Alan Wake

Alan Wake PC Review

The PC version of Alan Wake has been through quite a ride to finally get a release on the platform. It was originally slated to be released together with the Xbox 360 version, but Microsoft decided that “Alan Wake was a game that was best played from a couch in front of a large TV screen.” In other words, they were saying horror games can’t work on the PC because you aren’t set up to be in the right situation. An amusing thought, since at the end of the same year Alan Wake was released on Xbox 360, the PC system got the critically acclaimed Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which some say is one of the scariest games ever produced. Seems like a great mascot for showing that the PC platform can do horror just fine.

Alan Wake is the star of the game; he’s no space marine or some semi naked warrior. In actuality, he’s a simple human who is a famous writer. He’s having a bit of a dilemma at the moment as for the past two years he’s had troubling penning his next book. Suffering from the dreaded writer’s block, Alan decides that he needs to escape the city for a vacation. Taking his wife Alice with him, they go on a trip to a little rural town that goes by the name of Bright Falls. All seems normal until his wife goes missing. Alan doesn’t know exactly what’s happened after he wakes up in a car crash and has seemingly lost a week of his life. Trying all he can, Alan has to overcome the supernatural horrors that infest Bright Falls while trying to save his wife.

If there’s one thing Alan Wake does amazingly well, it’s that the game knows how to tell a story. Building up character is essential if you want to care about him. The player gets to know extensively about Alan since the plot is driven by a powerful narrative that has him speaking about current situations or how he’s feeling, just as if you were reading a book about him. Doing the narrative like this is a great way to keep the story flowing without breaking it with cutscenes. It happens in many situations, even during the course of a gun fight. Environmental items like radios and televisions add to the tale; if you want to understand everything related to the story, you’ll need to hunt down and listen to all of these. While it’s not the most original way to tell a story, it creates a sense of understanding with Alan and what troubles he’s going through.

Remedy fittingly made the game follow a TV show style format. It feels right at home because the story could effortlessly fit into an episode of The Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks. Each episode normally comes to a cliff hanger leaving you on the edge, and it’s good way to make sure you just want to start the next episode instead of putting down the game and returning later. Originally, the game spanned over six episodes, with the Xbox 360 version receiving downloadable content later on to create another two episodes. The PC version of the game contains all the DLC at no extra cost, meaning PC gamers get to experience the complete package of all eight episodes.

Gameplay wasn’t forgotten in their attempt to create a fascinating story. Breaking it down to its core, Alan Wake is an action third person shooter with some slight horror thrown in. It implements the over the shoulder camera when aiming, something you’ve come to expect in nearly every third person shooter game since Resident Evil 4. Your enemies are the inhabitants of Bright Falls and are possessed by the darkness; by day, everything seems normal and the town exudes a general sense of peace. It’s not until the day turns to night and the darkness creeps in that things take a turn for the worse. People become infested and are rightly named the “Taken” (nope, there’s no Liam Neeson particular set of skills involved here…) as the darkness coats them, turning them into axe wielding murderers.

To fend off the darkness and its minions, you need to use light as a weapon. Alan carries a torch that is vital piece of equipment for the game’s shooting mechanics. Shine the torch at the enemies and the darkness will begin to weaken its protection on them. Once the darkness has burnt away, you can freely shoot them with the limited range of guns available, including revolvers, shotguns or the flare gun, the latter being the game’s version of a grenade launcher since the impact from the light explodes all the enemies nearby. The torch only lasts for a limited amount of time so Alan needs to stock up on batteries (sponsored by Energizer; funny since they don’t last that long in the torch) to keep it lit. Light also serves as protection. The Taken won’t come near you if you stand under a street lamp or any other powerful sources of light. Sometimes you are thrown into the deep end with no light whatsoever, so having a handy source of flares helps you survive in these dire situations.

Much of the game takes place in a mountainous forest environment, where the Taken can just pop out of the trees and rush for you. The game doesn’t just throw them at you without any warning. There’s a sense of eeriness in the music when you are about to be attacked. Sometimes you’ll get a quick glance of  the enemies as the camera zooms away from Alan to show you where they have just popped up. If you find yourself overwhelmed, you can use flares and flash grenades to keep them away from you. Even though you will be shining light and blasting away the Taken constantly throughout the game, it never gets tedious. Feedback from shooting is great, and hearing that explosion effect when the enemy vanishes after a blast to the face is satisfying.

Dodging is tremendously handy and you’ll need to learn it so you can duck under the swing of an attack or any animated objects that get thrown at you, such as gates, bulldozers and trains – yep totally Stephen King. Combat keeps you alerted on your toes. When you know light is the only safe haven, it creates a sense of unease as a player. Even when I already knew what was going to happen, as I played the 360 version on launch, I still felt the game’s grip on me, not letting me go as it pulled me into the world I once cared about before, now caring all for again. Alan Wake is incredibly well produced, setting up an atmospheric tense journey.

Earlier on in the development of Alan Wake, the game was originally planned as an open-world sandbox game. They scrapped the open-world aspect as it didn’t fit with their story driven idea. Checkpoints highlight the way to go on the map, so you can never get lost. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot deviate from the path at all; there are plenty of times in the game where it offers you a wider area of forest or land to explore to find hidden supplies or one of the one hundred coffee flasks scattered around.

Advantages of playing Alan Wake on the PC means you’ll get the beautiful fluidity of 60 frames per second compared to the Xbox 360 version’s 30. Even though the game only uses DirectX 9, it still looks striking. There are plenty of options to tune the game to run on different PC systems, but when you turn all graphic options to maximum, you can clearly see the difference in quality from Xbox 360 to PC. It’s not just a quick port like some other games have been in the past. Control wise, you can use the keyboard or an Xbox 360 pad. The UI switches automatically to adjust to what you are pressing at the time, meaning you can switch between both control schemes on the fly.

What lets down the overall polish of the PC version is that it still has the same problem with animations as it did on console. Characters have some unnatural and awkward facial expressions, and sometimes appear robotic or slightly strange. It spoils the cutscenes when you have such fantastic voice work merged with these unrealistic faces.

Alan Wake is a superb game that will satisfy anyone looking for a slight twist of horror blended into their third person shooters. If you were bummed out by franchises that have gone the way of action and dropped their horror roots, play this game. It proves you can do action and still make the player feel insecure, paranoid and install a sense of dread . It manages to keep you involved from start to finish with its curious tale, spooky atmosphere and engaging combat. The game’s only fault is that the combat doesn’t change throughout the whole game, but when you are pulled into the world of Alan Wake and its rich atmosphere you’ll be so enthralled on solving the mystery and escaping the nightmarish world that you won’t even care about such matters.

9 out of 10