Gaming Review – Alan Wake

As far as video games go, Alan Wake is the closest I have ever come to playing a game of the horror genre (because I don’t think my roommate handing over the controller for a minor section of Dead Space counts).  Technically it says “psychological action thriller” right on the box, but I will ignore this distinction and revel in my moment of accomplishment, because it is probably never going to happen again.  Let’s just say the harrowing setting and creepy story of Alan Wake gave me my fill of horror games for a good long while thanks to its abusive use of my childhood fear of the dark and things that violently go bump in it.

One of the worst things a writer has to deal with is writer’s block.  At least that is probably partly what Alan Wake thought when he was traveling to the large forested region of Bright Falls for a getaway with his wife and typewriter.  If only he was so lucky. Quickly things go from bad to worse as his wife disappears from the cabin they are renting on the middle of the lake.  To add to the pile, the residents of the town are being possessed by a dark presence that turns them into murderous shadows that loom in the darkness of the forest, the same forest that Wake has a knack for ending up in as he searches for answers to what happened to his wife, his spotty memory, and what the heck is going on.

The controls are pretty basic for this game, which is an added relief considering my mind doesn’t quite function that well when I am freaking out.  While traveling through the world, Wake carries a flashlight and a small assortment of guns and light “explosives” with him (if he hasn’t managed to lose them somehow), and it is quite easy to switch between the two.  The left trigger controls the flashlight that is used to burn the darkness out of the “Taken,” and once a light flash indicates it is gone, there is no need to pull up a clunky in game menu to switch out; just pull the right trigger and shout your victorious expletives as the ex-citizen dissipates.  However, it is not rare that this straight forward point and click method is not enough to hold back the waves.  This is when Wake’s evasive maneuvers come into play.  Though I was hit by an ax-wielding psychopath or hatchet thrown out of the distant shadows more times than I can count on my trembling hands, which I will blame on my reflexes being dulled by my fear, many a time moving out of the way at the last second will not only save some pain, but trigger some pretty cool slow motion movements.  Master this quickly because occasionally bullets will run low, guns always seem to need to be loaded, and running is not always enough because Wake gets winded far too frequently for a guy running for his life.

In addition to these slow motion action shots, pretty much everything else in this world looks amazing.  Though you would think a dense forest would all look the same, they somehow manage to make every section of it look beautiful.  And trust me, with all the times I turned around to check behind me, I sure saw a lot of it.  But if you don’t get excited about the fog drenched trees like I did, there are plenty of other locations to keep things fresh, all the while remaining just as scary.  In addition to the environments, the cutscenes look great, though a little more work could have gone into syncing up the voices with the lip movement, because it can get a little distracting at times, throwing off how amazing the rest of it looks.

The look of the game might be enough to give it a gander, but it is far from the only thing that makes Alan Wake an excellent game.  It is set up in such a way that takes full advantage of numerous other aspects of entertainment, including a lot of influences from film and television. The game is broken up into numerous episodes, playing out like a TV show with introductory “previously on…” set ups to begin each section.  Though the game is quite addictive, these breaks between long expanses of gameplay were a relief because they provided some much needed breathing room from the fear and tension that builds inside you as you play; because let’s face it, there is quite a lot of this going on.  Even though I was playing in a fully lit room, whenever the fog would roll in I could feel myself tense up, just waiting for something to come running out of it at me.  And then the heavy breathing would start in, making the camera that would cling to Wake as if it was actually showing the perspective of someone breathing down my neck, though it is far more likely that the source of the breathing was waiting around the corner in anticipation of gutting me like a fish.

Some of the details of the story are still a little fuzzy to me as I try to understand what actually went on in Bright Falls, but that does not keep Alan Wake from a being an amazing game in pretty much every aspect.  The environments are just as distracting as they are scary thanks to my fascination of playing with the shadows my flashlight would create in reaction to the world around me, which on more than one occasion I was punished for by a sneak attack.  But above all, I have no qualms with admitting just how scared I was walking through the woods at night.  As it turns out, there sure are a lot of things going bump in there.

Final Grade: 8.5

Alan Wake is exclusive to the XBOX 360.

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