If you read my review of Alan Wake, you know that I think it's an amazing piece of storytelling, a genuinely creepy tale with near perfect pacing and great character development. Now we have the first downloadable content for the game, The Signal, which picks up where the main game left off with Alan still in Bright Falls, following a mysterious GPS signal on his phone. It's also, sadly, a huge letdown.
Alan Wake had its fair share of combat, but it was used to heighten tension and underscore Alan's feelings of isolation and vulnerability. It never really developed beyond the "use flashlight/shoot enemy" mechanic, but it didn't really have to, because it was only there to lend support to the mood created by the story. The Signal almost completely ditches any pretense at advancing Alan Wake's story, focusing instead on pushing you through a long chain of fight sequences. The fighting in the main game was separated by meaty sections of storytelling, but in The Signal, you're lucky to get a line or two of dialog before it's time to start firing again.
There are some bright spots in between battles, however. Revisiting locations in Bright Falls creates a feeling of odd nostalgia, reminding you of the last time you were running for your life past the Oh Deer Diner, and a new series of collectibles is a nice wink at characters from the main game. There are even moments of genuine warmth and humor, which serve as a sad reminder of how good Alan Wake's story is and how little of it exists in The Signal.
Of course, if you genuinely enjoyed fighting the Taken in Alan Wake, then you'll have a grand time blowing them away in The Signal as the fights are particularly brutal and, in one case involving street lights, quite clever. If the combat was something you just sort of endured in order to get to the next bit of plot, there's not much in The Signal that you couldn't get just by paying attention to the "Previously On Alan Wake" summary that will undoubtedly preface the next batch of DLC, especially given The Signal's extremely short length. Even if you die a lot and take time to explore your surroundings, you'll be done with it in just two or three hours. That said, it's free if you use the code that came with the game, so you're not really losing anything by giving it a shot.
I'm glad I played The Signal, if only because it gave me the chance to spend a bit more time with the characters and setting of Alan Wake, but I can't say that I actually enjoyed it all that much. Hopefully the next installment of DLC, The Writer, will deliver a more balanced package of content.
Susan Arendt still thinks Barry is one of the best sidekicks ever created.