I bought Alan Wake on the day of release back in May 2010. I didn’t just buy the game however. I bought the game-about-a-book-within-a-book special edition. I was incredibly excited for it after watching the previews of what appeared to be a new survival horror game. The concept of a writer within his own horror story really intrigued me while the prospect of a horror game that actually scared intrigued me more.
For those who don’t know the story of Alan Wake follows Alan. A moody, heavy drinking, prolific and successful horror writer who is afflicted with writers block. In an attempt to cure this he takes a trip to stay in a cabin by a lake with his partner. Things take a turn for the worse when his partner is kidnapped by a mysterious dark presence and Alan tasks himself with bringing her back.
It’s a third person action game which relies heavily on combat in which you use your flashlight to destroy the darkness which either inhabits an enemy completely or protects them like a force field. Once the force field has been destroyed you go back to using your trusty guns. You’re also given area effect weapons in the form of flares, both hand held or ranged and also flashbang grenades. You probably all remember your reaction when you saw the lighting effects for the first time in previews. If you don’t please look it up. For a game in which light was your main weapon they put so much attention into the engine and it pays off beautifully.
Explosions. Pretty explosions.
The story unfolds episodically which is excellent for us modern folk who are used to our half or hour long updates on our favorite shows. Each section feels manageable and doesn’t drag out too long, keeping everything feel fresh. Why did I stop playing this almost three years ago after being so excited?
The answer as far as I can remember is down to my quest for achievements. I went through a phase of trying to complete everything I played on hard mode. While Alan Wake is a horror story it spends a whole lot of time getting you to fight the enemies covered in darkness. This got very old, very quick as I found the less effective tools you’re given during combat stand out like a Blair Witch sequel.
You’re given a timing reliant dodge move to escape your enemies and give you the upper hand as they can appear as if from nowhere. It does not work well. Many times it just slow mos the action so you can watch your attackers kill you REALLY CLEARLY. This mixed with the hard difficulty meant that I was spending ages stuck on boring fights instead of the story. After a while I got frustrated and stopper. The game also doesn’t give you an option of dropping the difficulty once you’ve started so I was stuck in a conundrum. Do I lose the few hours of gameplay and start again or press on. Unfortunately I pressed on and it caused me to then give up. Until now.
This was the game that made me come up with the concept of finishing my games to be honest. The special edition sitting on my shelf mocking me every time it caught my eye. Most of the reviews I’d seen kept talking about how great the story was despite the repetitive gameplay. I REALLY wanted to know the story but I couldn’t bring myself to read spoilers or play the game. I was stuck. Once I finished Gravity Rush I knew I had to bite the bullet. I installed the game and started playing again. Very quickly the annoying combat thrust its darkness coloured (And Darkness is a colour) self at me. However I was able to walk through sections with ease. Maybe I cared less and just flashbanged my merry way into the darkness. Maybe I’m better at playing games now. Maybe they patched it. Whatever the reason I was having fun and by the time I reached the rock show stage I was plugged back in. The story also picked up. Part of my affection for the story comes from the similarity to a lesser known Brett Eastern Ellis (Author or American Psycho) novel called Lunar Park.
I’d picked it up years ago purely because I loved American Psycho. It’s completely different and starts off reading like a biography which eventually turns into a story about a dark figure haunting him and his family. There is even a slight reference to this in the game when a police officer in trying to insult Alan calls him Stephen King and Brett Eastern Ellis (Might be one of the worst examples of an insult I’ve ever heard). It’s interesting what factors can draw you into a game and this may be the first in which something I’ve read has compelled me to push on to find out more about the story.
Back to the game and while I was enjoying my play through this time around, Alan Wake is not perfect. There are a number of cheap deaths that is a big stress trigger personally, I can count on one hand the amount of non flashlight/gun sections there are. Horror games need more than that to keep the tension and while I genuinely jumped a couple of times due to enemies jumping out of no where I never felt like in peril as a character. If I found a problem it was always due to error on my part. A few more puzzles could have solved that easily.
Overall I would say that if you have it and didn’t finish the game then you should really give it another go. It’s better than you remember and the story is a rewarding one. It’s not ground breaking but the episodic nature keeps you interested and more well written horror games are needed in this industry,
Recently the producers have announced the reason why they’re not making a sequel to Alan Wake and the short answer is money. To me it would be nice to see a continuation of the story but I was wasn’t left with the feeling that it needed to be fleshed out. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily recommending Alan Wake as there are hundreds of better games out there. If you enjoy horror and put the story line of a game at a higher importance than game play then I think you’ll enjoy yourself. I’m just happy I’ve shifted this albatross from around my neck.
Yes, even a reference to a horror POEM. It doesn’t get more pretentious than this.
Next time I think I’m going to finish another episodic game that I’ve been neglecting with a soundtrack that even Patrick Bateman would approve of.*
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*If someone gets that reference I will be hugely impressed and probably try and somehow give you a massive high five.