Reviews - Xbox 360
Written by Eric Dionne Monday, August 30 2010 03:10
[SPOILER ALERT. Glitchytasty.com features Retrospective Reviews on many top titles. A "Retrospective Review" for a game is a sort of "look back" at the title, and will typically take place several months after the games release to see if it stands up and shines just as brightly once the initial hype and fanfare wears off. Please be warned, though, that unlike our standard reviews, spoilers are laid throughout these types of reviews and you can expect to hear about all sorts of plot points, game mechanics, and other spoily things that spoil. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.]
When one thinks of survival horror, certain games come to mind. There's the obvious Resident Evil series, which made the genre big starting with the always popular "zombie outbreak" theme, and there's Silent Hill which further emphasized just how much we love to be scared, creeped out, and shocked in our games. But after all this, a new split off genre is emerging thanks to Remedy Games' May 2010 release of Alan Wake, and that's the "Psychological Thriller." This game is about the balance of darkness and light and trying to figure out if you're dreaming or if you're awake. This game highly welcomes Stephen King fans. Most importantly, Alan Wake answers the ultimate question: Does a blazer with patched elbows look cool over a hoodie? Short answer. Yes.
It's not surprising that the very first 2 words spoken in this game are the name "Stephen King..." You see, Alan Wake, is like being inside a horror/thriller novel. No, that doesn't even truly describe the experience you get by playing this game. Alan Wake is what you get when you take a video game and mix a psychological horror novel, a TV mystery, and a thriller movie together and let them fight for supremacy. This game gives you plot twists, cliffhangers, and mysteries that you are constantly trying to figure out as you play. Hell, the game even calls the missions "episodes" and at that start of each one Alan Wake's voice even says "Previously on Alan Wake..." and clips of the previous episodes are shown to fill you in if you forgot some of the story.
Let's talk a little more about darkness and light. Your primary arsenal against the darkness, besides handguns and flares and whatnot, is your flashlight. Without this tool, Alan Wake would have no chance. You are constantly warned about staying out of the darkness, even at the very beginning from a woman named Cynthia Weaver. She seems to know her stuff, especially since a couple of old Norse-mythology-loving-former-rock-star brothers, Tor and Odin (I'm not making this up), that you meet in a psychiatric hospital call her the Lady of the Light. Seriously, they even wrote a monster ballad about her. I kid you not, their band name was the "Old Gods of Asgard" and there's even 2 songs from them on the Alan Wake soundtrack (okay, so the actual band is called Poets of the Fall but those songs are used for this fictional band) and it's actually a damn good soundtrack, believe it or not. So whether it's from the safe haven of a lit lamp post, the headlights of a car, or your trusty flashlight, Alan now has a fighting chance against The Taken.
Who are the Taken you ask? The Taken are the main enemies in Alan Wake. They are, "people possessed by a dark presence and covered in a shroud of darkness," so sayeth the instruction manual. This shroud acts as a shield against your ammunition unless you shine your light on them, disabling it. After that, a few well placed shots, preferably in the head, and BAM you blast them into oblivion. The Taken come in a few different types, some blazingly fast, others slow but very powerful, and there's also chainsaw wielding and scythe throwing enemies. Also, we can't forget about the ravens. They act a bit like the Kryll from the Gears of War series. So you better run to a lamp post or crack out the flashlight and take them out or else it's a Hitchcockian death for you. Now that you're armed with the power of light and a pump action shotgun, you're on your way to destroy the Taken in all their forms, and solving the mysteries of Alan Wake... or at least trying to, thanks to the M. Night Shyamalan twists popping in everywhere.
Throughout your adventure you struggle with what's real and what is a dream. Are you asleep and in a dream world? Have you somehow created this world in your mind? Play the game and decide for yourself. While one minute you think you have it figured out, all of a sudden you don't and that's a great quality in a story. Alan Wake had me wondering the whole time, and still does to this day. This game really throws you for a loop thanks to the constant flux in the story. You'll even walk in a room and a TV will turn on by itself. You'll then see yourself talking about writing a book and about writing yourself into the story and all other crazy things, which in turn gives you more questions to ask.
While the light is a great asset to you, it can sometimes betray you. You may walk down a sunny street then 10 steps later, the darkness begins to swirl in and the Taken start coming for you, sometimes 6 at a time. This gives you that fight or flight feeling. Should you try and aim your light and shoot them all? Should you throw out a flare first to weaken them or instead run away? Should you toss your flash bang and hope it takes them all out at once? These are the choices you have to make. You might run to a lamp post, only for the light to short out and have to keep going to another one or turn on a generator before they get to you. Lamp posts work great because they tend to mark a checkpoint and they'll also heal you in a matter of seconds. You can regain health without basking in the healing powers of the light, but it takes longer, and sometimes you don't have time to thanks to the Taken...or inanimate objects flying at your skull.
