News: Alan Wake Review

Alan Wake Review

Looking back on Alan Wake, more than a year and a half after its release, it's still one of my favorite games. The graphics and ambience have held up well in comparison to any other story driven game, and it's still the best third-person horror game out there, in terms of gameplay. Given how few horror games are actually out there this generation, I would definitely recommend giving this game a try since it's dirt cheap to rent or buy.

The following is an original review of the game, and at the bottom are links to other musings on Alan Wake, favorable or not.

Alan Wake Review

Alan Wake is this generation's Silent Hill. It's not perfect, but what it does well no other game can imitate. There are no spoilers in this review, so feel free to read on if you're curious about Alan Wake.

Alan Wake goes to a small town for a vacation at the urging of his wife. They're having marital troubles over his inability to write another novel for over two years. Once there, his wife disappears and Alan must fight to rescue her.

The game is divided into six different sections, called episodes, just like a television show. For the first three episodes, the quality of the story is questionable and you're wondering if it's going to go anywhere. The mystery is thin, the enemy vague, and the dialogue and voice acting is average. The characters in the town sound one-dimensional, like the waitress Rose or the motivational guru Emil. Rose's first introduction at the diner during Episode One felt uninspiring, as if the voice actress was just reading a script. There was no life or energy in her lines. The only character who benefits from dialogue is the character Barry. He begins as an annoying douche and ends up having some of the most hilarious lines in recent memory.

Alan Wake Review

The game starts to come together in the last three episodes. Halfway through the game, starting at Episode Four, the story picks up into a type of roller coaster. You could call the first three chapters the ride to the top—slow moving and not going too far. By Episode Four though, the floor drops and the game finally starts to address the mysteries of what "The Darkness" is and their plan with Alice, your role in this adventure, and a history far preceding Alan Wake.

The game promised a psychological suspense thriller, and after Episode Three, it finally delivered on the psychological aspects of it. This is a non-spoiler review, so there can't be any details, but it all comes together at the end to deliver something truly puzzling. Like any good story of this type, the clues come from everywhere—the scripts sprinkled throughout the episode, reading material outside the game (The Alan Wake Files from the Collector's Edition), the title songs for each episode, and the nightmare at the beginning of the game. When you piece them all together, you get a story and a history that is coherent, yet not completely figured out. There is a timeline, but there are questions. Trying to fit what goes where and why after the game makes it feel a lot like Lost or Twin Peaks. Personally, after finishing the game, I must have read over two hours worth of theories online—there was that much to discuss and resolve!

The story only comes together during the second half of the game, but the gameplay shines from the very first episode. Alan is easy to control and the light/gun combination makes it more interesting than just shooting enemies dead. Unlike many games where you only stick with just one or two out of the many weapons given, all of the weapons in Alan Wake are used often. Flares, shotguns, flare guns, and other items were used extensively in each of the episodes they were available. Wake also has a great dodge move in combat that is a major help when being snuck up on from behind, which is often.

Each episode had different starting conditions and enemy situations to overcome, adding to the suspense and gameplay. From starting with no gun or light, to collaborating with other characters to get through the level, Alan Wake as a game is not a lonely experience. There are people that help you fight and guide you through the level, adding good banter and additional information to the story. The enemies start to come in larger and larger groups, from all angles, and even objects become possessed. And enemies will often favor a side or back attack compared to a frontal assault. Sometimes you have to make a stand, creating short Left for Dead type finale situations in certain episodes.

One of the best things—when it comes to scares and suspense, this game does not take the cheap way out. This is the only game I can think of that did not have one grotesque creature covered in blood, emanating the all-too-familiar shrieking sounds that we're so used to in horror games. The enemies in this game are shadows and possessed individuals and items, yet they feel no less scary or dangerous. Remedy, the developer who created Alan Wake, needs to be given credit for creating such a tense atmosphere without resorting to the usual cheap conventions. Personally, I love this aspect because I can't stand movies like Saw or those "horror movie of the months" that Hollywood shells out, relying on crude gore, blood, and shock violence to sell tickets.

