There aren't many studios like Remedy, which relishes being a bit weird. How many studios slow jam their history to music? How many creative directors do a mini-striptease on stage and then dress as characters from their games? Remedy, the Finnish developer of Max Payne, Alan Wake and Quantum Break does.
Two years after the launch of the original game, the once-cancelled PC version of Alan Wake has finally been released, offering the chance to witness a unique game technology at the height of its immense potential.
Five years of development, 7/10, nearly a thousand comments, disappointing sales and, last week, the release of the add-on episode The Signal, which Eurogamer awarded 6/10.
As console exclusives for PS3 and Xbox 360 become rarer, the attention from media and gamers on first-party software has become more intense. Multiformat software does and will continue to break new technological barriers (Bad Company 2 anyone?), but the focus is on the exclusives to see the consoles pushing back the boundaries, unencumbered by the need to accommodate the limitations of a competing platform.
Sam Lake grins as I set up my dictaphone in the basement lounge of Remedy's Helsinki offices. He knows what my first question's going to be before the interview starts.
Remedy's Sam Lake wants us to understand that Alan Wake isn't a horror game. Alan Wake is "a psychological action thriller that contains elements of horror". I don't want to split hairs, but it takes a little time to get comfortable with Lake's definition, because initially at least the "elements of horror" are pretty dominant: an axe-wielding madman, a satanically creepy landlord, and a wife who disappears with a blood-curdling scream all feature during a white-knuckled hour at the controls.
For all its cinematic and televisual influences - Hitchcock, Lost, Twin Peaks, The X-Files - Alan Wake isn't just another action game that wishes it were on the big screen. Light, its thematic motif, is woven inextricably into the gameplay itself; as well as a stylistic visual technique, it's a combat device, your means of progression, your guide through wide-open environments. Alan Wake tells its story like only a videogame can, deftly fashioning its narrative themes of light and darkness and subjective and objective reality into essential gameplay elements. Instead of feeling like the actual game is just getting in the way of the story, as is so often the case with such plot- and character-orientated videogames, Alan Wake's integration of an emotionally-engaging thriller narrative into a third-person action template feels entirely natural.
For the last few years, Alan Wake's been more of a rumour than an actual game: an early next-gen proposition that surfaced briefly to let rip with a shower of moody screenshots before subsequently going quiet for a little bit too long. Every so often, gossip about its fate would bubble up from the deep - idle chatter variously suggesting that it had been cancelled, that it was looking spectacular, or that it had been transformed into a hillbilly water sports game called Alan Wakeboarding - but the stories always dissipated fairly quickly after breaking, and they left nothing behind apart from a few hints of narrative.
Apologies to any Alans reading Eurogamer today, but it's always been one of those names that conjures up visions of the ultimate grey civil servant. Like Norman. Or Kenneth. Or any number of folks in the Conservative Party, not-at-all-coincidentally. As far as game character names go, it joins the pantheon of boringly named game heroes, like Gordon Freeman, Monty Mole and um, Eric from Skooldaze. But as someone pointed as we weaved through the streets of Barcelona, would Half-Life have hit quite as big if Valve's seminal opus was called Gordon Freeman?
One of the most eye-catching games to emerge over E3 was undoubtedly Alan Wake (preview), a game that Finnish developer Remedy dubs "a psychological action thriller". Taking its cue from Stephen King novels and the kind of scary small town Americana that David Lynch explored so memorably in Twin Peaks, it's a free roaming action adventure that the makers of Max Payne are pitching as "truly next generation".
Remedy loves exploring the troubled, brittle souls of embattled male protagonists fighting for their lives after their partners are taken away from them. First Max Payne saw his wife executed right in front of him before taking on an entire army of drug scum and corrupt cops as a perverse form of catharsis. Now we must enter the sleepless, delirious world of insomniac horror author Alan Wake, a character "straight out of a Stephen King novel" besieged by nightmares after his partner goes missing, presumed dead. Remedy did always have a penchant for tragic tales with self-explanatory names.