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Old 08-02-2010, 08:43 AM   #1
Ed Campion
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Please Rate This Review: Alan Wake:The Signal

Alan Wake:The Signal Part One, More Solid Shooting but this DLC is lacking in story.

High: More Alan Wake, one great set piece.

Low: Some poor level design, light on story until the very end, no TV shows.

WTF: Revelations just before the end of the episode which cause the player to rethink much of what they have played through.As well as a typical Alan Wake cliffhanger ending.

The Signal is the first piece of DLC for Alan Wake and is free to those who bought the game new. Picking up immediately after the events of Alan Wake, it is the first of a two parter with Part Two:The Writer coming in the autumn.

Wake has succeeded in rescuing his wife from the Dark Presence but there was a price to be paid, Wake is trapped in The Dark Place.The Dark Place is a twisted version of the town of Bright Falls and its surroundings: which was the setting for Alan Wake, and so a few locations from that game make an appearance in The Signal.To create a new atmospheric location, Remedy fill the episode with an inky black mist which looks fantastic and gives a new unique look to the assets. Very simple, very cheap but very effective.

The Signal opens at a great pace, very soon Wake is fleeing from bands of Taken, and when he can, sending them to hell. The episode makes no allowances for players’ rustiness following the few months since Alan Wake’s release; combat feels similar in difficulty to the end of Alan Wake. However the game’s well-tuned control mechanics make slipping back into the Alan Wake groove a smooth process.

To escape The Dark Place, Wake must follow a GPS signal and the guidance of Thomas Zane (The doomed poet from Alan Wake). The Dark Place fights against Wake by constantly shifting and changing the landscape, throwing Wake off from the correct path.

As in the brief encounter Wake has with The Dark Place at the end of Alan Wake, items in the Dark Place are produced by using the flashlight on big glowing words, like “recharge” for batteries or “red box” for the supply boxes. Occasionally even enemies can be created this way in minefields of words where the player must be careful not to activate words such as “possessed” or “birds”.

As well as items being produced in this way, there are also memories scattered about The Dark Place, these often show the Wakes in happier times, or revisit parts of Alan Wake. There is even one cool section in which a memory from the campaign against the Dark Presence in Alan Wake changes The Dark Place and helps the player’s progress!

Barry Wheeler returns! Well he is hallucinated into being by Wake and guides Wake through some sections of the episode. I’ve never understood the hate for Barry amongst some people. The dialogue between him and Wake is much improved in The Signal and is frequently funny.

On top of creative use of their existing level assets, Remedy have added a couple of new set pieces, one in particular involves Wake traversing a forest of ripped up electricity poles whose damaged lights blink on and off creating brief safe havens for Wake. The visual design for this set piece is great and it is one of my favourite moments of Alan Wake as a series.

However much of the additional level design in The Signal is uninspired and feels rushed. At its root Alan Wake is a very simple game “The player moves through a maze like system and either turns a corner into an enemy encounter or the path widens out and the player is surrounded by enemies.”

An argument can be made that many games follow this pattern. However game development is all about smoke and mirrors, it is all about illusion. It is about layering atmosphere and complexity on top of relatively simple mechanics. In The Signal too often, we are left staring at the man behind the curtain. too often mazes are unvarnished, even descending to arranged crates on one occasion.

Alan Wake got away with being formulaic in it’s level design by dressing up its many mazes as forests, a hospital inside a mansion, and stacks of wood at a logging site. These become interesting places to explore.

In The Signal’s mazes, indirect combat is pushed at the player in a big way; the mazes are stuffed to bursting with gas cylinders and other explosives). I very rarely used these in my play through of Alan Wake and so wanted to use them in this DLC. However the game’s auto aim system, sensibly, locks to the nearest enemy when LT is pressed. This makes setting off these weapons difficult and not really worth bothering with, as due to the small confined space the enemies will be performing rough dentistry on you before you trigger the explosives in most cases.

Dissapointingly this DLC episode feels very light on story, Wake’s last words in Alan Wake “It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean” leave the player desperate for more of this story and what the Dark Presence actually is. However for much of this episode the player is moving rather aimlessly through the locations. Brief and largely unsatisfactory encounters with Zane aside, “Follow the signal” is the only guidance the player receives for almost the entire episode.

Thankfully at the end of the episode, information is imparted by Zane, which causes the player to rethink much of what they have played through. The episode ends in typical Alan Wake style; with a good cliff hanger which sets things up for the next episode: The Signal Part 2.

In a nice touch the foreshadowing of events provided by the manuscript pages in Alan Wake is provided by TV clips of an increasingly deranged Wake (shot with extreme close ups often just of his bloodshot eyeball).

Remedy games have always had a lot of charm and style, a major source of this has been their great in game TV shows; parodies of popular real life shows. Alan Wake did not disappoint in this regard. However they are entirely absent from this episode. While I understand that they take time and money to prepare, two things that DLC packages are short of. With a DLC offering, the question being asked is: “Do you want more?” Alan Wake has solid, tight controls, a nice light and dark dynamic, but the gameplay is not so great that you want more of it per se. More it is the atmosphere and story of Alan Wake that the player misses when it is over. The shows were a very likeable addition to the atmosphere. Alan Wake is not Alan Wake without them.

The Signal Part One is roughly 90-120 minutes of content, costing 560 points if you bought Alan Wake used. The nuts and bolts of Alan Wake are here, The Signal still controls really well, but the story is very back heavy, and moments of poor level design damage Alan Wake’s calling card, which is its superb atmosphere.

Disclosures: The Signal Part One was obtained as a free download, as I bought Alan Wake new.
Completed on normal difficulty in roughly 100 minutes.
Alan Wake is an Xbox 360 exclusive.

Parents: While this is a shooting game,it contains no blood, however it does endeavour to be scary and as such should not be played by younger children. 13+

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Alan Wake and The Signal use audio as a major tool in creating atmosphere and panic,while subtitles are available for dialogue between characters, sadly a lot of the game's atmosphere will be lost.

Last edited by Ed Campion; 08-02-2010 at 08:09 PM. Reason: Combined some of the paragraphs to improve flow.
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360, alan wake, remedy, the signal, xbox 360

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