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Outdated Review: Alan Wake

Prologue:

 I’ve always wanted to write a review of a video game. Just the thought of all that power rushing through my veins. The power to condemn a game to never being bought or played or to make sure that it is what you spend you time doing instead of paying attention to a loved one. Oh, how I’ve wanted to write a video game review.

By the power of video game reviews!

Unfortunately, there are dozens of video game website that have editors that are skilled in things like “writing” that I can’t compete with. These sites also have games sent to them by developers to play them before the game is even released. It’s nearly impossible for any reviews that I could write to be relevant to readers when an army of gaming journalists can publish a review of a game before I can get my grubby little paws on it. Seriously, they review a 60 hour game before I could even buy it on opening night.

I found a loophole in the system. Sure, I can’t write the earliest reviews of games. That essentially means that I can’t affect whether or not people buy new releases. But what about of the titles that we all kind of thought about buying but never got around to it? These titles are now sold at bargain and we could buy them if we really wanted to try them out and could be convinced to throw down $15.

That’s right; I’ve invented a new type of review. One that isn’t so much a “BUY THIS GAME BECAUSE IT’S GREAT AND/OR THEY PAID ME FOR THIS BANNER!”

No, this review is a simple persuasive piece by a fellow gamer discussing why the game will break your expectations that kept you from playing it in the first place. I too was leery of this game. That’s why the title in an outdated review was out so long before I gave it a shot. I’ll share why you should play this game or why you should just keep on living life not playing it.

Worth playing? I missed this one...

There is no longer need to lose sleep over whether or not you should play this game. I offer closure. I am the funeral home director of video game reviews. So sit back, relax, and let my first video game review ever inspire your very soul (and wallet).

Outdated review of Alan Wake

More like, "Alan *yawn* Wake me up when this post is over".

I never wanted to play Alan Wake. Never. I thought it was being hyped up too much due to its long development time and high exposure. I never would have played the title had my friend not said, “you should borrow this game. I bought it used. It’s pretty good.” Such persuasion.

After playing the game, I can safely say that it actually is quite great. I know, you’ve heard that before (only about a year and a half ago when the title was released). You have your doubts. I’ll have to persuade you better than that.

There are lots of reasons why I didn’t play Alan Wake just like you. Reasons like:

The enemies seem repetitive and dull

Hi. You'll be seeing me. A LOT.

The trailers make it seem like you just fight some dark men (not racist!) over and over again. It looked so dull. In actuality, the enemies are quite interesting and terrifying.

Sure you fight lots of shadowed guys of different shapes and sizes, but there are far more enemies in the game to fight. Birds clouded in darkness that swoop down from the sky to attack you are a welcome new enemy type that is hard to locate and can easily sneak up on you.

Throughout the game nearly any inanimate object can be controlled by the dark force that is pursuing you and can attack you. This is a great twist that makes every room frightening and alien. Anything in your surroundings from a tire to a train engine could be thrown at you at any moment. This effect makes the darkness itself appear to be your enemy, not the possesed men that attack you.

Even the many men taken by the darkness are much more interesting to fight than they seem from previews. There are enemy humans that are demonically fast to the point where you can hardly see them as anything more than a brief blur. Some enemies are huge, hulking, and require half a dozen bullets to put down.

Throw in some ranged troops and some obligatory chainsaws and you’ve got pretty varied enemies. The fact that  these “Taken” can instantly spawn to completely surround you in the dark makes these enemies seem extra interesting. (Although, I still question what happened to all of the women in town. You only ever fight possessed men.)

Enemy variety = good

The dark presence can possess anything and everything. Then everything tries to kill Alan

Flashlight combat seems boring

Killing monsters with flashlights seems super lame on paper. My eight year-old niece can come up with cooler ways to kill her dolls. (She may be troubled.)

Despite how lame pointing a flashlight at a monster to harm it may seem, the combat in Alan Wake is surprisingly tight. The flashlight doesn’t actually hurt half of the enemies in the game.

Cool sparkles, Twilight.

Instead, the enemies have a layer of darkness that makes them invincible until you bathe them in enough light to make them possible to hurt. Point a flashlight at them all night and they will thank you for holding still as they rip you apart. Flashlight’s destroy darkness; good old fashioned guns kill most of your enemies.

Having enemies that cannot be harmed by weapons until after a shield has been taken down by something that can’t actually hurt them is effective and often horrifying. I’m sure I wasted 100 bullets on reflex shots at enemies that didn’t even need to shrug the shot off, because it did nothing to them.

The variety of enemies thrown at you at once also make the combat balanced and fun. You generally are facing a faster enemy that can attack from afar or up close, and couple of bruisers that can take a lot of hits and will charge right for you. The sections of the game where you fight alongside allies also play out well and remain a challenge.

Finally the use of light in combat is just brilliant. Flares can buy you time to reload and pray without really harming enemies (they just back away from the light), while flash bangs can kill a group of enemies but provide no protection against the other enemies no doubt hot on your tail.

Time out!