Graphically, the game has a stunning atmosphere. The characters are average and the resolution is sub-HD, but these things are not center stage—atmosphere is. The lighting during the day makes everything come alive; a daylight scene looks like it's really bathed in light. At night, the mist and simulated wind and storm conditions increase the sense of suspense. It's no longer a character going through the woods at night, but a character who's going through the ever-changing mist conditions that affect the wind and the depth perception in the forest. When the mist is most violent, there is this fear that the enemies will appear at any time, but how is unknown. These atmospheric conditions create a terror of the terrain itself, as if it's another enemy to add to the list of things that are against the player—not just something you traverse upon.

Alan Wake Review


Alan Wake raises the bar on what a suspenseful game should be. In other suspense horror games like Silent Hill, bad gameplay controls were forgiven because all games of that genre played just as badly. Alan Wake plays better than most action or adventure games, and the atmosphere in Alan Wake is as good, if not better than the original Silent Hill. The story and the mysteries of Alan Wake are also a cut above this genre. Once you finish Silent Hill or Siren-type games, there is no need to dig further into the lore or story. In Alan Wake, the ending opens up discussion and everything is questioned. The story actively goes through a retelling by different players who piece together clues, but can't quite put it all together. That's what is great about this game, fun to play and interesting to talk about afterwards.

Despite some negative aspects in the game, the parts where it excels make this game worthy of being the suspense horror game of this gaming generation. Not since Silent Hill has a suspense game come close to creating such an amazing experience all the way to the end.

Load Save Grade: A

More on Alan Wake from Load Save:

19 Comments

If you enjoyed this game that's one thing, but take it from me, a long-time fan of the Silent Hill series and other horror games that this game is drivel by comparison in terms of interesting characters, plot development, and the big 's' word you dropped: Suspense. You say that this game opens discussions, for what? I mean, how much Alan Wake hates blue-collar workers who spout corny lines? There was symbolism within Silent Hill (especially 2), and terror within Siren. I can't even go in-depth of the weight that those games carry over Alan Wake.

In fact, this game is nothing but cheesy line after another, and did not provide anything but minor amusement at the corny lines that were thrown out by the Taken, as well as the puerile overacting done by the voice actor for the protagonist.

This game is not worthy to be called a suspense game and is so far away from the genre of horror that I'm just confounded anyone could even be fatuous enough to make such an audacious claim. It's plucky of you to do so, and yet I have no respect for your article.

The game was utter #$%@, and if you think it wasn't, well, that can't be remedied I suppose.

"You say that this game opens discussions, for what?"

The story. That's my answer. The game's story just never quits on you. There's STILL people having long drawn-out discussions over the various interpretations of the ending and just every little detail in the story's progression for that matter. It's a game that goes every bit as deep as you're willing to go, while remaining capable of being explained by a simple interpretation ("It was all a dream, so it doesn't matter if things don't make sense to me.")

But I must say, I also enjoyed the combat and the atmosphere. Very much so! It's hard to explain it; it just scratches an itch no other game has been able to.

I'll break down the argument like an email reply. sentences starting with > are the things im replying to.

>If you enjoyed this game that's one thing, but take it from me, a long-time fan of the Silent Hill series

I'm a huge fan of the first Silent Hill, but the rest of the series I've not cared enough to finish. The first game was so fresh and exiting, but after that, there wasn't much innovation or variety to care. Same clunky game play, most sequels were in the same town, same fog, same same same. What suspense was there in the sequels? When I played Homecoming it was flat out boring.

>and other horror games

I'm actually a fan of the initial horror game in a franchise. The sequels don't pack the same punch as the first one because you sort of know what to expect. My next horror game I have lined up to play is Amnesia. It's an older game, but I'm looking forward to playing it.

>that this game is drivel by comparison in terms of interesting characters,

You may have a point in some of the characters in Silent Hill 2 and 3 (I didn't play this one or Origins), but in all the others the characters were a pain to deal with. Take Silent Hill 1. Who cares about the father and his daughter, or the female cop, or the crazy church lady. I didn't care about any of them, nor did they make a memorable impression on me. For Alan Wake, I didn't care for Wake, his wife wasn't on long enough in the game to feel any attachment, but Barry (I think that's the sidekick's name), flat out grew on me. At first Barry was the most annoying character with lines worse than Alan's, but after the mid part of the game the character certainly a scene stealer. But horror games aren't about characters, at best they are a medium for the story and the journey.

