Stay in the Light! Alan Wake reviewed

LOOKING FOR A QUALITY THRILLER THAT WILL SCARE YOU OUT OF YOUR SEAT? MICROSOFT HAS THE REMEDY

Remedy Studio’s stylish action-thriller brings survival horror back to the forefront of gaming with the superb Alan Wake.

 

After suffering a prolonged bout of ‘Writer’s Block’ renowned best-selling author Alan Wake takes a well advised break for some much-needed R&R with his photographer with, Alice, to the idyllic small town setting of Bright Falls. The intention behind the writer’s vacation may be well advised, the location, however, turns out to be anything but…

…on arrival at the secluded retreat of Bright Falls you find yourself the victim of car accident. Dazed and confused you stagger towards a bridge, only to find the structure has collapsed forcing you to take the steps adjacent. It is from here that the nightmare begins for the troubled author, as from out of the gloom comes a shadowy figure wielding a vicious looking axe, and he’s not here to chop firewood for you.

The menacing hatchet bearing pursuer informs the disoriented penman that he is now inside his own work, this only baffles the writer further as he stumbles on towards his indicated objective of a lighthouse in the distance. Make sure that you reach your target post-haste, as the axeman most definitely cometh.

Following this rather fraught introduction to the game that serves the dual purpose of a tutorial as well as an introduction to the story’s plot, the title also uses this time to offer up some basic character history that works well in helping the player form emotional ties to the author right from the start. It is something that we feel is overlooked more and more in gaming these days, as developers opt for ever bigger explosion’s with ever-increasing multiplayer options instead of concentrating on the games’ main draw and integral central motivation for the purchase in the first place, that being the game’s storyline in the single play campaign mode. After all, the vast majority of gamers , like myself, are generally single play gamers first and multiplayer gamers second. The latter being the bonus upon completion of the main story-based mode.

So it is with great admiration for Remedy and Microsoft Game Studio’s that we can tell you that Alan Wake has some of the best single play storyline gaming that we have had the pleasure of playing all year. There is a depth to the plot that is missing amongst other titles, and its a credit to the games’ writers that they have managed to concoct a riveting tale of mystery, intrigue and psychological drama, that continues to combine these ingredients with cracking third person survival horror action throughout the entire length of the title. Never easing up for a moment as the storyline pushes you deeper and deeper into the tales many plot twists and nightmarish situations. The added joy is knowing that even when you do manage to reach the end of the title that it is far from being the end of the game, more so it is only the beginning.

It is from this thought that we will begin this review for the intense and  stylish thriller that is, Alan Wake. In what seemed to be the longest wait for a title’s release in the history of gaming, Alan Wake finally saw the light of day this year when it was launched to an avid crowd of hungry reviewers who were all just itching to shoot the title down in flames, as some form of punishment to Remedy for taking so long to actually develop the game. How we snickered at their impotent failings then as we watched the World’s gaming press eat their word’s as every true reviewer and lover of the survival/horror genre was blown away by this titanic title.

However critical acclaim does not always go hand in hand with commercial success, as we all know only to well. Often the games that woefully underachieve on their potential are the best games in their class, whilst the title that shifts the most units is a humdrum run’n’gun much like a hundred other titles just like it. Would Alan Wake suffer such an undignified occurence for this a classy title? Would it too fall prey to the emerging digital generation with its love of whistles and bangs and online multiplayer mayhem?  We are thankful to the great God’s of Asgard and all things Holy that this is not the case with Alan Wake. Critical confirmation and validation walked hand in hand into the sunset with that little minx, commercial success as if the two were teenage lovers enacting some sappy Mills and Boon romance novel cover.

Everything about Alan Wake was received with open arms by reviewers, critics and the game buying public alike. The idea that Remedy had, to take a videogame and turn it unto a multipart serial, such as  a television show or set of novels, has paid off and been accepted by gamers who are thrilled at the idea that original game is only the preface, if you will? That the campaign that you play in the launch title is but the opening introduction into the nightmare that is the mind of the tortured writer Alan Wake, and that the story will unfold before your very eyes as you invest more time in the story and become ever deeper embroiled in the plot.

