The good news is they're repelled by light. Our hero takes advantage of this, using one hand to point his torch and stop them in their tracks while shooting with the other. Streetlamps create safe havens for Alan, pools of light which protect him from the Taken and instantly fill up his health meter. He can also ward off enemies using flares, flare guns and flash grenades.
The combat system works well. It requires you to multi-task and think tactically, particularly when facing several enemies at once. Often you find yourself flicking both torch and gun between multiple targets, trying to defend and shoot and back away all at the same time. Other times, and with increasing frequency as the game progresses, you'll decide it's easier just to chuck a flare and leg it. Not so much running and gunning, then, more running and running some more.
Legging it is an especially useful option when you're running low on ammo and torch batteries. That doesn't happen too frequently though, as plentiful supplies of both are littered throughout. The citizens of Bright Falls also like to leave loads of weapons and torches for you, which is handy as Alan isn't very good at hanging on to equipment from one level to the next.
You'll also come across collectable thermos flasks everywhere. These are a bright, shiny blue and don't do much for the game's attempts to create an atmosphere of brooding intrigue. Never mind the mystery of Alan's missing wife - who left all these thermoses lying around? Why is Alan supposed to collect them? And where does he put them all once he's picked them up?
Of course, this isn't the first videogame to feature implausibly abandoned equipment supplies, silly collectables and a main character with pockets more capacious than Mary Poppins' handbag. The problem is Alan Wake spends so much of its time pretending not to be a videogame that such niggles grate more than they otherwise might.
This game really wants to be a film, preferably one based on a Stephen King novel. This is apparent from the opening cut-scene, where a camera sweeps over gloomy pine forest. There's a melodramatic voiceover which begins, "Stephen King once wrote that nightmares exist outside of logic..." and ends, "My name is Alan Wake. I'm a writer." The influence of David Lynch is obvious too, in everything from the game's setting to the songs on the soundtrack.
Once again, this isn't the first videogame to take inspiration from movies. But there's a difference between paying homage and making subtle references versus the wholesale lifting of well-established clichés.
Take the cast of characters, for example. All your old favourites are here - faceless hitch-hiker, mysterious woman in black, earnest local sheriff, over-zealous FBI agent, creepy psychiatrist, nutty old lady who might just be the only person who knows what's really going on etc etc etc. There's even a wacky sidekick complete with loud Hawaiian shirt, brash city-boy mentality and limitless supply of wisecracks. He is as much fun as he sounds.
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