I'm glad you responded in kind to my message, which was written when I was in a fairly bad mood =D But I would still like to contest some of the information you replied with. You say you're a huge fan of the first SH, yet you cared for none of the characters, that makes no sense to me since how can you be a fan of a game you don't really like any of the characters in? Unless it's just a gameplay mechanic/scare factor of the game. Now, I think it's funny that characters don't matter in a horror story, because I would feel that if you don't care about any of the characters, then you don't care if any of them die, and if you don't care if they die, then how can you even enjoy the game? Take Clocktower (SNES/Japan only), if you don't care whether or not Jennifer dies than the whole point of the story is moot.

actually on that part it is not the game's fault. The disclaimer is that i have a horrible memory, sometimes horrifyingly so. It is very hard for me to remember details, events, names, particulars in life, even for the things that are important to me. If you see me in real life i often stop in mid-talk because i can't remember the next word i want to say. It's in my mind, there is a mental picture, but i can't formulate that into words. When writing, I usually have around 20 tabs open because I keep forgetting names/locations/places.

For older games, the most I remember are fragments and sensations. FF6 is my all time favorite game, but aside from Kefka, I can't name a single character from that game or locations. I still remember the scenes that mattered, but it's more like a still picture. So yeah, it's just not Silent Hill, my recollections are just very feeble.

Well you're right, characters do matter, but they're often so terribly done that it's easier to just forget them and move on with the story. As to enjoying a game despite not caring about the character it's probably the same as saying ' how can you like this [insert summer action blockbuster title] when the story was so terrible?' Sometimes we look for different things to satisfy us and other elements don't hold as much weight as they do with other people.

I started Clocktower but i got stuck in the beginning and gave up (again, I don't remember how ;_; ). I also remember playing fatal frame and it was too scary so I stopped completely.

>plot development,

The plot was convoluted, but so are most horror games. The Silent Hill plots are a mess, and the only good plot development, which is the dual alternate reality, gets stale by the second game because it is no longer new.

>and the big 's' word you dropped: Suspense.

It was suspenseful. But that's more a measurement in personal opinion. Let any average person play Alan Wake and you would find every single one being scared. This might not be true for a seasoned horror veteran like you, but for the people that don't play a lot of horror games, the game did nail it creating a suspenseful atmosphere.

>You say that this game opens discussions, for what?

Lots of thing. The story was convoluted, and not many things discussed brought answers. For example: Is Alan Wake real? Or is he just a character brought to life by Thomas Zane? Where is Alan Wake at the end of the game? Who really is the alter ego? Why were the cops and FBI such morons!?

>I mean, how much Alan Wake hates blue-collar workers who spout corny lines?
Oh you are absolutely right. Alan Wake is a detestable character. Every time he spoke or heard his thoughts it was painful. Same with the FBI guy and Barry (until the 2nd part of the game).

>There was symbolism within Silent Hill (especially 2),
Maybe, but you were probably more acute to it than I was, because all I remember is being scared and wacking things with a pipe. The only emotional part in Silent Hill 1 was the death of the original nurse, that was sad.

>and terror within Siren.
I didn't play Siren. Never got to it. Great concept though!

I will concur with you on the point that most average people will find this game frightening, but considering my past with video games that's probably why I'm doomed to find it nothing but campy. The problem is that you continue (through contrived plot holes) to be driven back to the forest; the forest is good - it's obscuring, secretive, dark, which are perfect for inducing fear, but then you come back to it, leave, and come back to it again and again, leaving it as more of a comfort zone because you know what's coming up next: Forest.

lol. The never ending forest is a good point. And it is extremely campy. I couldn't stand the twighlight zone parody episodes because they were so bad.

The forest/dark shadow enemies/night combo is standard though. In silent hill you can get used to the never ending fog/empty homes/ radio sound. In the early resident evil games it was the shock value that you got used to (hmm.. i wonder if something will pop out of that wall for the 300th time). I'm ok with the first game using this, but if the same tactics are done in the sequel then it's just sort of becomes an action game.

I didn't mind the forest setting because it played mostly like an action level: The area was defined and you could only move forward with no multiple paths. Like gears of war in a sense, move forward, kill things, move forward in a certain direction. I think if the game would have been a sandbox game, I would have stopped playing the game because the last thing I want to do is walk around the forest endlessly.