I loved the many areas of the game that had infinite waves of enemies. This forces you to run like the cowardly, normal guy that you are. More than half of the game feels like a desperate dash from one light source to the next. Too many survival horror games let you still feel like an action star against gross monsters. The combat of Alan Wake forces you to be a regular guy running for his life with a handgun and a flashlight.

(Don’t worry, the weapons are decently varied as well. You also get to blast away with a rifle, flaregun, two types of shotguns and of course, three types of flashlights.)

Alan Wake’s combat is a triumph in that it is fun, fast, and most importantly scares the crap out of you and forces you to run like a pansy. That’s the way survival horror games should be.

Combat = great

Real survival horror heroes never stop running. Or crying.

A dark forest seems like a lame setting

That was spooky 5000 trees ago.

You’re absolutely right. A dark forest does seem like a lame setting. Luckily, Alan Wake is full of plenty awesome set pieces such a hedge maze, pitch black mines, and ghost towns.

The woods and idyllic town are great settings that feel alive. Setting up such normal and peaceful settings and then tainting them with a dark presence is powerful visually and does wonders for the narrative. I was definitely not expecting the amount of different locals that I visited over the course of the game.

The maps were large and didn’t have load screens. There are easily over a half dozen maps that are so large that the game provides vehicles for you to traverse the landscape in. Simply point, the setting of Alan Wake is a great strength of the game.

Setting = great

Try and pretend that you don't want to defeat an army of monster on a stage while explosions go off to a metal song written specifically for the game.

The game seems really short

No, games aren’t inherently bad if they are short, but I am less likely to by a six hour game than I am a 50 hour game if they both cost $60.

I had heard that Alan Wake was split into episodes that recap themselves and play out just like a TV miniseries. For some reason I had assumed that meant that each episode would not be much longer than half an hour like on TV. This is not the case. Alan Wake has six episodes. I played through the game on hard (which was fairly challenging) and it took me at least over two hours to complete each chapter.

I would estimate that it took me at least around 15 hours to beat Alan Wake. As the game has unlockables that can only be reached during a second playthrough on the second playthrough and plenty of hidden collectibles, I felt like this was a rather great length.

The friend that I borrowed the game from said that he beat the game in a day, but he must have been on crack. And didn’t sleep. And didn’t eat. And was surrounded by a pool of his on urine and stool. Seriously, I was very happily surprised at the length of this episodic thriller.

Length = good

The story just looks like a Stephen King knock-off

This is super easy to believe. The story makes many obvious nods to Steven King and even mentions the writer verbatim once. After all, the plot follows a male fiction writer as he is plunged into a real life nightmare: total Stephen King territory.

Stephen only writes autobiographical nonfiction.

However, the plot of Alan Wake separates itself from the great horror writer by its fun light mechanics and interesting story of a location where artists can bring their work to life but with dark implications.

Alan wakes (pun!) to find no memory of the last week. His wife is missing and he must save her from a dark presence that seems to be coming to life based on the events in a novel that he has no memory of writing.

I was very surprised at how attached to the characters I was by the end of the game and how life-like they felt in their motivations and actions. The dialogue is quite consistently excellent throughout the game, as well as the voice acting.

The game was full of plenty of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I was certainly satisfied with the unexpected ending, but then again, I just beat Mass Effect 3.

Story = great

This really exists. Alan Wake is a game with a strong enough story to be adapted into a novel.

The bad

Alan Wake is a great game worthy of your time and $15ish dollars, but it is not without its embarrassments.

The platforming in Alan Wake is terrible. If I were Simon Cowell I would call it absolutely dreadful. I’m glad that the game attempted to break up the combat of the game with exploration, but the execution could have been better.

The environment of the game is great (see the awesome setting), but crap man, it’s hard as balls to get around in the game. I would guess that over half of my deaths in the game were due to falling off of logs and cliffs that most games would auto jump you over.

This happens too often.

Alan proves that white writers can’t jump, or climb, or walk with any balance.

At one point in the game I died at least four times because I wasn’t sure if I was failing to walk across a beam because the game was being finicky or because you can’t walk across it. That’s how rough the platforming is.

I exclaimed aloud several times, “this game is bad, this is bad!” In between game sessions of loving every other aspect of the game. I cannot emphasize how bad the platforming is.

At the same time, I cannot emphasis how little the platforming is in importance in the game. True, you will fail a jump or two that you definitely should have nailed in each chapter,but these minor inconveniences in an otherwise excellent game just become fun little jokes almost.

Alan Wake’s platforming sucks, but it won’t crop up all that often and won’t prevent you from loving the rest of the great package.

Platforming = god awful

Alan attempts to climb stairs.

Summary

I’m as surprised as you; Alan Wake is good, great even. As one of the few great Xbox exclusives and one of the few survival horror games that dares to be very different, you should check out Alan Wake. The story and episodic content is engrossing and addicting: you’ll want to just finish one more episode.

Do yourself a favor and check out Alan Wake. It’ll light up your night.

Worth every discounted penny.

Now it’ll just be another two years before we try out the downloadable sequel, Alan Wake: American Nightmare.

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