Alan Wake Review
See PixlBit's Review Policies
On 06/09/2010 at 12:40 PM by Jason Hillhouse
Remedy's latest title fails to impress, but still manages some good ideas.
For shooter fans.
After seven years, Remedy has finally resurfaced with their newest release, Alan Wake, a title which has been in development equally as long. The third person shooter has elements that manage to bring back memories of their previous title, Max Payne. While there’s no bullet-time shooting or film noir storyline this time around, it does keep the fun shooting mechanics that made their previous effort an instant classic.
The game starts off with Alan describing himself in a dream. This serves as the game’s tutorial, but also seems to be a fitting introduction to the game’s unbearable dialog. While being chased by what is apparently a character from his current novel, the pursuer shouts a ridiculous string of lines at Alan. He laments that Alan has a god complex by being a book author, killing whomever he wishes in the story at the expense of expanding the plotline. For the first sequence of gameplay the player experiences, it just comes off as silly. This should be the part of the story that pulls the player into the new world they are about to experience. In addition to Alan constantly describing the world around him despite it already being obvious, seemingly a leftover style of their previous film noir titles, the rest of the dialog is equally uninteresting.
In terms of gameplay, Alan Wake isn’t anything you haven’t played before but still has an interesting enough twist that sets the game apart from most third person shooters. Combat is polished and feels like a faster paced version of Resident Evil 4. The character has a beam from his flashlight that serves as the targeting reticule, and enemies randomly spawn in your path forcing you to take action. Players will find themselves shooting bad guys while traveling from point A to point B for the majority of the game.
A welcome change to this otherwise traditional shooter formula is the addition of a shielding system to the enemies. Alan must first remove the “darkness” from foes before being able to deal any sort of real damage to them. This mixes up the gameplay in a way that forces the player to strategically take out varying enemy types to keep from being overwhelmed. Flares and flash grenades are available to help push back all the bad guys in case things get too heated. It’s a worthy effort by Remedy to set their title apart from other games in the genre, and I feel it does do enough to accomplish this. Sadly, with all the possibilities one can imagine for using light as a weapon, nothing else is done with the mechanic other than simply holding down Alan’s flashlight, car light, or spotlight on enemies while waiting for their shield to run out. It quickly loses its fun in the first few chapters, leaving only the game’s horror novel inspired plotline to keep the player’s attention.
The developers were definitely going for a kind of cable-TV, thriller feel for the game, although they certainly missed the mark in their attempt. The story is played out in a large number of cutscenes, which serve to stretch about ten minutes of plotline to fit a eight hour video game. Even then, their only purpose is to give Alan the new objective of running to another objective, with only endless waves of gibberish screaming country folk to accent his path. A bizarre addition to the beginning of each level is a TV-series inspired recap of what the player experienced literally seconds earlier. Perhaps if this was something that played whenever the player booted up a saved game I could see where the developer was trying to go with this, but to review the previous hour of gameplay into a 30 second recap immediately after playing said gameplay just screams of poor execution for a somewhat original idea.
The rest of the game’s story based elements follow a similar suit. Going up to a radio for the first time, I was excited for the chance to get a little more back story out of the title. This effort was disappointingly met with the local radio DJ simply adoring the weather around town, and taking calls from listeners who just reiterated past events in the story. There are also the many televisions around town that play live-action spoofs of “The Twilight Zone”, featuring horribly low-production skits that only managed to take me out of the game’s predominately spooky atmosphere and question their existence in general. Throughout the game, Alan also picks up pages of a book he hasn’t written yet but somehow knows it’s his. While that pretense is certainly a little questionable, their purpose was undoubtedly some kind of foreshadowing of things to come. Strangely, the pages only describe what has just happened to the player and only further confuse what the developer was trying to do with all of these additional game elements.
Level design in the title is extremely solid, but ultimately uninspiring with Alan running around small town back roads and forests for the vast majority of the game. Players will find getting lost or forgetting objectives nearly impossible, with Alan’s constant narration of the objectives in addition to the on-screen radar giving breadcrumbs for the next place to go. This handholding acts as a double edged sword by making sure the player has no doubts to where they must go, but taking out any possibility of uncertainly or suspense in the gameplay.
To sum up Alan Wake, it takes solid shooting mechanics with a competent level design, and then stretches them out just long enough to make a releasable game. After throwing in some misplaced, Hollywood inspired game elements, and pick-ups that serve no purpose, the game keeps your attention sufficiently enough to get past its eight hour play time. The well polished visuals and gameplay should certainly be admired, but for the seasoned shooter fan it only warrants a rental.