thriller”) works best when I’m not questioning the game’s mechanics. (Reasons behind those mechanics may make me wonder a few things, but we’ll get to that later) For much of the game, I felt I was in full control of the situation. Alan Wake felt great as a shooter. When I unloaded a shotgun blast into the body of those shadowy “Taken”, it felt satisfying. The entire experience of combating the Taken via flashlight and standard firearms never got old for me. I could melt the darkness all night. Playing on the hard difficulty proved to be a wise choice since it pushed me into using the exotic “weaponry” like the flares or the flare gun. Flares pushed the darkness away and gave me room to breathe while the flare gun acted like a rocket launcher of purification. Every Taken it touched was vaporized.
Even the rate of reloading of weapons was in my hands. The panic of back pedaling while I frantically mashed the X button to reload faster as a darkness imbued forest ranger marched towards me with giant axe in hand was exhilarating. I didn’t get frustrated at Wake for not reloading fast enough. If I died, it was because I didn’t time a dodge properly or give myself enough space to react. Enemies loved attacking from all angles, so it was important to be aware of my surroundings — even if they were creepy forests.
Although I was relieved to see daylight, this game’s strength was the night time. In daylight, sub-HD resolution and blurry textures become apparent. While at night, convincing lighting from Wake’s flashlight, flares and other light sources elevated the game to one of the best night time games ever crafted. It’s that good.
The Havok powered physics also lent a hand with the convincing reality of Bright Falls. They didn’t flake out on me like other games do with their physics implementations. When a possessed car hurled itself at me, I knew how it would react in the world. I wished there was some level of destructibility in this world, but that wasn’t the case. I was able to use that to my advantage and would stand right behind a telephone pole and watch those possessed objects bounce off of it. It’s one of the handful of reality shattering things which reminded me I was playing a game.
Alan Wake narrated the experience from the first person perspective and I appreciated it. His voice work and the voice work at a whole was great. Barry Wheeler, Wake’s publicist, was particularly lovable thanks in part of the voice work. But as much as I praise that aspect of the audio, I praise the effort put into the ambiance even more. Rustling leaves, highly accurate positioning of foot steps and tension rising audio cues are just a few examples of audio tricks they used. Shining the flashlight on an enemy produced a heightening pitch which culminated with a fizzle signifying that it was ready to be taken out by mortal means.
But why did these flashlights consume so much batteries? Do Energizer batteries really run out that fast? It’s an obvious game mechanic, but it’s one that wasn’t factored into the game’s logic. Like the Thermoses as well. They were there as mere collectibles. The manuscripts strewn throughout the game, on the other hand, had a significant role serving as a reminder of what was happening and a sneak peak of what’s to come. They helped me get involve with the game’s narrative and made me wonder how things were going to play out with Bright Falls and Wake.
Splitting the game into six TV-like episodes worked well. It served as a natural stopping point since they ended with cliffhangers and provided recaps at the beginning of each episode. As an added bonus, since I was already playing the game in chunks, adding additional episodes via downloadable content felt natural. If only it was possible to do episodic gaming like this. I’d subscribe!
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with Alan Wake. Descriptions of the game weren’t particularly helpful and the impressions I got from the media and community wasn’t exactly buzzing. There was a lot more commotion around Rockstar’s Western themed heavy hitter and probably with good reason. I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t pick it up yet. What I discovered after playing this game was how much I missed Remedy’s style. They deliver great action, atmosphere and narration. Excellent work, Remedy!
For more information on Alan Wake, visit the official site.