Alan Wake is a vague game about a superb and eminent writer who is trapped in some form of nightmare. He is on vacation to the town of Bright Falls-which can be prettttty dark rather than bright… He is there with his beautiful wife. As is common in horror games things go awfully wrong.
Being a writer Alan Wake also has certain weird and annoying personality peculiarities which are discernable from the very start. He’s cynical, discourteous, impatient and hot-tempered. And in the short time he interacts with his wife, Alice, you often wonder how she fell in love with such a jerk. But there are later scenes which tell you a little about their background as well and Alan does love Alice. Deeply so and almost all his actions throughout the game are motivated by trying to save her. Alan has a well-defined persona and lots of people to interact with which is fun earlier on.
The game has the habit of moving without warning from peaceful and serene surroundings to a scene of foreboding darkness and deep despair. Without explanation of what is going on and why. Though there are hints that what is happening has a correlation to Alan’s yet uncompleted book, if that makes sense. The entire story is vague that way. Even the cabin at the middle of all this actually does not exist. And whether it does in an alternate reality or another timeline isn’t explained either.
AW does look beautiful for the time it came in and is developed by Remedy who also made Max Payne, and the more recent hit games Quantum Break and Control. I feel this is their weak link.
I had an unusually large number of misgivings with AW considering that some gamers really enjoyed it and certain review sites actually gave this a 9. But there is much to be said about the unique combat. Your flashlight is your greatest weapon in this game since the enemies you encounter (who have been twisted by darkness and in the recent or distant past may have been helpless Bright Falls residents) are actually hurt by light or at least disoriented by it. True the various guns are handy as well but you will not be able to tear the darkness from and around your enemies unless you point that flashlight at them first-then shoot. The flare gun is my best proper weapon though. It takes out hordes of the Fallen in a shining flash of radiance without using the flashlight at all, which runs on batteries. I don’t remember this kind of mechanic in any game I have played.
In AW the day is mainly to advance the story where you are talk to the various characters around town and at night the havoc begins even though there are some tiny oases in this barren desert. There are brightly lighted buildings where you can recuperate at times and often meet other characters from the town so things don’t get totally bleak at night. Even though the darkness is always encroaching.
There are a number of exploration puzzles, though not everyone would exactly call them puzzles in the traditional sense. Here I don’t mean something remarkable, extremely well-thought out and difficult to accomplish in the manner of The Rise of the Tomb Raider Tomb-Puzzles. These puzzles offer simpler challenges such as having to search for and crank up a generator and also do this in conjunction with other tasks, like lowering a lumber lift to create a path. These aren’t very imaginative but are at least a step away from a game that can sometimes seem monotonous, especially in the later chapters where you face the same enemies over and over again and you feel you have already seen all there is to see.
The mix of day-time story-advancement, and night-time travelling around dark cabins, forests and paths fighting creatures made of darkness eventually does lose its appeal and there is little to hold the game together when this happens. This is particularly because the enemies are unvaried and because there are no answers as to what the hell is going on.
I also noticed certain discrepancies. I did not understand why, even in a quiet little town on the fringes of America, most of the cabins were powered by those annoying cranked-up generators which went obsolete generations ago. The game informs us that Alan Wake hasn’t written a book in two years due to writers block. Sure Stephen King and certain very prolific authors release new books each year or two but the majority do not manage that. I do not see why this is a problem even for a very famous career-writer. Particularly one so young and with all the time he needs. Also if Alan knows that there are dangers at night why does he always venture out exactly at that time? But horror games don’t need to always make sense and in AW there is a certain veneer of believability even in the prevailing madness, particularly because of good writing for the most part. Even here there are certain pieces of problematic text at times.
There are notes Alan Wake finds that warn him of impending danger (and what will happen next) and there are also coffee thermoses around to collect. AW is quite linear in terms of your objectives though.
