Alan Wake is a Third Person Action/Horror game in where we play as the famous fictional author the game is named after, Alan Wake. He together with his wife are on vacation in the town of Bright Falls with hopes of it curing his two-year long writer’s block. We start off our adventure on a ferry as it slowly makes its way to the rural town and get to know a bit about his wife Alice in the meantime. Our first order of business when we set foot on land is to get the keys to the cabin Alan rented from a man named Stucky. As he was searching for him in the local coffee shop’s dark, foreboding hallway he encounters an old woman, dressed entirely in black and wearing a veil as if in mourning that gives him the key.
Thinking nothing of it, Alan thanks her and drives to the location given to him alongside his wife to find that the cabin is built on top of a small island. Thrilled at this, since they thought it was by the lake and not on the lake itself, they quickly make their way over where we discover that his wife is afraid of the dark and refuses to enter the dark cabin until he finds the generator. Obediently, we do just that before the sun sets and spend the next few hours together until the dead of night arrives, then things quickly go south for the Wake family. This title’s premise is entirely fixated on darkness & light, down to the story and embedded into the gameplay itself.
After the whole event that occurred at the cabin, the game is now out of the tutorial phase, with us awakening in a car crash that has Alan visibly injured. Confused, battered and alone in the woods, he finds a gas stop at the distance that can only be reached by a massive hike through the forest. Easier said than done as the fog is thick and above all else, there are now enemies all too happy to give you improvised brain surgery with an axe or whatever weapon they happen to possess. While appearing to be ordinary men, they are in fact possessed by the darkness and will survive any amount of damage you cause to them. To make them vulnerable, you must point your flashlight at them until their darkness dissipates, leaving them vulnerable.
Alan is an author, not a fighter, his only way of defending himself is with a gun. He can not pick up the melee weapons must foes use, preferring instead to fight from a distance. Your flashlight is just as valuable, if not more so than any gun you can get your hands on since as mentioned, enemies are indestructible while the darkness engulfs them. It too has its own form of ammo in the way of batteries. Focusing your light on someone or something will quickly drain it, and while it slowly recharges itself over time, that is not viable in the middle of a life or death battle. Instead, we pop in a battery, so it instantly shines brightly once more. One thing I did find funny is that the batteries are from Energizer as some form of product placement. There is no better way to sell your product than featuring it in a game where the battery will literally last less than 8 seconds.
Moving on from unintentionally funny advertisement and back to combat, you will start off with a pistol and can carry one other larger gun, be it a rifle or a shotgun. Gunplay is lacking and not all that fun, largely in part because of the lack of headshots. Wherever you hit them does not matter in the slightest, shooting them in the foot is the same as the head. That leads to the boring outcome of simply looking at someone then thinking about how many rounds you need to aimlessly blast into them in order for them to go down. You will never think about how you will fight them, it is always the same and becomes more about knowing exactly when to reload, as you may as well not even bother shooting him twice when he requires three to die. Different weapons cause different damage, but it does not help the dullness. Sub-weapons are a flare that will keep enemies away while it is burning and a flash bang grenade that will instantly wipe out most common foes. The final weapon is a Flaregun which is rare to find and is a combination of the two sub-weapons in that it explodes on contact and shines on for a while afterward.
Alan can dodge attacks by dashing and jerking his movement away from the oncoming objects which leads to a stylish slow motion shot of it missing you. That is assuming it actually does miss you because doing this does not guarantee your safety like in titles such as Dark Souls where you are briefly invulnerable while rolling. When attempting to dodge, you can very well dash forehead first into a thrown mid-air axe if you are careless and is a mechanic that just feels great. You can technically run away from fights though all I can say to that is good luck. Not only is Alan’s cardio severely lacking, leaving you a sitting duck after running a couple of steps but the enemies are faster than you, and the weapon they throw at you will respawn back into their hand immediately to once again throw. All you need to do is reach some form of light source be it a flickering lamp post or building, and if you manage to do it, they all disappear as if they were never there in the first place. There is nearly no chance you will run out of pistol ammo and be forced to flee. All the bright red public emergency supply shelves found throughout the game will possess a box of handgun ammo and occasionally some for your shotgun, free for the taking. The supernatural menace of this game picked the wrong country to try to haunt, that much is clear.
The combat while not great is not terrible either. It is passable, but they made the severe mistake of putting in a ton of enemy encounters all throughout the story. If not listening to something story related, chances are you are fighting or will soon be fighting. It ruins the amazing atmosphere they create, it ruins any sense of fear for your enemy you may have felt as you gun them down one after another and it nearly ruins the game itself. By the end, I was absolutely sick of the combat from how constantly they throw battles our way. We can not do anything to avoid them, enemies just pop out of thin air to surround you or cut you off. To try to avoid making this feel cheap, they did implement a feature that shows you exactly where they are in slow motion whenever they spawn. It does help, but it isn’t rare to be hit by an axe to the back as soon as they spawn into existence.