So as the game takes you from its tutorial and straight into the twisted World of the Alan Wake you get the storyline pretty much straight from the off. Your wife, Alice, has been kidnapped by a mystery man and you must find a way to get her back, alive. However what it does not tell you are the finer points. Such as the who’s, the how’s and the why’s? That, my friend, is where your wit’s come into play. 

You have the choice of setting the difficulty between the just plain  ‘easy,’ to the self-explanatory ‘nightmare’ level at the games’ onset. We suggest that on a first play through you opt for normal if you are treading unfamiliar ground with a third person horror title. If, on the other hand, you are like us here at GamesMediaPro Towers and you just love this genre, then do as we did and join us in the deep end over in the Nightmare Pool. Come on in, the water is ‘hotter than hell.’

How you choose to play the game and on which difficulty will really set the tone for how the experience of being Alan Wake unfurl’s for you. We choose to have the TV set to its darkest, with the light barely fighting its way through the pitch gloom as you struggle to find your way through the myriad of town locations. The Nightmare mode comes into effect as you have a greater sense of foreboding and dread as you are constantly twitching at shadows and scanning the bleak darkness for sign’s of one of the ‘Taken.’ If you are of a nervous disposition, however, we do not recommend this way of gaming for you, as there will be more than one occasion when an enemy makes you leap cat-like from your gaming rocker and cling to the ceiling.

So now that you know what;’s going on, what difficulty to select and how to adjust the slider for your darkness setting let’s find that missing wife of your’s shall we?

A you will know by now if you have read other GamesMediaPro reviews, what we do not do here is a ‘walk through’ review that litters the pages with spoiler after spoiler making it a moot point for you to buy the game as we have just told you all of the surprises and best bit’s. Oh no! What we do is review the title with a view to helping you decide if this is the game for you? But with Alan Wake, we can safely say, that it is! If you love thrillers, horror,  survival, third person,action adventure,puzzles, and the more nature kind of thinking man’s gaming? Then Alan Wake is the kind of game that you should be reaching for at your local retailer.

The way Remedy have combined the very tangible feeling of impending terror with the need to get your character through the situation so that he may save his missing wife, is nothing short of genius. There is a genuine emotional connection between the player and the avatar that has not been seen since gaming days of old, and it makes a welcome return in Alan Wake.  Of course there is also the nice mix of weaponry on offer, as well as the few scattered gadgets such as the torch and the flares that you pick up, to assist your survival, but for us here at GamesMediaPro the storyline was this games biggest asset. It was what kept us hooked, and it’s also the reason that we are going to be bringing the review for every single episode of this fantastic title that is released as DLC.

The action itself see’s you having to fight off resident’s of Bright Fall’s that have fallen victim to the powerful force that lies within the darkness. Once it has them they then become ‘The Taken,’ mindless killing machines that are at the bidding of the night to do its work as it see’s fit. The main weapons that you have against them are your pistol, and your choices of various shotgun’s or hunting rifles. The light, we feel, has been misrepresented as a ‘weapon’ by some reviewers. How we interpret the use of the light in Alan Wake would be more like saying that it was your ‘friend.’ What we mean by this is that the light itself does not kill the Taken, unless of course it is combined with the added blast from a searchlight? But more so it makes the Taken able to be killed. The light brings them out of the Darkness, burning it from their bodies as it strips away the protection it offers and therefore mortal again. It is still the bullets that do the actual killing.  That being said, when you are able to combine the two by way of a flare gun then you have what is, in effect, the best and most powerful weapon in the game as it brings the Taken into the light and kills them all in the same movement.

The light is also your ‘friend’ as it is your guide, showing you the direction you must travel and offering oases of brilliant sanctuary in the dark deserts of between your objectives. It also acts as your nurse as it bathes you in its healing aura. Refilling your health to maximum levels whenever you stand in its warm embrace.

