The game opens up inside protagonist Alan Wake’s head: in his dream, he’s being chased by a character from one of his best-selling novels, a hitch-hiker with an axe whose entire body seems covered in darkness. Wake needs to reach the lighthouse in the distance, the only safe place, but before he gets there, players need to know how to use the controls.
All joking aside, the opening “episode” does a great job setting the mood while providing players with the basics for the controls. In addition, players will get some helpful advice from a voice behind the light that suggests this is just the beginning of a long, terrible nightmare: human beings possessed by some kind of supernatural creature, their bodies covered by smoky darkness that Wake will need to “burn” off using his flashlight in order to get a good shot at them with his gun. The residents of the town of Bright Falls are not quite normal, in other words.
Survival Horror Works Best with Realistic Graphics
When the main characters is armed with a flashlight, it’s a good bet that players will be dealing with very few lights. In Alan Wake, the scares come not from blood and guts but from the setting, the darkness, and the things that may or may not be lurking in said darkness. This wouldn’t work if the graphics weren’t fantastic. The game boasts fantastic visuals, and the beam of the flashlight illuminates just enough of the dark settings to ensure players will never be comfortable enough to sit back and relax.
During the day in each episode, Wake will have the opportunity to investigate and talk to townsfolk. But when night falls, players get to see just how much work went into putting the town of Bright Falls together. The moon shines down from above. The flashlight cuts through night just like you’d expect it. Details make the game even scarier.
Use Your Flashlight and Shoot Your Pistol
Players control Wake with the left analog stick and have free control of the camera with the right. The left trigger controls the flashlight and the right trigger controls whatever gun Wake has equipped. Everything works well, especially the camera, which lets players check what’s coming at them from the sides, a crucial detail when Wake is surrounded by frightening noises coming from the darkness or when he’s being chased by a homicidal axe-wielding hitchhiker.
The story is divided into six “episodes,” and players can expect more from downloadable content. Players who want to learn more about the story can also watch the live-action prequel. In addition to interactions with people Wake meets, he also provides a voice-over narration that gives the story a very book-like feel and lets players get inside his head a little bit between the cut-scenes. Most of the dialogue works well, but some of it can be a little cheesy from time to time, especially early on when he’s interacting with his wife before she goes mysteriously missing.
Bright Falls Makes Some Scary Sounds at Night
The noises come from every direction, especially at night. When Wake “burns” off the darkness on a creature, the screaming shrill sounds fantastic and helps keep the mood tense. Wake’s voice-overs work well, but I found myself turning down the music and sound effects and keeping the voices turned up so I could understand them. Beyond that, the voice acting is better than average in most cases, although few stand out as being fantastic.
Good Replay Value and a Hidden Manuscript
Expect to get about 8-10 hours from the game. In order to collect all the manuscript pages, players will have to play through again on “Nightmare” setting, the hardest difficulty, which gives the game a little more staying power. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Remedy put out a few more episodes from time to time that players can download.
In all, this is a very good game worthy of at least a rental in order to enjoy it from start to finish. Players who enjoy a challenge and want to flesh out the story should play through it twice to collect everything that needs to be collected. While the story has its bumps from time to time, it’s never serious enough to detract players. The mood, the setting and the visuals all make Alan Wake stand out as a truly scary game.