Shining a light on Remedy’s Alan Wake

Alan Wake has been a long time coming. Back in 2005, we were shown a game featuring a guy who looked like Johnny Depp in the film Secret Window. Which would make sense — both are both about male writers dealing with writer’s block, and its effect on how they deal with the important events in their lives.

But after years of development, Alan Wake, is finally nearing release. The game is basically done, actually, with only some minor tweaking left to make sure the experience is perfect. It’s obvious that Remedy is working hard to make Alan Wake an awesome experience, and having spent some time with the game, I’m a believer. I didn’t want to put it down.

Follow the jump for more.

Alan Wake (Xbox 360)
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
To be released: May 18, 2010

Alan Wake is heavily inspired by the works of Stephen King and the TV shows Twin Peaks and The X-Files. Wake is with his wife visiting the small, idyllic woodland community of Bright Falls. It’s a good resting place for him and his wife to work on their relationship, and maybe for resuming his writing career. After all, it has been two years since his last novel, and the writer’s block is getting to him.

Of course, crazy things start happening. Alan’s wife disappears, and the weirdest thing of all, sheets of paper from a novel — as if written by him — are showing up wherever he goes. Alan will find them as they tell what has happened, or what will happen. The effect is a little trippy, thanks in part to the level design and how events are played out. For example, Alan will find a page of this novel, and it will describe his friend and the local sheriff crashing in a helicopter… just as he walks up to the wreckage, moments after it has happened.

Now, a lot has been said about how Alan Wake is a survival horror game. I’m going to have to qualify these statements people have made, because I don’t think Alan Wake is a horror game at all. It’s thrilling and spooky, and maybe even startling, but I never got the impression that it is a scary game per se. Hell, Remedy is aiming for a Teen rating, so don’t even expect much blood in Alan Wake.

But thrilling it certainly is. From decrepit dams and silos to helicopter crashes, from spooky old women to the psychological creepiness of uncovering the truth through the pages of a novel, every element of Alan Wake has a certain uneasiness to it. You never know what’s around the corner, though from my hands-on time with the game, you know that whatever it is, it’ll be thrilling and exciting.

The game is broken up in an episodic fashion, so after each chapter, you’ll be shown a “Previously on Alan Wake…” cut-scene. While I wouldn’t say it means much, it is a fun and neat little touch that makes the game feel more cinematic than you would initially believe.

Before I had a chance to play, I was shown the introductory area of the game. Alan had just come to Bright Falls with his wife, and they entered the local cafe. Alan was able to walk through the cafe and interact with almost everything and everyone there. He headed to the back, and encountered a creepy old woman who handed him his key to the island lake cabin. This initial scene does a great job of setting up the game, and illustrates the contrast between the perceived normalcy of Bright Falls, and the insanity that goes on at night.

My playthrough began with Alan waking up in his car, perched on the edge of a cliff. It’s totaled, and to top it off, his wife is gone. He climbs out, grabs a flashlight, and notices a nearby gas station that should offer some safety. For the next twenty minutes, I worked Alan through the dark and foggy northwestern wilderness, witnessed the car plummet off the cliff, was attacked by ghostly lumberjacks and possessed earth movers, and was generally assaulted from all sides. Of course, it’s only once you get to the gas station do you discover the first of what I’m sure will be many startling truths. I’ll leave that for you to experience yourself.

Now, other than running around trying to not get killed, you have a few offensive options. The enemies of Alan Wake are ghostly humans, shadowy birds, and large possessed items — like massive coils of wire and vehicles. The only way to deal with them in Alan Wake is with light. Using a focused flashlight, Alan can freeze these shadows, and once weakened, they can be shot and killed. Should you and any NPCs you’re fighting with have a problem, a flare can be fired for some momentary defense. A flare gun, in contrast, is purely offensive, obliterating any of these baddies with a well placed shot. Contextual lamps and spotlights work in a pinch, too.

In a stressful way, this two-part system of taking out bad guys is actually pretty fun. Since you have to juggle batteries for your flashlight, ammo for your gun, and flares — and make sure you don’t die — ammo management is really important. Reload speeds, too, tend to run on the long side, cementing the fact that Alan Wake isn’t exactly your typical third-person shooter.

Alan Wake is one of the most impressive looking games I have ever seen on the 360. I’m sure the fog and darkness helps out in some of the graphical trickery, but beyond that, it’s a beautiful game. The textures are stunning, and the levels themselves are gorgeous. Being assaulted by a pile of two-ton logs has never looked so damn good.

I’m really interested in what Remedy hopes to do with the game as a franchise. I asked about sequels, selling the game episodically, and the future of Alan Wake. I’m talking movies, TV shows, and even novels written from the perspective of Alan Wake. Crazy, but certainly a strong vision for the franchise.

Alan Wake is very, very cool. From what I’ve played, I can say that the game is like nothing we have seen in a videogame before, especially with the themes and Remedy’s cinematic approach. There is some really cool stuff going on here, and I, for one, cannot wait for May 18.

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Ben Perlee
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