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Alan Wake Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

Overslept

Alan Wake Screenshot

HIGH The external environments are beautiful.

LOW The player sees far too much of them.

WTF The amount of back-attacks and birds.

Five years (plus) in the making, Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake is finally upon us. Having gone through several changes and an unusually long development period, one of the biggest question marks in recent video game history has finally materialized. Billed as a psychological thriller and positioned to be one of Microsoft's biggest titles of 2010, this 360 exclusive has a lot to live up to. Though the game can justifiably boast a few successful elements, it ultimately ends up being a case of too little, too late.

When the adventure begins, Alan is a successful fiction writer who travels with his wife to the remote town of Bright Falls, Washington. Alan's hit a terrible case of writer's block, and the trip is intended to get him back in pagecrafting shape. Almost immediately after arriving in the town, Alan's wife is kidnapped and an evil force makes itself known by possessing local townsfolk and cloaking them in shadows. These spectral people are known as the Taken, and they're bent on keeping Alan from his goals.

While that premise sounds like the perfect setup for a brooding, slow-burn chiller or new spin on survival horror, the fact is that the majority of the game is spent jogging along mountainside trails blasting groups of enemies. It may come as quite a surprise to some, but it's most accurate to say that Alan Wake is a run-and-gun. It's actually a well-done run-and-gun, though. While the heavy emphasis on combat was somewhat misplaced, its quality should come as no surprise given that the same developers were also responsible for the seminal bullet-time shooter Max Payne.

Alan Wake Screenshot

Adding a layer of complexity to what would otherwise be standard firearms combat, the Taken are invincible until stripped of their shadows. The darkness surrounding them acts as their armor, so to damage them, Alan must wield his flashlight and strip the darkness away before opening fire. This two-step system is an interesting mechanic and builds a pleasant level of tension since it's worthless to reflexively fire on things that cross the player's path. It's also interesting to see pieces of equipment normally relegated to support roles come into play as powerful weapons. Things like road flares or signal guns are the most potent things Alan can get his hands on, and they're devastating to his attackers.

However, although the combat is engaging, I couldn't help but feel that it wasn't enough to base an entire game on. Remedy clearly disagrees, since so much time in Alan Wake is spent shooting in the woods.

To be fair, the forests and mountainsides the player traverses are extremely well-realized and very convincing. As someone who has actually lived in an area of Washington similar to the place where the game is set, I can say that the developers have accurately captured the essence of the land. I was impressed. That said, I felt as though I saw the same ten-minute segment of running-through-forest copied and pasted countless times. As beautiful as it may be, it's just too much.

Adding insult to injury, whenever the player returns to civilization, the developers use every trick conceivable (and even a few that aren't) to get the player back into the forest as quickly as possible. All sorts of questionable events happen to further this end—everything from multiple car crashes, pre-arranged meetings in remote campsites, a rogue FBI agent giving chase, or Alan simply jumping down the side of a cliff. Remedy goes back to the "forest shooting" well so many times that it strains both patience and suspension of disbelief, and feelings of stale repetition set in quickly. I will say that the game finally gets its act together in the tighter, more interesting final third, but by that point the player has already been subjected to an unhealthy amount of samey-same action without enough interstitial content to support it.

Alan Wake  Screenshot

Speaking of supporting content, I'm sure that many readers at this point are wondering about the game's story. After all, Alan Wake has been touted for quite some time as a psychological tale of suspense. Although discussing certain aspects of the plot have been flagged as "off limits" in reviews, that's really not a problem here—the story is quite peripheral to the gameplay and poorly-told in general. That much is easy to discuss without any fear of spoilage.

For example, the central premise of Alan being a writer feels completely mishandled. A large part of the plot revolves around an unpublished manuscript that Alan does not remember writing. Rather than capitalize on this idea and build on it throughout, it feels as though it's an afterthought. The manuscript pages picked up through play (collectibles, of course) relate scattered bits of information that don't effectively enhance the story, nor are these pages and their "special qualities" used by or shown to the player in any significant way. We're simply told about them through vague suggestions in cut-scenes or asked to read short snippets of immersion-annihilating text, and it's left at that.

