Alan Wake Reader Review
Alan Wake is a title I've waited patiently on for six years. From the initial promises, through to the delays and the waiting game when we were told they were polishing the finished product - this is a game that has taken it's sweet freaking time, and now we have it, something tells me this isn't quite what they intended all those years ago.
Alan Wake is, as we all know now, an author who writes bestselling horror novels (a bit like Stephen King, just a lot less charismatic). The thing is, he has writers block (I know the feeling) so decides to go and get some inspiration with a nice little holiday. Of course, the Bahamas or Spain aren't going to get those messed-up creative juices flowing, so he takes his wife along to a picturesque retreat at Bright Falls - think Twin Peaks with heavy overtones of Lost, The X Files and Doctor Who and you'll start to get a flavour of the place. It's weird. Like, properly weird. Pretty, picturesque and postcard-friendly, but weird.
Of course, you don't get too far before a convenient accident occurs, and Alan wakes up to find his darling lady missing and... umm... oh god! It's Silent Hill! AHHHHHHHH!
But more on that later.
There's no denying Alan Wake is pretty as can be, and that the world they have crafted is nothing short of amazing. Bright Falls (Why does that sound like a Sonic the Hedgehog level?) is a seriously messed up place, and one that seems to hint that Alan himself has more than a passing finger in the pie - it is a nightmare that he constantly is reminded is of his own creation, a place where his imagination and a mysteriously written-but-forgotten tale has come to life. Yup, there's those Silent Hill overtones, along with the faint whiff of Eternal Darkness.
Of course, Alan Wake doesn't ape Silent Hill exclusively - Remedy has gone to great lengths to beg, borrow and steal from just about every conceivable Survival Horror game of the past decade.
For example, the combat itself is a slight nod to Resident Evil 4, but with a twist of Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare and Doom 3. The enemies he faces, The Taken, are possessed by The Dark Presence - pure darkness who are resilient to pain, so what to do? Oh, a flashlight! Of course, a staple of the genre. Flashlight in one hand, you focus it onto your victim and watch as the light repels the darkness just enough that you are left with the squishy weak flesh that your weapons can take down. Of course, there's some tactical play at work here when you are outnumbered, working out what to take down first and of course, there's a dodge that slows down time for you to do some fancy manoeuvres. Just because y'know, if you're going to be unoriginal you at least should be SUPER unoriginal.
The game itself is split into six episodes (Alone in the Dark!) and your weapons don't carry through (Siren?). By day, the town of Bright Falls is yours to explore and the people are definitely not all there (just about the same in a majority of horror games, novels, tv shows, films...). The game itself follows a rather linear path, but with ample space to explore and poke about (Project Zero!), and it's in this that Alan Wake does feel fleshy and whole - there's so much to read, see and learn that you do get the sense that this was intended to be more open, but instead they felt that a player could experience the game if they were prepared to go off the beaten track.
It's when night falls that the darkness comes out to play, and Remedy have at least managed to create an atmosphere of complete dread, a twitchy trigger-finger on standby as you progress further and work out what Alan has done, and whether he'll remember how it ends and save the girl.
There's definitely a big space in my heart for the narrative, the score and the mysterious people who genuinely seem to be one keg short of a party - it does build up and as you plough through, everything is kept in check with the right level of music, the right tone of voice to be soothing, intelligent of just plain creepy. Alan Wake sets the scene just right and it's a wonderful experience.
Just, it's not an original experience.
Now, don't misunderstand me, I long ago gave up hoping for originality in my games - it's a bit like hoping for a bit of GLADoS' cake, we know it exists (or does it?) but she ain't giving it. But there's being a by-the-book title and then there's the Alan Wake approach which decides to borrow wholesale from genre titles that have managed to pull it off. Which is fine, because Alan Wake does at least seem to hold its hands up and admit its references, but really now - six years and all we end up with is a Greatest Hits of the Noughties album?
It's not even that I am against borrowing of ideas. I just expect a game to make them its own in a sense, and Alan Wake is chock full of glimpses and tastes of arguably some of the best ideas and concepts of the past decade, but by the end I didn't feel like Alan Wake did much more than take lots of ideas and concepts and bunged them in hoping that a little of everything would in a sense lift it from being a run-and-gun pseudo-survival horror exercise. When you spend your weekend reeling off a whole list of other games titles in the process of playing a new one, you just know it's not worked.
It's that which bugs me, and it is that which piledrives the score down into the ground. Alan Wake is a functional, properly psychotic little title full to bursting with ideas that seem to have been neglected as the developers shoehorned in as many borrowed ideas as it could. Alan Wake feels like a bigger, brasher and more importantly, a deeper and longer game could have been eeked out of it and was intended, but someone bottled it at the last moment - opting instead for a shorter, pacier action-orientated focus believing, wrongly I might add, that was what we wanted after a wait of six years. And don't get me started on the ending.
All said though, and the thrashing I've given it, Alan Wake is deserving of some credit. Although I have gone to town on it, we all probably knew and expected this to happen from a developer that hasn't really been known for its horror gems and what they've come up with is an enjoyable 11-or-so-hours of messed up fun and frolics through Alan's twisted little mind. It does just enough to push it's head above the parapet of something borrowed something blue etc. for it to be noticed - and notice it we have, and played it we have. For all it's failings, it's a game that should be experienced, but it just won't last long.
It's a pity that after six years, they didn't seem to feel the need to do more than borrow, and the fact is it is so unoriginal I doubt we'll be talking about this game in a years time.
Unless they decide a sequel is in order... in 2020, I'd wager, borrowing a lot more ideas that will have become genre staples in that time.
Prove me wrong Remedy.
Prove. Me. Wrong.