Destination Bright Falls
Bright Falls. Could there be a better name for a holiday resort? Probably not, and I guess that’s why Alice, beautiful and lovely wife of our dear protagonist Alan Wake, decides to bring there her eclectic husband to help him relaxing and taking a break after a two-year stretch of writer’s block.
Will pine forests and fresh moutain air help the writer to recover from the block? No? Well I knew you were wrong, in fact, it did! Not as Alan hoped though: the world around the player mutates constantly during the game, opening a path towards a deep evil which is corrupting and devouring everything.
Five years of work and seven from the last videogame, Remedy Entertainment has now released Alan Wake, a third person shooter were you will wear the cloak of Alan, an horror writer about thirty with a fervid imagination. The story is written by the same writer who has always written the plots of the Remedy’s videogames, from Death Rally to the more successful Max Payne, and its sequel Max Payne 2; yes, we’re talking about Sam Lake.
I read a game… I meant, I played a game
Skipping the events that will lead us in the heart of the adventure, the game is structured in chapters, six in total, each of which will begin during the daylight, will turn into night more or less severely. During the daylight phases the gameplay will be reduced to the most simplistic tasks you can think: walk around a corridor, talk with this or that character, and pretty much anything that doesn’t involve reflexes and lets the player time to familiarize with the controls.
The locations and the voice acting are so well-finished that we won’t have the time to whine about a lack of action, since the opening video the game takes our hand and leads us in the the world created by Sam Lake and shaped by Remedy Entertainment, with a care for the details that makes this game more an interactive book rather than an actual videogame. The story is told slowly, we will discover it along the game, the continuous and dramatic turn of events will paint a world where nothing is what it seems, and everything can be an enemy, where we don’t know whether or not we’re fighting the evil or ourselves.
As said the game events take place between pines and mountains, during both, daylight and night time, useless to say that the real action comes out with the darkness. While we will have only a good talk with our old chap during the daylight sequences, during the night Alan Wake throws us in a living nightmare where any object could animate and become a threat, were people who are fighting by our side might turn into nightmares made of shadows (Takens) that won’t die, no matter how many hits they take, because the darkness is the power which is taking over the world, and will soon take over Wake.
…or not? Against these shadows that nothing seems to destroy we have a weapon. But despite many other games, this weapon isn’t a sword, a mace, a firearm or some fancy hi-tech device system, but something much more common and, apparently, harmless: a flashlight! While the Takens can’t be killed as any other human being, they still have a weak spot: they’re sensible to the light. Let’s see them like a sort of dumbed down vampires, without a centenary knowledge but yet still sensible to the light.
The game will soon supply us with a standard torch, to help us moving around dark forests where there are no lights but just Takens hiding behind any corner, ready to sneak and take over us. During these sequences the game time will slow down leaving us the time to dodge the incoming attack, after that we’ll be face to face with one or three of those bad guys (if not even more) with not much time to talk but only a flashlight and few spare bullets or shells we might have found by luck in some hidden chest.
Hidden chests? Yep! There’s someone enjoying hiding chests around, and no, I’m not kidding! But I’ll let you find out what I’m talking about by yourself.
Honey, I forgot the batteries!
Alan Wake follows the guidelines of a survival horror game, everything looks more creepy as you dig deep into the story and the ammunitions are sacred as well as the torchlight’s batteries. The latter are vital for the succeeding in certain areas, and the lack of batteries might lead us to a quick death, due to the Takens’ immortality. To hurt those shady folks we have to destroy a layer of darkness that envelops them, and the poltergeists, animated objects that received life from the surrounding shadows.
Using the flashlight on an enemy will slowly rip the shadows away, rendering the subject vulnerable to our bullets, but the shadows are strong, and making a single enemy vulnerable takes a good amount of seconds. While we can take things slowly during the early parts of the game, as soon as we dive deep into our path, the monsters become more frequent, so that we won’t have the time to sit there for ten seconds drinking a cup of coffee while we clean the shadows from our enemies. This is why Remedy gave all their flashlights the ability to focus the light into a concentrate beam of light that does its job much more efficiently than usual, but (unfortunately) consumes an awkward amount of batteries. The flashlight’s charge refills by itself slowly during the time, so we will never be able to “break” the game (as saying having to kill an enemy but being without anything to make it vulnerable), but if we can’t wait the slow refill of the torchlight, we can always change its batteries with a new pair, thing that will let us using the concentrate beam of light for long times during the battles.
Takens and poltergeists aren’t the only threat though, there is a decent amount of variety in terms of enemy types, going from the classic big guys that take four shots of shotgun in the face before going down, faster runners that sourround us and quickly sneak behind to catch us unprepared, flocks of crows and few more. Even though the variety of enemies isn’t great, and they look almost the same, the levels are structured in a way that makes every fight different from the others, and let us experience new approaches and strategies everytime we will have to fight for our life.
I don’t feel so alone
Although we’ll see Alan going around alone, escaping the horrors of Bright Falls, we will not feel alone during the game; short cutscenes and interactive cutscenes will put other people by our side, with whom Alan will talk and that will help both Alan and the player finding out what’s going on on those mountains. As previously said the voice acting is really well done, and we will feel exactly what the game wants us to feel; everytime there will be a conversation between two or more characters we will be pleased hearing their joy or sadness or fear, and the Havok engine makes justice coupling those with well animated faces and credible movements.
Just hand me that bloody shotgun!
While Alan Wake can be played for the story, which is half of the game itself, it still offers much in terms of gameplay. As said every fight is a new fight, meaning that while we can just go Rambo in a fight, we have to think carefully about what use and when, in order to save the most powerful weapons for the hottest (or darkest) situations. The player will slowly get the hands on a wide arsenal spacing from a variety of revolvers, to shotguns, hunting rifles and even flare guns, without forgetting a nice endowment of flares and some flashbang grenades lost around by some unfortunate cop took over by the shadows; all in all we can smoothly say that all the weapons have a good feeling overall, and they fit in the scenery well enough.
As for the health of our writer… *drum roll* … it regenerates! Yes, I know that some of you don’t like this thing with the modern games that rips away the feeling of the game, and reduces the gameplay to “shoot – get hit – hide and repeat” , but in Alan Wake Remedy Entertainment managed to make everyone happy. How? The protagonist’s health regenerates, but once he gets hit the health won’t regenerate over a certain point (depending from the damage taken) until we will stand under a light. Done that the player will be fully healed, but don’t think will be that easy to find a light, and even when you’ll have found it, nothing guarantees that some random event won’t destroy that light or won’t force you to move without the chance of coming back to heal yourself again.
Taking stock of Alan Wake
Alan Wake is one of those games that you love or hate, there is no halfway. It has a solid gameplay that will keep us playing not less than eight hours at normal difficulty, and while the replayability is low, there are many secret chests to find, and many moments when we can cross the arms and watch a TV show or listen a radio broadcasting that suits the game and, more or less, tells us another side of the story we’re going through. The soundtrack fits the ambient and contributes to create a creep in the player’s mind, while the narrator sums up the situation or tells us about Alan’s feelings and thoughts between the fights.
Final Score: 8/10
Buy it if you like third person shooters and action adventures, even if you aren’t a lover of the horror games.