Other aspects of Alan Wake's tale are equally unsatisfying. Despite the large amount of voiceover narration meant to illustrate his internal character, it felt rushed and free of emotion—the work of someone more interested in delivering lines from a script than actually showing humanity. It also doesn't help that one of the biggest questions in the game is answered in a matter-of-fact cut-scene that has about as much impact as a wadded-up piece of paper thanks to poor development of supporting characters and sketchy plotting overall. The ending? It's the definition of anti-climax, and little payoff for a story that never builds up any steam.

Alan Wake puts up a front of being cerebral and deep, but it simply doesn't do the legwork to back it up. I had significant difficulty becoming invested in the events and found it very hard to care about anything that happened from start to finish. It may not have been the original intent of the developers, but the game's storytelling takes a clear backseat to running and gunning. It's unfortunate because the unsharpened core of something great is here. However, the end result in its current state is more like a one-trick pony birthed from a tryst between Twin Peaks and Alone in the Dark, only without the things that made each of those productions great. Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, language, use of tobacco and/or alcohol, and violence. To be honest, I'm a little surprised that this game only rates a "T". There's tons of shooting possessed humans, and plenty of creepy weird things that would likely freak out younger players. It may not be excruciatingly graphic, but between the combat and the other elements, there is no way I would let children near the game. For older players only.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You should be aware that the game uses audio cues to signal the arrival of enemies and the "all clear" when attackers are wiped out. There are usually visual cues to accompany enemies arriving and when the coast is clear, but players who miss them may find themselves spending extra time searching for enemies who aren't there anymore. There were other instances when hearing would be beneficial to other particular situations, so hearing-impaired gamers might notice themselves having to work a little bit harder.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360  
Developer(s): Remedy  
Publisher: Microsoft  
Series: Alan Wake  
Genre(s): Shooting  
ESRB Rating: Teen (13+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Am I stupid or something,

Am I stupid or something, but where's the rating of this game?

Highlight the text at the

Highlight the text at the end of the review. = )

5 years development...

Funny how quite a lot of highly anticipated games don't deliver, once they are caught up in a too long development cycle. Max Payne had pulp writing somewhere on the borderline between genius and utter garbage. I was wondering if they can deliver a serious horror experience, but apparently they can't.

I noticed that Steven King is quite bluntly mentioned as inspiration. Reading this and other reviews, I got the impression that inspiration is drawn from the movies instead of the books. Can someone who played the game confirm or deny that?

review bias

Here I find myself again, clicking through to view a peculiarly low metacritic score, this time given to Alan Wake. Here I again, I find myself at GameCritics reading a Brad Gallaway review. hmmmm.

In comparison with the ME2 review however, the variance of review scores is very significantly wider for Alan Wake, hence, I do not think the 65% given to be more than perhaps 2 standard deviations from the metacritic mean (of around 85%), which is acceptable.

I do not have the time nor patience to grab the scores off metacritic and perform the maths, but my suggestion to all game sites is to perform regular assessments of the scores they are giving games from a statistical viewpoint. Scores should be more or less normally distributed over an industry average that adjusts for reviewer-publisher bias, NOT an arbitrary average such as 5/10 that doesn't.

@Brad Gallaway I've just

@Brad Gallaway

I've just read your latest tweet, and presume my last comment via GameCritics sparked off a train of thought when you read/moderated it.

If it's not a stats problem then don't give it a score. If GameCritics insists you score it, leave and become an independent. Otherwise the score itself is fed into metacritic which is then normalised and averaged. That metacritic score IS a maths problem.

I'm not overly critical of the scores you give. But I am extremely critical of the GameCritics approach to scoring, using 50% as an average game.

Hey Alv. I think the point

Hey Alv.

I think the point here is that we're not beholden to some sort of imagined internet-wide approach to scoring. We set our own scale, and how MetaCritic chooses to interpret that is MetaCritic's business. We don't run the site according to how our reviews will impact aggregate statistics.

At this site, 50% is an average game, as in, not outstanding. Our use of this review scale is strictly subjective, and not a math issue in terms of how it relates to the rest of the 'net.

OMG, I've been reading this

OMG, I've been reading this site for months and hadn't realized 'til now that it had scores. I'd seen them on metacritic and wondered where they were coming from.

I was also guilty of this

I was also guilty of this until yesterday. If I hadn't read the Alan Wake review, I never would have known.