Yes that's right, you can walk down a street and all of a sudden a truck starts hovering and flies at you super fast, or a monster truck tries to run you down, and if that's not enough, wheat threshers also come to life and try to rip you apart. It's like the movie "Maximum Overdrive" (Stephen King much?) only without Emilio Estevez and a giant Green Goblin faced truck. You can either, "move bitch get out the way, get out the way," or shine your light and hope you take it out in time before you're lunchmeat. These phantom objects get insanely more crazy and constant as the story progresses. Let's just say a bridge packed with cars and barrels and steel beams is an awkward route to take, knowing that they can and will be thrown at you violently. But thanks to the amazing folks at Energizer and Verizon, you are going to be all right.
Yes, there are advertisements galore for these 2 companies. There are billboards in the game for them, and the batteries you pick up actually say Energizer and are actual boxes of the batteries you'd see on store shelves. There's even an actual Verizon commercial on one of the TVs you can interact with in the game. Alan himself uses a Verizon phone and you see a nice close up of it later on when he drops it during the story, as well as scenes of him talking to your agent, Barry, on it. Barry comes to find you on your vacation in hopes you have a story for him to make money from publishing. Come on, Barry, Alan just wants some quiet time, with his wife Alice, in the small town of Bright Falls (aptly named I know). I don't know about you, but if I had an agent and he was bothering me while on vacation with my woman, I think he'd be looking for another job. Unfortunately for Alan, all hell breaks loose and his wife gets taken away into the darkness. Yeah, some fat guy in a bubble jacket is sure going to kill off evil from "the Dark Place." Fortunately for you, chubby and clumsy Barry is not the only one who aids you in your quest to find your wife and stop the darkness. The local Sheriff, Sarah Breaker, is a huge help against the Taken attacks. She has great aim and saved my butt a few times when getting swarmed. Damn Barry, Christmas lights? Really? They're not even that bright and only about 6 of them are lit.
The controls are great in the game and did not give me one problem at all. Aiming your gun down the beam of your flashlight works brilliantly. Each button is cleverly mapped to your needs, making running, dodging, driving, jumping, and shooting a fluid and fast acting experience. No more fumbling around in menus, or getting destroyed because some wonky camera angle screwed you up and hid an oncoming enemy. Dodging is a fun mechanic because if you do it just as an enemy attacks, the action goes all slow motion showing you narrowly missing being sliced and diced, or diving out of the way of a possessed barrel at the last possible second. It also helps you not die, which is good. Even when the Taken attack as if from nowhere, the action sometimes slows down all "John Woo" style and the Taken land right near you ready for blood. It's very creepy if you play this game in the dark and crap like this happens.
The best part of this game, as I said a little about before, is in its presentation. Before I mentioned that there's TVs floating around the game (sometimes actually floating and then trying to bludgeon you repeatedly). When they're not trying to kill you, they show you an episode of a fictional Twilight Zone rip-off show called "Night Springs." Here you actually get to watch an episode, which is a few minutes long, and is just some live acted short with a twist. A cool addition to this is that at one point in a room, you can find an Xbox 360 on a desk, and a copy of, you guessed it, Night Springs for Xbox 360, logo and all on the case. It's the little things, you know? There's also a time where you see stuff like Alan's novels aligned neatly on his shelf or even a talk show of him being interviewed about his last book. In this interview it's all live actors, not a character model or anything. So all in one game there's Alan the live actor, Alan the character model, Alan the dreamer, and everything in between.
The story of Alan Wake is so engrossing from beginning to end and it always leaves you wanting more. It's like watching an episode of LOST, how at the end of an episode you're left with some big cliffhanger and then you have to wait a week to find out just what happened? Well Alan Wake does the same exact thing, but luckily you can just play the next level instead of waiting a week. I love a good twist or cliffhanger, but this game throws them at you left and right. Sad part about that is when the game is all said and done...cliffhanger. But luckily there is some DLC out there, one of which has been released and the other at a later date. The first DLC is called "The Signal," which continues right where the main story left off. This is very good as it fills in more information.. however... yeah you guessed it...cliffhanger. That should be the subtitle to this game "Alan Wake: Cliffhanger," not to be confused with the great Sylvester Stallone movie Cliffhanger, because that's about actual cliffhanging. See it, it's good.
The Signal starts off with Alan finally realizing he's in a dream world, or so it seems. This proves to be beneficial because now he sees words floating throughout this world, things like "tools" and "enemies." Obviously if you shine your light on tools you get some ammo or batteries, but shine it on enemies and a Taken will come at you looking for blood. The terrain gets all mixed up, as areas you once knew are now completely changed or mixed together, making for a trippy ride through this alternate Bright Falls. The DLC comes free with a new copy of Alan Wake so enjoy it! It's a helpful addition to flesh out more of the story. Do not worry, for there is another DLC coming soon, no date as of yet though. It's called, "The Writer," and hopefully we get some closure at the end.
Alan Wake is destined to be a cult-classic game for years to come. Time and time again a game comes along that gets rave reviews, but sadly just arrives at a bad time (Eternal Darkness and Gladius I'm looking at you) or for one reason or another didn't sell. I say do NOT let this game pass you by for any reason. If you call yourself a survival horror fan then you owe it to yourself to play Alan Wake. So go out, grab a copy and have fun playing late at night. You may want to leave a light on, unless you like having your head bashed in with a shovel by some dark and shadowy hillbilly in a straw hat, elbow patched blazer and a hoodie. Bad ass.