There are a few variations to the common human enemy you will be facing to take note off. Some can dual wield, are faster and can strike you twice in succession while others are prone to throwing stuff at you or some enormous men that slowly walk towards you. Your less common foes are flocks of crows and possessed items that will be flung at you. Crows are just plain annoying and require you to shine the light on them until they disappear while the random objects need to be shone on for a significant time to defeat. Finally, you have bosses, man these guys just do not fit well with this gameplay. These guys move around like Sonic The Hedgehog and will require a ton of light before they become vulnerable. They are not very aggressive, most will just be content to run circles around you, making it take that much longer.
I am making Alan Wake sound like an absolutely horrid title, but aside from the combat, it nails every other aspect down to the characters, story, and environments. The town of Bright Falls feels alive and unique with many an inhabitant being strange though may be more than meets the eye. You hear a name and you immediately know who they are talking about, that is how memorable every character you come across is. Even Alan’s best friend Barry who easily could have come off as annoying is an awesome person. It makes the threat of losing them due to the darkness that much more tense. On a few occasions, some will join you in combat though their AI can’t aim all that well and the one section where you lack a gun and have to rely on them is not too great, to say the least.
Our protagonist Alan does come off as an arrogant jerk and does have his fair share of flaws making the character all the more believable. He does at times pull off some light hearted jokes when at ease around his friend Barry, making their friendship obvious and the game has all sorts of small details to make everything & everyone in the world feel natural. Most of your time will not be spent in the town itself but in the solitary woods with nary a soul to be found. The loneliness, intense fog and foliage placement makes nearly every location picturesque. Its night time setting when you are in the woods is done amazingly well and makes this aging title appear as fresh as ever.
The level design is well done with you always knowing where to go while at the same time being rather open and rife for exploration. Scattered about are hidden stashes that are found by yellow paint that can only be seen when you point your flashlight at them. They veer off the path you should be headed and very well could be dangerous, but it is near irresistible to go find out. Stashes will typically contain rare ammo or items that will come in handy. Be sure to not become a pack rat and actually use your equipment however, as this game has the annoying habit of repeatedly taking all of your stuff and leaving you with nothing. Also scattered about are a ton of collectibles such as 100 coffee thermos and other pointless things that do not make sense to the theme in any way but does add some value if you are a perfectionist.
An interesting feature they added are collectiable glowing pages that will inform you of future events before they happen. Like if there is a man that will attack you with a chainsaw you will be fully prepared to combat him if you paid attention. It further kills any sense of fear you may have ever had in this game but was a really unique addition and never spoiled the important story events. Whenever you pick these up, Alan will read them aloud, and he is also prone to having an inner monologue at times. The guy talks a lot though what he says is interesting to listen to, further adding to the setting. Depending on your difficulty setting, some pages will not show up so if you want them all you should start with Nightmare if you are feeling up to it. On occasion, you will see a cut-scene which are immediately noticeable due to their heavy compression with the in-game stuff looking leagues better than the pre-rendered content.
Alan Wake is split into six episodes with a small recap of the events of the events that happened that lead up to where you are. In my opinion, it didn’t add or detract to anything but was an interesting design decision nonetheless. It automatically saves every time you reach a checkpoint in case you are confused about the lack of save points. One thing that slightly bothered me until the very end was the off-center camera. You can set it to view over either side of Alan’s shoulders, but it never feels quite right. From time to time, you will be able to drive a vehicle around and mow down your foes which have a satisfying impact to it. There are some puzzles and a few platforming sections to break up the ton of fighting you will be doing throughout.
Easily the star of the show is the story itself. It is well told, interesting and will keep you on your toes the whole way through. While not necessarily scary, it succeeds at always having you feel unsettled and like there is something wrong even when all seems well. As to not spoil anything I’ll just say that this isn’t your typical light versus darkness plot, it is very unique and gets pretty intricate. The ending does seemingly wrap everything up, only for it to later make you immediately want there to be a sequel already. If you own the Steam version, the two DLC packs are included into the base game and are accessed by the main menu “episodes” option. When all is said and done, this an unforgettable experience that is sadly let down hard by the absurd amount of combat in it. With that condition, if you are fine with it and enjoy great characters, story and horror that does not rely on blood & guts, Alan Wake is one game you should check out.