BUT, I will still be

BUT, I will still be purchasing this game, at full value. This reviewer rated another game that I highly value, Bioshock, at a much lower score than I anticipated. I still respect his opinion, though. It all depends on an individual's particular taste. Although, his review of Demon's Souls is SPOT ON. I just defeated the False Idol boss, after eight months of owning it. Love it. But I will have to go with my gut feeling on Alan Wake, and take the $60.00 plunge.

Anonymous wrote: BUT, I

Anonymous wrote:

BUT, I will still be purchasing this game, at full value. This reviewer rated another game that I highly value, Bioshock, at a much lower score than I anticipated. I still respect his opinion, though. It all depends on an individual's particular taste. Although, his review of Demon's Souls is SPOT ON. I just defeated the False Idol boss, after eight months of owning it. Love it. But I will have to go with my gut feeling on Alan Wake, and take the $60.00 plunge.

Now that's how you read reviews and make decisions on whether to play a game or not!

After a certain point in our gaming lives we basically know what we like. We read reviews/comments/opinions about games to make a more informed decision on whether to buy/play a game. But it still is our decision and it's a personal one. Whether it received a 6 from reviewers or whether it received a 10 it should not really matter.

@Alv If you read Metacritics

@Alv

If you read Metacritics scoring system, they DO weight reviewers and take into account the differences in scoring by other video game publications. They're not 100% explicit about how they do it, but they do.

Brad is correct, your issue is with Metacritic, not him.

most new games

Most new games deserve a rating of 5-7(50-70%) because most new games are midly above average at best, there is not a 8+ I agree with in the last 5ish years....

metacritics bites

People need to learn to read [reviews] and quite depending of scores to tell them whether to play a game or not. Metacritics weird composite score exacerbates the score laziness that exists in modern e-culture. I am really enjoying this site and podcast.

Zolos wrote: Anonymous

Zolos wrote:
Anonymous wrote:

BUT, I will still be purchasing this game, at full value. This reviewer rated another game that I highly value, Bioshock, at a much lower score than I anticipated. I still respect his opinion, though. It all depends on an individual's particular taste. Although, his review of Demon's Souls is SPOT ON. I just defeated the False Idol boss, after eight months of owning it. Love it. But I will have to go with my gut feeling on Alan Wake, and take the $60.00 plunge.

Now that's how you read reviews and make decisions on whether to play a game or not!

After a certain point in our gaming lives we basically know what we like. We read reviews/comments/opinions about games to make a more informed decision on whether to buy/play a game. But it still is our decision and it's a personal one. Whether it received a 6 from reviewers or whether it received a 10 it should not really matter.

And some of the most bitter critics are childish wannabe Designers who never quite made it to the industry :)

I recently finished this

I recently finished this myself, and my reaction is similar to Brad's. Alan Wake pretends to be an intelligent horror game, but it betrays its concept and simply becomes yet another game about shooting dudes. There's nothing wrong with that, certainly, and I had some fun with the strategic component of the combat. In the end, though, it just doesn't feel like fighting all those Taken has much of anything to do with what the game wants to be about. Only the very last gameplay segment, where Alan uses the flashlight on the words, can be called any kind of success. This should have, and could have (Remedy did get things right in that one spot) been a really amazing game. But, the reality is that this is five years spent in construction of a reasonably good but repetitive third-person shooter. I guess somebody can squeeze game of the year out of that, but I can't.

I agree as well

I am surprised at how much praise this game gets. It's so repetitive... I think the decision to kill the open world hurt this game a lot. Being able to explore the town, talk to people, etc... would have helped it quite a bit. Biggest disappointment of 2010 for me. I think Alone in the Dark was much better.

Ramblings

If someone else is going to comment here so long after the fact, then I will too!

I loved Alan Wake. I mean, I really really loved it. I'm aware that it's not the best game ever made, but it's been a while since a game has resonated so well with what I like in both gameplay and story. Sure it's repetitive, cliche, and at times convoluted; I understand (and at points agree with) Brad Gallaway's commentary on this game. As much as this may be my favorite game of the year, I would by no means say that it is the best of the year (probably not even top 5, to be honest.)

This is the first time I've noticed that numerical values were assigned to games on this site. There's something nice about being able to read a review and make an informed decision based on the content rather than an arbitrary number.

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