AW can certainly be scary at times but it is not so always. Yet I do find it unique that these scares are done without blood or gore being seen at all. There are no disfigured and bloody corpses. There is no over-the-top brutality. AW might be scary but it is not bloodcurdlingly so. And I do think it remains playable for at least teens (debatably depending on how lenient or strict parents are with teens).
The darkness has always been seen as haunting to humanity though and Alan Wake uses this relatively simple scare-formula as it’s weapon. It puts us at ease suddenly with daylight and then quickly shoves us into the sinister night. It has been used in other horror games too but I do think it is true that bloody faces and mangled body parts are not the only method to induce fear.
Now to the average gamer who does not research his games before playing them- he will desperately try to find out what on earth is going on by the second chapter. And since I had not started writing reviews then (I usually research games before playing them nowadays) I expected much of the very same. But do not expect a logical explanation in Alan Wake or the cause of all this.
Actually the story can be more baffling, murky and mysterious than the vagueness and lack of human understanding associated with UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah’s Jazirat Al Hamra which is also a (real) ghost town, like Bright Falls seems to be. The player does not know what is going on even at the start of Alan Wake when he is being taught the basics of the game while being chased by a maniacal Axe-wielding killer made of darkness. And it weaves back and forth, to and fro, forwarding and rewinding until the player totally gives up on finding out.
Even though I played Alan Wake quite a long time ago, this can be a mood-killer even in terms of Horror games. Don’t get me wrong. Most horror games have used the constant search for answers to motivate the gamer to go on and get hooked to the story.
In Little Nightmares there is obscurity. We do not know what is happening, why it is happening or even where it is happening even after completing half the game. But Little Nightmares drove the player on with the anticipation for answers. Little Nightmares occasionally drops a ham for the dog and gives you much needed answers though not too many at one time. But as you come closer to the end more and more questions are being answered, even in that tiny 3-5 hour game.
Alan Wake is more than twice that length but causes us to give up on finding answers. By killing this anticipation Remedy actually shoot themselves in the foot and many have explicated that they found themselves with no drive to play any more Alan Wake after the 3rd or 4th chapter.
Now if you focus on the unique combat you might ignore these somewhat exasperating facts. But if you are in it just for a thoughtful story that makes sense you will be disappointed. I also don’t remember playing a game with this confusing an ending either (if anything in the game makes sense at all) and this was an obvious negative point for me. The unanswered questions left me feeling totally cheated by the end.
The only thing towards the end is that things get far more chaotic. Everyone in the town seems to have been consumed and turned into those dark creatures, there are barriers and puddles of darkness that block your path and in the very end there is a tornado you have to stop with debris and full cars made of darkness being thrown at you. The darkness seems to have stormed reality and is on the verge of consuming it completely. But this chaotic ending is usually the same for most shooters and horror games where the ultimate scare or coup-de-grace is delivered towards the end, or at least the ending chapters.
Even with the unanswered questions about the nature and origins of the magic taking place AW was beautiful in terms of graphics for the time it came in, both in the games day and night. The town had a peaceful vibe to it at day-unless someone can peel the veneer and see its shocking history and its reality at night. Particularly AW adds a combat mechanic which is unique to it. If you are tired of the same old shooters, then this should at least be a game on your to-try-list. But if you get bored quickly without varied enemies, similar core concepts being peddled start to end or require a logical story to stay engaged there is none. And the ending leaves more questions than answers.
Review Platform: PS4
- Alan Wake has a quirky personality. This can be enjoyable because a lot of games give their characters very linear personalities or do not focus on protagonist building. Ie Sekiro.
- Lots of characters met along the way that Alan can interact with.
- Unique combat. You aim your flashlight at enemies, then shoot.
- Using flares and then watching groups of enemies evaporate into light can be lots of fun.
- Certain mini-puzzles to force open gates or create paths improve the game.
- Sounds believable even though it is not.
- Has certain discrepancies leading to the idea that this game isn’t well thought-out.
- Lack of varied enemies.
- Game loses its appeal in the later chapters.
- Story lacks reasoning, logic or explanation.
- Too many questions left unanswered in the end.