But just as you have your friend in the light, so too have the Taken a friend in the Darkness as it offers them assistance by turning everyday items into weapons. Everything from debris to JCB’s and even bridges will be tossed at you with reckless abandonment as the evil power behind the strange town of Bright Falls seeks to command you to do its bidding. Ultimately it is this ‘strange evil power’ that is your main goal as you seek to locate your missing wife Alice, and free the town of the nightmare that stalks its residents from the shadows. And ultimately it is this same evil power with which you must do final battle with if you are to have any hope of freeing both the townsfolk and your beloved.

Along the way there are the creative blends of collectables to locate as well as items to discover, and the narration that is played out through the voice of Alan himself serves to enhance the players attachment to the character were in other titles it has only managed to irritate and annoy the player. The sound qualities and accompanying Hitchcockian way that music is used is clever in itself, however just as the great man himself did throughout his movies, the use also of ‘silence’ to emphasise the severity of a situation or to induce fear has been done with precision timing. Although many reviewers have ‘pooh-poohed’  the titles less than HD quality graphic’s, we are here to tell you that there is not a single instance where we have ever seen a title with better looking graphics featuring such stunning looking scenery in any game in our extensive library of this generation titles. Quite simply put, Alan Wake looks phenomenal. The shadings of such dark panorama’s and vista’s depicted in the games location’s are done no injustices by the lack of HD graphics and will have no bearing on your enjoyment of this genre leading title.

To top things off in this fantastic debut outing for Alan Wake, included within the game box is the DLC code for the games first installment in its series of additional content. The Signal Part 1 continues straight from where Alan Wake ended, so please bear this in mind when adding the code. Do not play the DLC before playing the game itself or you will be left thoroughly confused and in an even bigger mystery than Alan Wake himself.

Summary comes in the form of advertisement. As if you have not yet purchased your copy of Alan Wake and are a fan of the thriller, survival/horror genre, then we can seriously advise you to rush out and purchase your copy of Alan Wake before too may more of the DLC’s are released. Regardless of which console you favour, if this genre is for you, then this title is worth the price of an Xbox360 all on its own. With the amount of additional content that is planned for Alan Wake and the undoubted sequel and prequels being planned also, this is the start of another fantastic gaming franchise for Microsoft and Remedy Studio’s and long may it continue to run.

Graphics:  Based solely on the fact that of this generation of gaming titles,  Alan Wake has, without a doubt, the very best graphic’s that we have ever seen? How could it receive any other score other than top marks for such perfection?               10

Gameplay: Our favourite genre in gaming comes up with a title that is so close to our heart that we could not put the controller down for five straight days, and even carried on to play both of the latest DLC packages, and you want to know if the game play was any good? Does this answer your question?                       9

RePlay Value: With the main storyline itself offering a number of modes to challenge the single player, and also the amount of collectibles that are on offer for the completionists out there being ideal, we can easily confirm that Alan Wake will not be the dustiest game box an a gamers shelf. Then add to that the fact that this title has so much DLC planned for it that its doubtful that you will get through your first gameplay before you have to start another DLC episode. A truly great game and future classic.     10

Presentation: Right from the begining when Microsoft and Remedy finally confirmed that Alan Wake had an actual release  date you just knew that it was going to be good. The press campaign was perfect, the trailers tantalising and the screenshots inviting. So when we actually got to play the game we were hoping that it was not going to be like so many other titles, being that it failed to live up to its own hype. It didn’t, and it has only gone from strength to strength. Gaining new ground every day with more and more gamers turning on to its delights and stylish gameplay with almost film noir graphics. Everything about this game appeals to us. The storyline is of truly high quality, (so much so that the collectors edition actually has the Alan Wake novel included in it, have a read its fantastic), graphics will amaze you and for those who spout pixel counts all day long? You taxi awaits. The gameplay is a joy to experiance and knowing as we stated earleir that the end is but the beginning what more could any gamer ask for? Microsoft’s highlight of the year so far.      10

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