There are no plot holes in Alan Wake, just the illusion of plot holes. This is a game that requires you to put two and two together, even when one of the twos is quite far from the other ;)

And, "forest"? That's a very wild oversimplification. You're not even really IN the forest but maybe 25% of the game, which is a lot less than I was expecting when I first played it. The ever-changing environment is one of the greatest things about this game, IMO. Very few areas look alike, and even some of those areas don't PLAY alike. They interact with other factors to make truly unique overall experiences.

>I can't even go in-depth of the weight that those games carry over Alan Wake.
And that's fine, that's great that those games left such a good lasting impression, but they are not definitive, and we all see things just a bit different. Your tastes are a bit more refined because you can spot things that an average horror player like me would overlook, but overall I liked the game over all the negatives.

>In fact, this game is nothing but cheesy line after another, and did not provide anything but minor amusement at the corny lines that were thrown out by the Taken, as well as the puerile overacting done by the voice actor for the protagonist.

Yup, you're right. The voice acting and the dialogue were terrible. I actually felt sad for the individuals that read the short stores that came with the special edition. Still, I would take Alan Wake's gameplay, graphics (much better than Homecoming's), animation, and setting over any Silent Hill.

>This game is not worthy to be called a suspense game and is so far away from the genre of horror that I'm just confounded anyone could even be fatuous enough to make such an audacious claim.

Well you know blogs, not worth the html they're coded on! Maybe it's not worthy on your scale, but pull a random person (the 'anyone' from your argument) from the public have have them play Alan Wake to see if it's a horror game or not. Regardless of how ignorant they are on the subject, they will probably say that it's a scary game and that initial reaction would be the right one.

>It's plucky of you to do so, and yet I have no respect for your article.

If you say plucky I think of ducks. But hey think of it like this. I think that people that say loved the movie Stepbrothers and The Hangover are utter morons devoid of anything resembling any taste in humor, but I understand that it might just be me.

>The game was utter #$%@, and if you think it wasn't, well, that can't be remedied I suppose.
It's a game and I had fun playing it. The game play was so smooth that it readily beat any horror game out there, had an great atmosphere thanks to the graphics and ambiance, and it didn't drag on forever. I agree with you on the quality of the writing and I did point those out, but that wasn't my main focus on a horror game.

Anyways, longest. reply.ever!

> I think that people that say loved the movie Stepbrothers and The Hangover are utter morons
> devoid of anything resembling any taste in humor, but I understand that it might just be me.

Says the guy who loves "Say Yes to the Dress" and Disney's "Enchanted".... I'm gonna go with "it's just you" on this one ;P

Don't forget musicals!

This game looks pretty cool from your videos, I never have heard of it until now. Unfortunately no PC version.
Thanks for taking the time to write about it and make videos for it instead of the usual cut and paste crap on every other site.

Yeah, I have a soft spot for all the Alan Wake material because I recorded it myself, minus some official jpegs. It's really nice to be able to capture exactly what you want and be on point. Sadly I no longer have the same computer setup as I did before to capture the 360 and I'm looking for a good internal video recording card that would do the job. Maybe I'll ask on internoobs for advice.

Yeah there is no PC version. I remember the huge arguments it caused on gaming forums when they went back on their word and made it a 360 exclusive. I would love to play this game at 1080p with everything maxed out /w controller on the PC.

I completely agree with this review, I frikin' love Alan Wake. Do you know if any of the expansions are good?

I haven't tried them. It's 2 dlc episodes, right? Maybe when there is a dlc sale I'll pick them up.

I actually don't know where my Alan Wake copy is right now. I lent it to a friend a year ago, but I forgot which one!

The two DLCs ('The Signal' and 'The Writer') are GREAT, especially 'The Writer'. Neither of them progress the storyline, but I'd definitely recommend them for any fan of Alan Wake.

There's also a spin-off called Alan Wake's American Nightmare. It's a totally different approach to the AW concept, with more emphasis on the combat (some "improvements" actually make the combat too easy, I feel). I'd personally say it's not as good as the original game, but it's also a very memorable experience worth a playthrough for any real Alan Wake fan ;)

Damn. I got a downloaded copy so I'm in the clear for that.

Share Your Thoughts