I sit before the glow of my laptop, fingers positioned at ready, my eyes adjust to the brightness of the screen, the body of the blogger post publisher, blank. I stare at it, and the screen looks back, waiting to be filled with thoughts, meaningful or otherwise. Yet, I struggle to begin. Fresh from watching the end credits to Alan Wake, I feel a certain affinity for the title character who suffered from a serious case of Writer's block.
Taking me several weeks to put my thoughts together into a worthy summary of my game experience I was unable to write about Alan Wake, simply because there is just too much to say. Fortunately though, all I needed was some time to figure out where to begin -- and it's best to start from the end.
As the end credits rolled, I was in awe at what I had just experienced. I wasn't sitting in a movie theater after a 90 minute film screening of an epic suspense thriller, I was in front of my Xbox 360, trying to come down from a unique interactive story, a certain rarity in the game industry, a classic I'd say. One where storytelling, and gameplay are at a fine balance, but at times blurred just as our protagonist experiences his life in Bright Falls.
In the span of a weekend (a day and a half) I was able to begin my adventure, and see it come to a close in that short period of time, that I had trouble digesting what I had been through.
The psychological action thriller, from Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment, is a unique and inspired game with cinematic pacing, that is satisfyingly short and sweet. It draws heavily from the world of episodic television, and film with influences from the Twilight Zone, to The Shining, but most obviously from the Lynchian-style of the Twin Peaks series. The developers have put together a game that is an ode to small town Americana, populated with quirky characters, and set in the Pacific North West.
(Though personally I think Bright Falls looks more like Lake Tahoe. The grey, gloomy, rain soaked skies of the Pacific North West, Washington State, or for that matter British Columbia, Canada, seem to be missing, but I suppose that is a note on the art direction. )
The opening area to the game establishes the trip to the town of Bright Falls. As players, we are instantly transported to this world which seems endless in every direction. Arriving on a ferry boat carrying our main character, his wife, and their car stuffed with personal belongings, they've packed up their city life, and headed for a secluded getaway for some relaxation. Both speak to each other like a couple in love, even posing for photos with one of the locals riding the ferry along with them. The surrounding hills, and beautifully rendered water shimmers, and as we approach the dock, the anticipation to explore gets greater, but so does the feeling of no turning back once in Bright Falls. A scene of normality, that I found myself longing for in the dark of the night, as the game got underway.
It's this attention to detail established in Alan Wake, that really kept me immersed throughout the game. Graphically and audio-wise immersion in the game comes naturally.
Details like 'Night Springs' -- the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits inspired in-game live-action show -- are a fine touch of genius playing on random television sets throughout the town. The episodic structure is fitting keeping the game feeling fresh, and the orchestral soundtrack is well crafted, which also features licensed tracks such as David Bowie - Space Oddity. The game kept me on edge and as the story progresses more characters are introduced. Characters in Wake are actually 'characters,' some ripped straight from Twin Peaks. Which makes me think that if Twin Peaks didn't exist, neither would Alan Wake. The screenplay and excellent voice-over work are also a welcome surprise.
For I felt all too disconnected with Resident Evil 5, a game which has deviated so far from what made this series appealing, and Final Fantasy XIII, a strange action RPG hybrid with one-dimensional characters, over-the-top cinematics, and not much else to care about. Two blockbuster franchise games that despite their big budgets, couldn't get me the player, to feel for the characters and the dilemma they face. Soulless and far less interesting than Alan Wake, these games were uninspired, I had almost lost hope for gaming in general until Alan Wake came along.
That is not to say that Alan Wake is a perfect game, though it comes close. It definitely has it's share of issues. Admittedly I was put off by the combat, which seemed to be overwhelming at first with the AI enemies, who after a few hits, leave the player dead. Alan's inability to use his fists and feet to punch or kick once out of ammo can be frustrating. He is only able to use guns, instead of branches, knives, axes, and whatever is thrown at him. I find it out of character that this writer from New York, is so well acquainted with guns, it's hard to believe he's a writer and not an ex-marine. Also, what's up with the lousy battery life for the flashlights?
Yet in the grand scheme of things, the developers get more things right than wrong. When all is said and done, this is a game worth playing, and worth continuing to expand on. I want more!
I've been waiting for a game like this for a very long time. Alan Wake is a videogame, yet calling it simply a game just feels wrong. I can't remember the last time I sat at the edge of my seat weary of what lies in the dark, in a videogame. Game developers should take note of the passion that Remedy Entertainment put into Alan Wake, because as a gamer I can definitely see how these guys took what they loved, and made something special.
I am definitely looking forward to the downloadable content coming soon!