Released exclusively for the Xbox 360 in 2010, Remedy’s long awaited physiological thriller, Alan Wake, has finally stumbled out of the darkness and made its way onto the PC platform. With their previous games Max Payne and Max Payne 2 initially releasing on the personal computer, it’s refreshing to see that Remedy haven’t forgotten where they first cut their teeth in the world of video games. After all, Remedy have recently stated that the PC is “their spiritual home.” Aw, bless.
Consequently, the idea of porting Alan Wake to the PC was always a project they envisioned, though an exclusivity deal with Microsoft has meant PC gamers have had to wait two years to sample Remedy’s new protagonist. And it’s definitely paid off for Remedy, with the online digital release of Alan Wake recouping the development costs within 48 hours of going on sale (guess publishing a game on PC is profitable after all hey Ubisoft?). But has Alan Wake been worth the wait? Or is Alan Wake for PC a commonly rushed, money-making port?
Blocky, One, Two, Three
Writer’s block. Anyone who’s passionate about picking up a pen or a dab hand at tip-tapping away on a keyboard will know that when the dreaded writer’s block strikes, you can forget about conjuring up a magical manuscript or nailing that novel for a while. Yes, writer’s block happens to the best of us, including the bestselling thriller novelist, Alan Wake. Unfortunately for Alan, he’s been unable to overcome the disabilitating condition for two, long years. Hoping to finally dispel the shackles that bind his creative spark, Alan decides to join his wife Alice on a short vacation to clear his mind at the peaceful, woodland town of Bright Falls.
Alice asks Alan to pick up the keys and directions to the lodge from the owner at the local diner. Whilst searching for the whereabouts of the cabin’s owner, Alan encounters a frightfully shifty old woman who claims the owner has taken ill and that she has been instructed to give Alan what he requires. With keys in hand and the directions to their apparent idyllic paradise, Alan and Alice set off to Cauldron Lake.
A breath taking wooden lodge awaits them upon arrival; surrounded by dark, enchanting waters and lush, forested scenery. “This is it,” thinks Alan. Away from the technology, bustling city streets and other distractions, he can finally clear his head. He can forget about writing, forget about all the deadlines and outside pressure; he can finally just relax. Sadly, Alan’s better half Alice has other ideas. A lover’s tiff ensues as Alan discovers that Alice has cheekily set up a typewriter, with the good intention of perhaps encouraging him to write. Feeling betrayed, Alan flies off the proverbial handle and storms out of the lodge, only to hear a spine tingling scream from Alice.
Concerned, Alan rushes to the lodge with flashlight in hand, only to catch a glimpse of Alice being dragged into the lake’s murky depths below. Instinctively, Alan dives into the lake’s watery abyss, but shortly, loses consciousness. He awakes behind the wheel of a wrecked car one week later, dazed, confused and desperate to find Alice. As Alan’s journey unfolds, he realises that what was once fiction is now becoming a chilling reality.
That’s all I’m willing to divulge of the game’s gripping story I’m afraid. But don’t worry, you’ll thank me later as Alan Wake pens a disturbing and interesting tale that should be enjoyed spoiler free (though the game has been out for two years; so as spoiler free as possible then).
Light Up, Light Up
Alan Wake isn’t your typical survival horror experience. Of course, there’s plenty of hostile hoards of dangerous foes to dispose of who are bating for your blood, however, the gameplay is best described as cinematic action if you will.
Alan’s pursuers are known as the “taken”; humans, flocks of pesky ravens or even inanimate objects who have been possessed by the overriding evil force that plagues Alan’s hunt for Alice known as, “the darkness”. The shadowy savages that Alan encounters are protected by a shield of darkness, and its up to Alan to rid them of their initial invulnerability with none other than dark’s eternal nemesis, light. With a flashlight in hand, players must shine the beam onto the oncoming enemies until their protective coating has dispersed, making them vulnerable to attacks be it from bullets, or the bright plumes of light provided by a well-aimed flare gun.
The premise of Alan Wake’s combat is relatively straight forward. Spot an enemy, shine your light on them, and finish them off.
When things get heated (and they will), Alan has the ability to perform a dodge. By pressing the run button when under attack, Alan will graciously duck and scamper under an enemies attack, sometimes highlighted in a Hollywood style, slow motion cinematic. Dodging takes a bit of getting used to, but its an ability which you’ll soon master and one which you will come to rely on as the game’s difficulty increases.
The premise of Alan Wake’s combat is relatively straight forward. Spot an enemy, shine your light on them, and finish them off. This is the main mechanic of Alan Wake and admittedly, after the first few hours it does begin to grate due to its repetitive nature. Relief, or terror, is brought in the form of battery and ammo management. Your flashlight will gradually lose charge when you shine the beam at full power, so batteries are your first means of survival. When you’re down to one battery, the flashlight will recharge when depleted, so it’s important to keep an eye on how much power’s left in the torch.
