I’ve heard many good things about Alan Wake for the past few years and for some reason it took me a while to finally get started with it. It seems that’s a general habit for me and my games on Steam. I purchased Alan Wake nearly three years ago and it was with the news of its eventual removal that I decided it was time to play it. Initially it was due to a misguided fear of possibly losing ownership of the game, but eventually it was because the time felt right.
Alan Wake is a supernatural game with elements of horror/mystery. You play as the titular character, a famous writer, who’s searching for *SPOILER ALERT* his missing wife. The game entirely takes place in a fictional town in Washington that immediately makes you think of Stephen King, Silent Hill, and David Lynch. The setting is highly reminiscent of locations that Stephen King has used because it’s a small isolated town that gives off an eerie sense that something is amiss.
I don’t know if it was just me, but the town itself felt like a character. Not only because of the overall greyness/fog of the town, but the way NPCs spoke of the town and of its past, it felt alive/fleshed out and I was greatly reminded of Silent Hill. Even though Alan Wake isn’t an open world game, the game has good world building and the town felt huge because of the many different locations the game took you through. There are many games that have huge open ended areas, but they all tend to feel the same, that’s not the case in Alan Wake. I’m sure others have related this game to Silent Hill, but seeing as how I played through that game over the last month or so, it was fresh in mind. Another aspect of Alan Wake that reminded me of Silent Hill was its enemies and the running system.
For the most part, the enemies in Alan Wake are a weird sort of shadow people along with animated inanimate objects such as cars. The shadow people mainly consist of a general “foot soldier” and a larger/more difficult enemy. For the most part the combat isn’t too complex/difficult to deal with, but it can be a hassle when dealing with large groups of enemies and low supplies. There were instances where I had to rethink my approach due to dying multiple times. Despite having a few different weapons (pistol, shotgun, rifle, flares, flashbangs) in your arsenal, your main weapon/the enemy’s main weakness is any source of light, primarily a flashlight.
One thing that surprised me about Alan Wake was how useful the many flashlights encountered in the game were. Not only because they were the enemy’s main weakness, but because it also worked as a sort of crosshair. When I first started playing this game I was a bit confused over the lack of proper crosshairs to assist in shooting, but then I learned that was the other function of the flashlight. I don’t know why, but it just felt interesting to me. A lot of people laugh at the notion of flashlights being the main “weapon” of rent-a-cop security guards, but in the world of Alan Wake, it is actually quite useful/deadly.
In discussing the use of flashlights/light, I am reminded of the many other ways that they are used. What I’m about to say may sound quite confusing, but the general use of light in this game is cliché without being done in an overly cliché way. It’s been done numerous times in the past, using light/dark to represent good and evil, but Alan Wake adds a different use to the contrast between light/dark. Since most of the game takes place in the dark, lit areas are viewed as safe havens. A simple thing like a lamp post is actually useful in this game because it’s used as a checkpoint and a temporary escape from the hounding ghouls encountered in the dark. The same could be said of the daytime, it’s used as a short rest from the dangers of the night.
One of the main reasons why Silent Hill/Alan Wake have a particular running system is to give off the idea that you really are an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. I know of many games where you can endlessly run without a problem, but in Silent Hill and Alan Wake, you eventually reach a point of exhaustion. This greatly affects the gameplay because you must balance when and how you decide to run. There were many moments in this game where I didn’t try to conserve my energy and I’d automatically stop to catch my breath right in front of a group of enemies, big mistake.
Even though I enjoyed Alan Wake, there were certain things about its gameplay that I didn’t like. First, the dodging system felt dodgy (haha). I had a tough time with being able to fully dodge incoming attacks because dodging was very similar to what needed to be done to run. For reference, I used an XBOX 360 controller, In order to run you had to press the left bumper as you faced the left thumb stick in the direction you wanted to head. I’m still not sure if I ended up getting it right, but in order to dodge you had to press down the left bumper and press the left thumb stick in the direction you wanted to dodge. The problem with this is that since it overlapped with running, there were many instances where I wanted to dodge, but I’d end up running and vice versa. It got to be a pain in the ass when this started to lead to frequent deaths.
Another thing I felt was annoying about Alan Wake’s gameplay was the amount of times you were left without equipment, it was damn near comical. I’ve played games in the past where this happened once or twice and it fit the narrative being told (Metal Gear Solid). I guess you can say the same was done in this game, but it happened way too often. As a result of this, you were forced to deal with situations by simply running away from enemies until you reached a checkpoint or left the area.
