It feels like ages since I last played a game from Remedy, I remember reading previews all about Alan Wake, watching those nondescript teaser videos and being pissed that I wouldn't get to play it because they made it 360 only (this was back before I got a 360 of course). Seems fitting then that after I got my new 360 (my old one passed away this month) that this would be the first game I get to play on it.
Alan Wake is an interesting combination of horror and action games. You play as the title character and without spoiling the story, crazy stuff happens to Mr. Wake and it's up to you to see him through it. The interplay between light and darkness permeates throughout the game design. During the day the game goes into exposition mode as you learn more about what's going on and then when it gets dark it's time to run.
Every enemy in the game is possessed by darkness and the only way to hurt them is to use light to burn away their shield leaving them vulnerable to good old fashioned bullets. Light is also used as an oasis of safety in the darkness, as standing underneath lamp posts will allow you to recover health and prevent enemies from getting close to you.
One interesting mechanic that I have to commend Remedy on is the use of the "panic button" that I talked about in my action game analysis. Flares and flash bangs can be used to give you a few moments of safety as you are running through the dark and I like the concept of giving someone ten seconds of peace in a horror game, sure you're safe but ten seconds go by very fast.
Another subtle detail I liked about Alan Wake was how everything had a sense of weight in the world. From how Alan takes a few seconds before he will start to run, or how enemies react to gun fire and being hit by light, it adds a sense of immersion to the game. Normally I don't talk about graphics in my entries but I do have to give a shout out to the lighting in the game, during the night the interplay between light and dark were done exceptionally well.
I do have some problems with Alan Wake, as I mentioned earlier the game is a combination of horror and action titles and sometimes it feels that the game is being pulled in two different directions. With the action, there are not a varied amount of encounters in the game. I counted 5 main types of enemies and the tactics used for each one don't differ. Very rarely do you have to do something that doesn't involve running in a circle trying to knock out their shields to defeat them and it starts to get repetitive. The narrative and the content are at odds here; it feels like I'm watching a three hour movie padded out to about eight hours.
Another conflict between the horror and the action is that Alan is constantly losing his equipment through the plot and at the start of each episode he starts back at square one. Why he doesn't stock up at the hardware store during the day is never really explained. The best thing you can do is to condition yourself that each episode is its own little game and just not horde anything.
The constant combat during the night also hurts the horror aspect. Knowing how to kill every enemy does put a cap on the fear factor and it doesn't help that the game does a slow motion pan around Alan whenever enemies spawn. The best sections are when you are low on ammo and you are trying to leap frog between each safe area while being chased by the taken. I really wanted to see more enemies or those that required different tactics, such as a taken that is wearing some kind of body armor and you can only melt away and do damage to specific parts of their body.
As the game moves forward into the later sections things do pick up towards the conclusion. I found the story generally interesting and I will admit that there is a certain sense of satisfaction using the flare gun on a group of taken.
I do want to talk about the DLC as it does play into my opinion of Alan Wake. The first DLC episode called The Signal was released while the second one hasn't come out yet. To be honest I think I enjoyed The Signal more than the regular game. The main reason is that it fixed my main complaint about the main game, in which there wasn't much variety with the encounters. I do not want to spoil it but The Signal does a great job with mixing up the general game-play of Alan Wake.
Another reason I liked it was that it did not pull any punches in terms of difficulty, since at this point the only people who would be playing it are those that finished the main game. I found the challenge level to be more fair playing it on hard then I did trying to play the main game on nightmare difficulty (hardest one).
There has been some discussion about whether the dlc will continue or if the developers will move on to Alan Wake 2; recently they announced that the 2nd dlc will be the last which I think is a shame. Personally I think Alan Wake works better as these separate episodes compared to lumping everything together. Also now that the game is done they could continue to expand on the game-play instead of starting back at square one with a sequel.
Overall I enjoyed Alan Wake, it's not quite a horror game and it's not pure action, but it did a great job of combining elements from both. Personally I would love to see them do an open world game like this with a day/night cycle as I think having that mechanic in place could improve the horror factor.
P.S An alternate title for this entry would have been "Are you Afraid of the Dark?" but I figured if I was going to go for esoteric phrases I should reach further back then the 90s.