Few processes of the mind can be as thankless and mind-bending as writing. Unless you’re Alan Wake. Then it’s a matter of life and death.
Remedy Entertainment’s long-awaited tale of a novelist fighting dark, ghostly elements in a secluded town reeks of romanticized elements about the power of the written word, the essence of artistic vision and the struggle between light and darkness.
But in doing so, it still manages to remain simple and welcoming to those who play it. It’s an inclusive experience that invites you to read, play, listen and watch along with its protagonist instead of force-feeding a story down your throat with the expectation that you’ll swallow and like it.
You play Wake, an extremely popular crime novelist suffering from a two-year case of writer’s block. He takes a sabbatical with his wife to the happy little town of Bright Falls to cut loose and perhaps get back his writing mojo.
Instead, his wife gets abducted and he’s forced to fight against a dark, ethereal force that turns people into raging lunatics and also causes inanimate objects to attack. Adding to the mental chaos are scattered pages from a book that Wake has apparently written — the problem is, he doesn’t remember ever writing it.
Wake’s discovery of pieces of his mystery book throughout the town add the most life to the story, giving it hues of unpredictability, horror and insight into the characters.
Instead of delivering the story in chronological order, each page Wake finds talks about either stuff that already happened, stuff that hasn’t happened yet or stuff about one of the people (or things) Wake meets. I thought it was a good way to keep the reader / player engaged in the story.
Of course, the gameplay and visual atmosphere have a lot to do with that. At it’s heart, Alan Wake is a third-person shooter that has a lot of fun with light. Among Wake’s chief weapons against the possessed crazies he encounters is a flashlight, which he can use to weaken his enemies before shooting them with more conventional death-dealing guns. For a writer, Wake is a pretty good shot.
Light is used can be for save points, as well as hiding places to elude a pursuing pack of darkness-infested rednecks. Wake also has flares, flare guns, lanterns and spotlights for extra stopping power. One particularly memorable sequence involves Wake and his best friend fighting off a horde of foes using the pyro and lights from a defunct rock band stage.
I found a lot of enjoyment out of the game’s episodic nature of the chapters, which gave off the feeling I was watching an actual TV series.
I also found it interesting how the game uses every kind of media to add to the story. Of course, you have Wake the writer, but there are also TVs that show strange images or an actual mystery show called “Night Springs.” You can also tune in to the local radio station to get a feel for the town of Bright Springs, which is a very artistic mecca in its own right.
Cracking open Alan Wake is time well spent. For all the talk about how much it does or doesn’t work on a literary or artistic front, it’s a solid piece of technical entertainment that pays a fitting, fun homage to an older form of storytelling.
Remedy Entertainment / Microsoft Game Studios
Xbox 360 (exclusive)
Rated M for Mature