“Alan Wake is a nightmare you don’t want to wake up from because you’re too busy shooting it in the face.”

Thar she blows

Alan Wake, the “Psychological Thriller from Remedy, is exactly what it describes itself as, but it’s also a new twist on classic survival horror formula, which is “shoot all the approaching enemies before they kill you.” But this time you’re not exploring a remote Spanish village or a derelic space-ship, you’re exploring the creepy little town of Bright Falls, only days away from it’s annual “Deer Fest” holiday. Indeed, there will be rednecks.

It starts out simple enough, with Wake going on vacation with his wife Alice, but things quickly go awry when she gets kidnapped by quite possibly the creepiest villain in video game history; an old woman. Now Wake must get her back at any cost, and no amount of Gears of War jokes will stop him. “Where’s my wiiiiife?!”

Dom can feel Alan's pain

There’s a third-person shooter element to the game, but most of the time the game controls like a platformer, only without the hugely accrobatic leaps and more of the last-second dodging of physics-based projectiles. You get a normal assortment of weapons that aren’t terribly out of place in Bright Falls with the exception of the Flashbangs. Fortunately, they explain that, and the oddly convenient placement of ammo and batteries throughout the game. There are also several driving segments, but they aren’t particularly amazing and come off as rather bland in comparison to the rest of the game.

Unsurprisingly, I was consistently reminded of Resident Evil 4 while playing, with the intelligent non-zombie enemies and the sense of being in a strange isolated environment that doesn’t welcome me in the slightest. You really tend to feel isolated in this game, but there’s a narrative reason for that, and it only helps to build the experience.

All. By. My. Self?

The combat splits between normal weaponry and light-based weaponry. Your enemies are possessed by darkness itself, so of course it’s time to turn on the night-light. Or flashlight in this case, which can be upgraded periodically. It’s good for shredding enemies’ “armor”, especially when you focus it. There are also flares which give you a temporary safe haven, the previously mentioned flash bang grenades which generally incinerate enemies entirely, and various spotlights which are the in-game equivalent of turrets.

No sparkly vampires allowed

The normal gunplay is about what you’d expect from survival horror, so no SMGs or Heavy Machine Guns. You get a revolver early on, and later a double-barreled shotgun which can be switched out for either a pump-action shotgun or a hunting rifle that Wake somehow aims perfectly with one hand. The last weapon is the ultimate (in this case) combination of features for this game. The almightly flare gun combines projectiles with the flare, making this weapon the game’s equivalent of a rocket launcher.

Even were he not wreathed in shadow, I'm pretty sure that would hurt

An interesting quirk about all these weapons is that Wake reloads each bullet individually, so when you spam the reload button, he jams each bullet in faster. Add to that the fact that you have to “reload” the Energizer batteries into your flashlight since it recharges too slowly for battle, and it can get pretty crazy in the midst of battle, shining, shooting reload-spamming and dodging random sharp implements with no time to spare.

At least before I die I can see their newest phone

And yes, you heard (read) right, ENERGIZER batteries. Also, Wake uses a Verizon phone. I believe he also arrives in Bright Falls in a Lincoln SUV. In-game advertising for the lulz. However, they did it somewhat subtly enough that you stop thinking about it after the first time you notice, though the giant Verizon billboard in last level and commercial at one of the TVs is a bit much. If this is really how long Energizer batteries will last under pressure, I want my sense of security back.

Each of the characters is unique and realistic in their own way, and are further explored in a series of “Manuscript” pages that blur the line between spoiling the story and adding to the mystery. By the end, they might not be your favorite characters in the world, but you’ll at least have to admit that the writing in this game is best-selling-novel quality. XP It also helps that the “epidemic” that is providing you with targets is one of the coolest enemy scenarios I’ve seen in a game since… well, Resident Evil 4.

the distinct lack of unintelligable spanish chanting made me a sad panda

There are six levels, and while that may not seem like a lot, they’re laid out at a great pacing and long enough that you won’t get bored (especially on higher difficulties). Each level plays like an episode on a TV show, starting with a recap, and ending with a sudden cliffhanger (even the ending, lol) that makes you want to keep playing. The set-pieces are all fairly diverse, ranging from the titular cauldron lake lodge to the Bright Falls Coal Mine. The game looks good. Amazing, even, particularly when it’s dark (though that could be attributed to the darkness covering up bad graphics). Character faces look a bit rough, but move realistically. I can honestly say that I have never payed a game with outdoor segments this interesting. It’s not about what you can see, but what you CAN’T, and how much that freaks you out. Enemies do spawn out of the dark in this game after all.

FML

There are some cool tunes in this game, from radio songs to end-of-episode songs, as well as the tense background music when you fight off the hoards or sift through the dark forest. There’s also a sort of charming theme when you’re in town during the daytime. The audio sets the mood very well in this game. Likewise, Wake’s narration of what’s going on shows up at appropriate moments, adding to the suspension in many cases, and sometimes coming across as humorous. In fact, all the voice-acting is top-grade. None of the characters sound unrealistic or like a 14 year-old on helium except for Barry, but he has allergies.

Barry thinks you should stop making fun of his allergies

Alan Wake is one of the more intelligent games I’ve encountered in recent memory. Tout action games such as Halo and Gears of War all you want, they don’t have the sheer creepy horror and frantic “shitshitshit” action of this game. Of course, if they did, we wouldn’t need games like this. It was an interesting ride, and even now there are parts of the story I don’t exactly get. Alan Wake is a game you have to think about, something I enjoy, since it pulls me from the numbness of point-and-shoot that other games fall victim to. As Alan Wake himself said, “It’s not a lake. It’s an Ocean.”

Remember kids, a gym membership will save you from most horror scenarios

Alan Wake was created by Remedy studios and Microsoft.

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