Review: Alan Wake

Susan Arendt | 6 May 2010 09:00
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Part of my job as a reviewer is to point out aspects of a game that may diminish the gameplaying experience for you.Alan Wake (Xbox 360) is certainly not immune from such minor irritants, but my single greatest problem with the game is that I'll only get to play it for the first time once. The mystery of Bright Falls will only stay a mystery for so long, because eventually the game will end and the truth will be revealed. Rarely is a game's story told as well as it is in Alan Wake, and like all great tales, you can't help but be a little heartbroken when you've heard all there is to hear. The fact that there's a game mixed in with it - and a darn good one, at that - is kind of just a bonus.

Novelist Alan Wake and his wife Alice have come to the picturesque town of Bright Falls for a quiet getaway, but they've barely had time to unpack before Alice disappears and Alan is attacked by strange shadow creatures. Still trying to make sense of what's happening, Alan begins finding pages of a manuscript with his name on it - but that he doesn't remember writing - whose story seems to be mimicking real life. He's alone, his wife is missing, the police are after him, and the only lead he has to go on may be a figment of his tortured imagination. Make no mistake: Alan Wake is out to mess with your head, and it will more than likely succeed.

It doesn't look like it at first, but Alan Wake is an incredibly scary game, setting its stage with familiar, ordinary locations like a cabin in the woods or the local diner and twisting them into something malicious. The dark presence is also possessing the townspeople, turning them into Taken. The darkness is alive, angry, and everywhere, but fortunately, so is the best weapon to fight it: light. Alan can't really hurt the Taken while they're possessed, but he can use anything that produces light - flashlights, flares, headlights, flash bang grenades - to drive the dark presence out of them and make them vulnerable to damage. After you've shown the Taken the light, you can open fire with one of the few guns Alan picks up during his travels, or attack indirectly by using the environment to your advantage.

Although virtually all of the fights in Alan Wake follow the same burn with light/shoot/repeat pattern, then never feel old or repetitious, thanks to the game's knack for balancing threat with offensive ability. You'll find more powerful flashlights and guns as you progress, but even when you're well stocked with plenty of light sources and ammo, you never feel safe, because you're one dead battery away from being overwhelmed by the Taken. Even rudimentary searches of your surroundings should provide more than enough equipment to make it to your next destination, but it'll almost always be a close call, no matter what. The game also finds ways to separate you from your gear, usually starting you out in each new Episode with nothing but the clothes on your back. At first it feels blatantly unfair, but it almost always makes sense in context and reminds you of just how vulnerable you are out there in the woods by yourself. The game just wouldn't be the same if it didn't reset the balance of power every so often.

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