Speaking of comical, this game surprisingly had a lot of humor. From the subject matter and its overall dark visuals, you assumed that this game would be fully hard hitting. That wasn’t true at all. Maybe that’s the Stephen King influence once again coming through, but there were a lot of laugh out loud moments in this game. Two in particular were a sort of Twilight Zone parody and an asshole FBI agent. I’m sure the Twilight Zone parody was more of an homage/attempt to showcase one of the game’s influences, but it led to funny moments in which outrageous scenarios were laid out. The reason this asshole FBI agent was funny was because he acted in a way that I myself have encountered in real life and in other books/movies. The FBI agent knows Alan Wake is a famous writer so in an attempt to demean him, he constantly refers to Alan as a different well-known/famous writer.
One last thing of Alan Wake’s gameplay that bothered me were the amount of cutscenes in the beginning of the game. I’ve heard people say similar things of Metal Gear Solid 4, but it was seriously annoying. I‘d play for a few minutes only to be met with a cutscene of equal or greater length. One thing many video game developers look for is complete immersion in their games. I’m sure others have different opinions as to why it’s sought out, but in my opinion it’s looked for because it showcases just how good their game is. To fully lose yourself in a game, book, or movie speaks of the work’s overall quality. Eventually I was fully engaged with this game and the story it was trying to tell, but in the beginning it was annoying how often I’d run into a cutscene, I just wanted to play the game!
Despite not having an in-depth knowledge of David Lynch and his work, I have seen a decent amount to know that they generally share a similar type of feeling. It’s probably shocking, but I’ve never seen Twin Peaks. I’ve heard many great things about it, but it has been on my to watch list for quite some time. A lot of people compare Alan Wake to Twin Peaks because of the shared setting and attempts to deal with a puzzling situation. The overall feeling between Alan Wake and some of David Lynch’s works is that of great confusion/surrealism, things just don’t feel right.
One particular thing I enjoyed about Alan Wake was its interesting narrative approach. I’m sure other games/mediums have done this before, but I haven’t encountered it too often. As you begin playing through the game, you learn that Alan Wake himself is narrating/reflecting on the story from an undetermined point in the future. Based on this you can easily discern that he was able to get through this hellish situation, but how and to what extent is why you play through the game. I guess you can say that this narrative approach was done to reinforce the idea that this game is a novel brought to life. Other mediums have done this, but in Alan Wake it’s more noticeable.
Honestly, Alan Wake is a game that focuses more on gameplay/story and while its graphics aren’t a strong point, I feel they’re worth mentioning. For the most part, I’d rather play a game that’s really fun and has a good story, even if its graphics are totally awful. That’s not the case with Alan Wake, but the graphics are nothing to write home about. I know Alan Wake was released in 2010, but I feel as if the graphics could’ve been better. I played it on a 1440p monitor with all of the settings maxed out, but even that couldn’t totally fix what I saw as a few flaws. Some of these observations in regards to the graphics/visuals will probably be viewed as silly, but two things in particular stood out to me. While the facial animations throughout the game weren’t awful, in the beginning I felt that they were lacking and they felt stiff. On top of that, for some reason the teeth of the characters kind of freaked me out. In certain scenes they honestly looked like fake wooden teeth and it just looked strange. I guess these strange looking teeth can be my “too much water” meme.
In regards to the story, at first I didn’t think too much about it, but it got better as time went on. Prior to playing through this game I kind of expected a much darker story, similar to Silent Hill. The story is fairly dark, but I wouldn’t say it’s morbid. I don’t really want to dissect Alan Wake’s story (surprise), but I will say that despite not being fully original, it is interesting and does merit a playthrough. When I say it’s not fully original, I mean I’ve previously encountered its premise elsewhere, *SPOILER WARNING* a writer’s fiction coming to life and affecting their immediate surroundings. One thing I will say about the ending is *SPOILER WARNING* that I enjoyed how the situation is left incomplete and the use of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, I felt that it really fit the overall feel of the game/ending. Honestly, I haven’t played any of the DLC or Alan Wake’s American Nightmare so I’m not sure where the story goes from here, my overall thoughts conveyed here have all been based on my playthrough of Alan Wake.
To conclude, I enjoyed Alan Wake. I wouldn’t say it’s an amazing game, but it’s also not awful. I give it a 3.5/5 and I recommend it if you enjoy Silent Hill, Stephen King, and David Lynch.