I started Alan Wake with high expectations. It was hyped up, and had good reviews. And frankly, Alan Wake started out awesomely. The first few chapters of the game were amazing. I loved finding the foreshadowing novel pages. The one in the forest was my favorite moment in the game (The one that foreshadowed the first chainsaw guy). The combat was initially fun, the story started driving. And then they introduced Agent Nightingale. And I realized something. All of the characters, except Barry, were flat. Some of them still had interesting aspects, but they never felt like developed characters. Nightingale had no motivation, just hated Wake as a plot device. The artists' mental home owner had awful justification and no explored motivation. It was hinted at, but never explored deeply, which is a shame. Both him and Nightingale could have been great villains to add another threat separate from main villain (darkness). Instead, these characters were never fully fleshed out as true threats and weakly defeated during the course of the story.
Barry was a good character, but served as underdeveloped comic relief. The policewoman was never really made interesting other than the cliche "small town police officer doubtful of the FBI." Overall, the writing read like one of the books that Stephen King throws out when he needs money. Weak characters, weak plot, and eventually, weak gameplay. While the gameplay started off good, the Flashlight (and the somewhat annoying ENERGIZER BATTERIES [and other obnoxious and somewhat unnecessary in game ads. At least the batteries made sense, even if it was a bad way of advertising batteries because they ran out so quickly]) became nothing more than a weak gimmick by the end. It never made combat interesting or challenging.
The combat was bland as hell towards the end, mainly due to the generally uninteresting set pieces never changing and the extremely linear level design. They clearly realized this and tried a bit of a change in the big driving stage at the end, but even that remained linear and disappointingly straightforward. There was often the illusion of nonlinearity, due to the forest or the "wide open" road, but it was just a false sense that kept you confined to small paths to lead you through a level. Once I realized these things, my enjoyment of the game dropped.
No matter how many times I tried to care, or how many great references there were, after about chapter 3, I just found myself playing it in the hopes that the ending could at least be satisfying and that the endgame (I imagined it would be a crazy rush to the lighthouse, as the opening sequence faux-foreshadowed). Instead, I found myself going through the paces, seeing the hackneyed plot device of the magic object from his childhood reappear. Wake was much more interesting when I was wondering if he was just descending into insanity, rather than having magic and evil explain everything.
That isn't to say the mid to late game did not have its moments. The two old metal heads were awesome, and the concert scene was a lot of fun because it was such a drastic change from the rest of the game and was so far out there. The police chase through the woods was fantastic until they backed off and it became another standard action sequence and you no longer felt pursued. The chase through the actual town was another refreshing moment, though the helicopter take off ending battle was weak. But then, we get to the worst offense. The final boss. At this point, I'm going, "okay, finally get to see what the hell is happening, because I'm pretty sure even the writers don't know anymore." What had started off as a great psychological thriller became a bland action plot with a generic evil at its center, rather than something actually interesting. And I fight the tornado. And it is surprisingly easy to drop. I figure, there must be more, cause that was godawful. But there isn't.
And it still gets worse. Rather than giving me an end for my $60 game, I end up a godawful cliffhanger, that resolves NOTHING. Then I find out if I want to find out the ending to the game, I have to spend $14 (or $7 per episode) for episodic DLC? Let me preface this section by saying that planned DLC is something I'm generally okay with. It is annoying, but I will accept it if it truly expands the game and more importantly doesn't interfere with the core content. Mass Effect 2 got this right. None of the DLC was necessary and did nothing but resolve questions outside the scope of the main plot and simply expanded the universe. Borderlands got it right, with General Knoxx containing a huge swath of land to explore unrelated to the main game's vault story. Red Dead Redemption gets this right, having the DLC be almost a brand new game. But to have to spend extra money so I can see the end of my game? Screw that. Everyone who had a hand in deciding that should be fired. Alan Wake doesn't have a climax. It builds up to one, and when you pass what you think is the climax (the tornado showdown, which as previously stated, is incredibly anticlimactic), it is revealed that it was not the climax, but rather some weak excuse of a cliffhanger that offers no insight, no resolution and no closure. Then you're told that you can spend some extra cash to finish the game you already bought? Hell no.
It is for these reasons that I did not enjoy Alan Wake. It was a waste of potential, sloppy and unfair to the people who purchased it, with weak gameplay, bland characters and the worst excuse for an ending I have ever played. If you enjoyed it, you're entirely entitled to that opinion, but I have to disagree.
And it is too bad, because the literary allusions really tended to be pretty good. Chapter 2 ends with Haunted, a phenomenal song about House of Leaves, my favorite book.
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