Careful ammo management is usually the first point of call for any horror game, and Alan Wake attempts to heighten the scares by urging you to reload quickly. When you’ve shot every bullet in the chamber, Alan will begin to automatically reload, however, by tapping the reload button quickly, Alan frantically reloads with added haste. Keeping a sharp eye on your flashlight battery and ammunition effectively creates an extra feeling of suspense when under siege by the taken.
By tapping the reload button quickly, Alan frantically reloads with added haste.
Should the hoards of the taken become too fearsome for your flashlight and revolver alone, the player can often find help from their surroundings. Portable, powerful lights can be turned on temporarily, and generators can be charged to help battle the forces of darkness.
If You Go Into The Woods Tonight
Though by no means an open-world game, Alan Wake encourages you to explore when possible, with collectables as your reward. Coffee thermoses are the main source of collectable, with over 100 to find, as well as television sets which show episodes of the fictional series “Night Springs”. Radios can be listened to which complement the story, however the most sought after items are Alan’s manuscript pages. The mystery manuscript pages are from Alan’s new novel called “Departure” – a novel which Alan does not remember writing. As the player discovers the missing pages, many of which are not in chronological order, they are often granted the power of hindsight, as a future event is vividly described.
Whilst exploring the quieter sections of the game, Alan’s internal monologues accompany the player, similar to Remedy’s hard-boiled detective, Max Payne, though far less ridiculous in their delivery. Alan himself is a likeable, determined individual, and the muttering mind of Alan acts as an effective mechanism for forming a bond with the titular character. When you’re carefully exploring Alan’s surroundings with the rays of your flashlight dancing off illuminated objects, one can’t help but yearn for a further emphasis on exploration and less on combat.
Taxi For Alan
By far the weakest element of Alan Wake is the dreadful driving sections. At certain sections in the game, Alan can travel to his destination by car. Unfortunately, the driving mechanics themselves are poor, with a rigid, truck-like feel accompanying each vehicle. Worst still is the option to go all “Grand Theft Auto” on the taken, by trapping them in your headlights like a rabbit and ramming them down (though please, don’t ram any rabbits down). Mercifully, you won’t spend too much of your time driving around, but when occasionally have to, you’ll be driving as quickly as physically possible so you can end it.
The use of shameful product placement is littered throughout Alan Wake. Alan doesn’t just use batteries, he uses Energizer batteries. Verizon Wireless have their very own advert when you encounter a particular interactive television. Ford and Lincoln also provide their vehicles for the game. Remedy claimed this was to make the world feel “more real” but if anything, it detracts from the overall immersion as they act as a stark contrast to the rest of the game world. With in-game advertising creeping further into the games we love, it’s a disturbing vision into an already ad-fuelled society.
The controls for Alan Wake have successfully transitioned onto the keyboard and mouse, with added accuracy coming from the fidelity offered by the mouse, although there are a few changes that take a bit of getting used to. The first of which is the camera placement behind Alan. Alan moves in an almost diagonal fashion, never walking completely straight thanks to the over-the-shoulder camera. Without a point of reference until the flashlight is collected, don’t be surprised if Alan’s movement feels awkward at first thanks to the WASD keys not providing full rotational movement. Another area which takes a bit of get used to is the inability to slowly change the intensity of the flashlights beam. On the Xbox 360 controller, the left trigger controlled the beam, allowing you to do a half strength beam if you felt it was necessary. With the lack of a pressure sensitive trigger on the mouse, you’ll be stuck with performing a full strength beam each time you aim. Strangely enough, I found that this benefited the game by making flashlight management all the more important, ergo, increasing the difficulty. However, all of this is potentially mute as you can use the Xbox 360 controller if you wish.
The visuals for Alan Wake on the Xbox 360 were a hotly debated topic amongst the gaming community. Although the graphics were pleasing, many were disappointed that the game ran at a sub-high definition resolution. There was an overall blurry look to game, with many of the textures softened as a consequence.
PC gamers are used to having their games look superior to their console counterparts thanks to the available extra power, however, sometimes developers barely attempt to create a distinction between the two. Pleasingly, Alan Wake has received a number of graphical improvements for its PC conversion, and the game looks fantastic for it. There’s full HD definition resolutions to choose from, a 3D option, high levels of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering to select. Increased shadow and lighting effects, increased draw distances and levels of detail as well as the important ability to change the field of view. Well done Remedy.
Clean, sharp and richly detailed best describes Alan Wake’s two-year face lift. The upgraded visuals give Alan Wake’s undeniable beauty a perfect platform to shine.
Wake’s A Difference
Alan Wake’s PC debut is welcomed, though the niggles of the original obviously remain. The graphics are leaps and bounds above what we experienced two years ago, and the story is solid enough to provide enjoyment and excitement to those who missed out. For around £25 it’s a great game to add to your collection, however, if you’ve played it before, you’re just getting a much prettier version of the original game. That said, for a fun fumble in the dark and a few scares, Alan Wake is definitely worth waking up for.