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Halloween Countdown Day VII – Alan Wake

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Day Seven – Alan Wake

Alan Wake, Champion of Light, spawning a mini-sequel and a mini-series gives us the kind of gameplay you’d expect from a hardcore Stephen King-inspired horror story. In the town of Bright Falls (Washington), a writer on a getaway faces more than he bargained for as nightmares become reality and his world begins falling apart.

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If you’ve never played Alan Wake, I would say you’re not missing out on the greatest horror or action breakthrough of this decade. Unfortunately, Alan Wake gives both elements a mediocre performance. It’s a last-gen release and could by all means be dated by now, but that’s where my qualms end and the fun begins.

As you step into the world of Bright Falls, it begins to reek of a twisted and secluded world pulled straight from a Stephen King novel. You have a tight-knit community with aspiring but humble servers, kindly old timers, and a handful of well meaning law folks. They embrace the protagonist, Alan, with decent graphics and properly executed dialogue, none too burdening on the pacing of the story. And that’s one thing I really admire in Alan Wake. Where some parts might be imbalanced or genuinely overworked, it manages to keep the pacing concise and to the point.

As far as the plot goes, nothing is necessarily lofty or challenging. The story is digestible and measured to the perfect degree. It doesn’t try to step outside of its comfort zone, and in my opinion that would have tanked the experience. The narrative pushes the boundaries just enough to be otherworldly and novel, but maintains a common theme throughout so that the plot and, by proxy, the player, don’t get lost.

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The gameplay itself revolves around using light sources to weaken your enemies and then gun them down in a blaze of fury. The polar relationship of light and dark is a passe concept, but Alan Wake managed to make it fun and suspenseful. For instance, there’s streetlights littered throughout game that act as save points and generally a quiet place to rest. You can see them lit up from quite a ways off, but the sinking feeling when you get close and they flicker before bursting is incredible. It’s a bit like Dark Souls in a sense, albeit with lower stakes.

Some parts of the game pit you against a wave of enemies while you have to rev a motor in a certain sequence or move something important. These aren’t overused to the point of exhaustion, but invoking feelings of quickly cascading dread were hard to come by, especially in a story about a horror novelist.

At several points – a most egregious error – the game sabotages itself by including an enemy alert system. Enemies would routinely descend upon you in the wooded sections of the game and 9/10 times the action paused, and the camera would pan over to the threat giving you a spider’s sense of forewarning. The one time it didn’t was a delicacy in a platter of banality. The humans shrouded in darkness leapt out from a non-suspect bush and, without a sound, tried to drive twelve inches of steel through my neck. Half a game of refined muscle memory had me mashing the dodge button, but it took me longer than usual to find out how many there were and how dead I was. It was so bizarre to compare the actual moments of panic with the constructed fight sequences that were barely better than a QTE. At least I had free reign of motion in these cases, but the entire effect was lost on my knowledge and grasp of the situation. It’s almost as if the game was shedding light on the darkness for me instead of allowing me that responsibility.

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Alan Wake was trying something new and entertaining back in the day, but it feels like they failed to combine their gameplay mechanics with the environment in any meaningful way.

Now onto one of my favorite parts of Alan Wake: Night Springs. Alan Wake was planned and written very intelligently as evidenced by the adept nature of the plot and the grafted on humor. The abstract lines spewing from villains, the passive soliloquy of Mr. Wake, and finally the Twilight Zone-inspired mini series that you can actually watch in game on TV sets.

It’s these little gems that shine through to remind me how Alan Wake could have been so much more effective at engaging the player. I did have fun with the game, and while I’m crossing my fingers for a proper sequel, I can’t fathom its existence any time soon.

I won’t forget the impact the game had on me during the 360 era, and I hope by some miracle that it has impacted the narrative-driven horror genre in a positive way rather than being lost in the mountain of DNR game titles.

About Samuel Collet

Sam is a writer for the internet, an awful graphic designer, and will work for coffee. If you wish to hire this destroyer of languages, send him an e-mail at samuelsharpe001@yahoo.com

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