We need more games like Alan Wake – a horror experience that scares you, but not in the way we often see. It has many of the trappings of the genre like carefully placed jump scares, ax kills lurking in the shadows and ugly supernatural threats, but the real terror comes from words written on scraps of paper and thoughts expressed by lead actor Alan Wake.
Alan is a writer lost in his stories, and it’s up to the player to figure out what’s real and what’s fiction. Many of the words you read foreshadow a terrible fate or show Alan falling into an abyss. The strong narrative pulse makes this 11 year old game feel somewhat timeless, even if the gameplay shows some rust.
Alan’s story boils intensely from the moment you meet him, trapped in a strange nightmare that leads him to a lighthouse. The story is heavily inspired by Stephen King’s and David Lynch’s many works Twin Peaks and is open to interpretation. My understanding of what’s happening is probably radically different from yours – making it a great game to discuss.
The whole story is set in the small harbor town of Bright Falls in Washington – a place where Alan and his beloved wife Alice travel to try to help Alan regain his writing heartbeat. The town is obsessed with Alan. Standees of his with his latest book are scattered in the strangest of places, a visual clue that not all is as it seems. That feeling of not being able to trust your eyes or even Alan’s actions keeps the story in a tense and highly entertaining state for most of the journey. An early scene where Alan dives into a lake is an excellent example of the dramatic shifts in the story: as soon as his hands touch the water, he wakes up in his car, blood dripping from his forehead. What happened here? What moment is a dream? Thoughts like these flash through most of this dark tale.
This Remedy Entertainment production used to look great, and it still looks great today, but the remastering efforts aren’t enough to completely hide the game’s Xbox 360 roots. The world and character models have been subtly updated to deliver finer details and a bit more realism. The sharp 4K resolution makes the dimly lit woods more terrifying and throws a spotlight on some of the outdated qualities, such as facial animations that don’t always match a character’s emotion or Alan’s movements, which are a bit too mechanical and exaggerated. The game looks outdated, but not in a bad way. It has an eerie (but believable) quality to it that matches the dark tone of the story.
Even with Alan being a bit of a squirrel and a terrible jumper, he’s still fun to drive. Using a flashlight’s beam to clear the darkness of an enraged creature is surprisingly intense, considering how quickly the battery drains. I enjoyed the challenge of keeping the beam on the target long enough to stun them and make them vulnerable to bullets. A nicely designed dodge maneuver adds some strategy to the mix and allows Alan to separate from groups of enemies or more formidable chainsaw-wielding enemies.
Some frustration stems from the lack of visibility during conflicts. I was not aware of a second or third enemy in some conflicts until they lashed out at me. Fortunately, Alan has enough health to get the situation back under control. And he doesn’t just fight humans or even living beings. Barrels and angry, possessed farm machines try to crush him. They add variety to the gameplay, but are unintentionally comical. Watch out for the tractor!
I loved collecting manuscripts with essential plot points and stopping to watch a live-action episode of Night Springs. Again, the story pulls you in directions you don’t normally see. Even the world does a great job of conveying story moments, such as the menacing wind through the forest and destructibility used to frame Alan’s breakpoints or seismic story shifts.
Sightseeing is worth it, but I don’t understand the pressure to collect 100 coffee thermos, except to hammer the ‘wake up’ theme. It’s an odd collectible in a game that focuses on story and gameplay.
After the credits roll on this excellent story, allow yourself a few days before jumping into the DLC. Make up theories about Alan’s fate, discuss them with friends, and see where Remedy takes the story in The Signal, a short new DLC chapter that turns the story on its head again. You can then jump right into The Writer, the final act for this first game that wraps up some storylines.
Remedy also provides a good reason to replay the game through two commentary tracks from the dev team. You can turn on these comments at any time and they give a nice insight into Alan Wake’s design decisions and making. One of the tracks is brand new and features reflections from the game’s writer and director, Sam Lake.
Remedy’s latest game, Control, creates a great scenario for a sequel to Alan Wake. It would be a shame if we didn’t get it, especially after reliving this classic game. It holds up well and shows us how strong Remedy is as a storyteller.