Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallow's Eve: Alan Wake

It's Halloween which means it's time to play scary games. Rather than do a relay like a few years ago, I decided to take a stab at a new game. Well, new game for me anyway. Alan Wake. This was a bit of an odd one for me. I'd originally been excited, the web series Bright Falls put me off, then the American Nightmare XBLA game got me interested again. I picked it up cheap near the start of the year but was waiting for it to get dark in the evenings so I could play it properly. Halloween seemed like the perfect excuse, plus it helped with the BeefJack podcast.

I do like it. The setting, the mystery and the drama are all played brilliantly. It is a decent enough horror game too, BUT it ruins its own horror.

The very premise of the game, the manuscript pages, give away a lot of the scares. You find them before the events actually happen, and they explain exactly what's coming up. For the bigger ones wouldn't it be better to have them after the event rather than before. Still freaky and doesn't ruin anything. Other events, less scary ones, like cops coming for Wake, could get the manuscripts before rather than after to keep the foreshadowing aspect in the game.

Making it worse is the Taken only turn up when the darkness encroaches. So you can be running around a forest with no tension at all. A huge crime in a game where darkness is meant to scare you. The clouds descend and you know what's coming. Some tension returns, but its all a little predictable.

Ammo is also in abundance. I've been at my most scared when the game takes away the option of just blasting everything, maybe it's because I'm playing on normal as I'm a pussy, but once you're capable of killing things with little difficulty the game's hold little tension.

However, Alan Wake's two biggest problems are the things that remind you that you mostly definitely are playing a game.

First of all there's the collectibles. The radio stations and TV shows are fine, they're great in fact, helping tell more of Bright Falls' story. The manuscript pages directly in your path are good too, wandering off into a dead end for reason other than to grab a glowy page is ridiculous, the coffee Thermoses even more so. Though I do applaud Remedy for their choice of item.

Then there's the jumping, one or two places it's context sensitive and it works great. But 99% of the time it acts like PS2 era jumping. It's awkward, out of place and just plain crappy. You don't even really need it except for the context parts. So why is it even in? Take it out if it isn't needed, removing these and the coffee thermoses would be a huge improvement just to the feel of the game. Why am I making such a big deal out of this? Because Alan Wake is all about the atmosphere.

Some objects seem to lack any weight what so ever too, but I realise I'm now starting to nitpick.

Alan Wake is certainly worth your time, just don't expect a truly scary game. A few different decisions and this game could have been a classic. It'd be cool if you spent more time wandering around during the day, talking to people, investigating instead of just jumping from night to night and all the action. From the way the game started it felt like this was going to be a factor. Instead Remedy concentrated on running around in the dark and the game slightly suffers for it.
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