Alan Wake is a psychological horror third person shooter, originally released in  2010 by the Finnish software developer Remedy.  Every time I play I want to rent a cabin in the Pacific Northwest for a month, hiking and exploring the forest during the day with a rifle slung over my back, writing a novel on an old Remington typewriter by the light of the hearth at night. So will you . . .

Calling Alan Wake a “shooter” or “horror game” doesn’t do it justice. Sure, the main character gets some serious trigger time with revolvers, shotguns, rifles and semi-automatic pistols. And there are moments when playing will make you jump (particularly if you’re playing it at night and in the dark, as God and Sam Lake intended). But the sting is in the tale.

Alan Wake’s narrative is deeply engaging, a videogame rebuke to the ham-fisted storylines of Tom Clancy’s latest offering, or the “choose your own flavor of the same exact ending” of Mass EffectDeus Ex and everything Telltale Games has ever offered.

The titular Alan Wake is a New York City-based writer of crime and horror novels, with all of the pretensions and arrogance that comes with his station in life. He gets into fisticuffs with paparazzi, looks down his snoot at the hicks in “flyover country” (even if they’re his fans) and occasionally ditches his wife to go on book tour/drinking benders with his best pal, a smarmy publicist named Barry.

After killing off his most beloved character in his last novel, he’s suffering from a bit of writer’s block. His wife, Alice, rents a cabin on a lake in the Pacific Northwest for a little R&R. Unfortunately, they get into a heated argument, the power goes out and things start spinning out of control. Wake sees his wife fall into the water. He dives in to save her . . . then wakes up a week later, in a wrecked car with no idea what happened.

Wandering disoriented through the woods, Wake is soon attacked by strange, shadowy men. They taunt him and seem to magically appear out of the darkness. They can only be fought off by a combination of light sources and hot lead. It’s a unique game mechanic that sets up some interesting tactical problems.

Wake tries to find help, eventually getting in touch with the local Sheriff. But how do you gain the trust of the rural constabulary when you have to tell them, “I’m some guy from New York City. My wife, who I was really angry with, has gone missing. I can’t remember anything that happened since I last saw her. Oh, and I just dropped a dozen or so men in the woods with a .357.”

The story gets even more intriguing when Wake starts to find pages of a horror novel written by him scattered throughout the forest. He has no recollection of writing them, but the protagonist appears to be him, and the story starts coming true.

The night had been one desperate situation after another. I was exhausted and my body felt as though it had been chewed up and spat out.

The flashlight was heavy in my hand, and each pull of the trigger sent a painful shock up my arm. But I was finally out of the woods and things were looking up.

That’s when I heard the chainsaw.

As the story goes on, we realize that Wake is actually growing as a person. Revisiting some past memories and feeling a little bit of regret. It’s an aspect that is sorely lacking in typical RPGs that try to provide the illusion of choice by making the player character an empty vessel with no real history at all. (Cough…Bioware…) Wake definitely is his own man. Even though you’re controlling his combat actions, he’s the one making the decisions. And it works.

Despite an occasional glitch here and there, Alan Wake’s voice-acting is first-rate. The graphics hold up well for a seven-year-old game, particularly in comparison with much more recent failures. The atmospherics and soundtrack combine to make you feel as though you really are taking a hike in rural Washington. It’s also refreshing to play a game that isn’t infected with post-GamerGate politically-correct storylines more concerned with virtue signaling than compelling game play.

There are one or two places where I wish the writers and actors had been a little more subtle. A few of the treks through the forest are a little repetitive — especially when you’re jonesin’ to find out what happens next. There’s also one particularly annoying scene involving a bridge near the climax of the story that seems to be needlessly cruel.

I understand that Alan Wake’s developer is negotiating the re-licensing of the soundtrack. I hope they can come to an agreement; the game’s music is phenomenal, especially the offerings from Dead Combo and Poets of the Fall. The game would be incomplete without the music — like the time Tour of Duty was released on DVD without its theme song Paint it Black.

Due to the expiring licensing agreement, Alan Wake will no longer be available for download via Steam or Microsoft as of high noon Eastern time today. As a result, it’s now being offered on sale for the insanely low price of $2.99 via Steam. (Physical copies might still be on offer at your favorite used game/music store, of course.) Grab Alan Wake while you can.

 

Ratings (out of five stars):

Storyline: * * * * *
You don’t need a great story to make a good horror game, but they did it anyway. There’s an in-story reason why guns, ammo and other supplies seem to be strategically located throughout the countryside that makes sense.

Playability: * * * *
Controls are simple and intuitive. You look over Wake’s right or left shoulder, but you get used to it. A few of the forest-crawls seem to drag. There’s plenty of replayability; harder levels make husbanding ammunition and other supplies tougher.

Balance: * * * * 1/2 
Combat is generally well-balanced. While you can avoid spending ammunition on some fights, there are one or two scenes that are a bit unforgiving.

Graphics: * * * * 
The game was released in 2010, but it was really good for 2010.

Weapons: * * * * *
The six-shooter tends to be the default firearm; at various times, you also can acquire shotguns and rifles. The most important equipment are the ones that provide light: flashlights, very pistols, flares, and flashbang grenades. You need to use light to burn away the enemies’ ‘protective shield of darkness’ before they can be taken down by firearms. You’re not an operative here who can RTB for more stuff, so you take what you can find.

Customize This: * Naah. Everything’s bone-stock. What, you expect a writer from New York City to hang a reflex scope on his revolver? Dude doesn’t even know he needs a holster!

Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One.

Overall: * * * * *
Buy it today, before it’s gone.

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26 Responses to Game Review: A Requiem for ‘Alan Wake’

  1. I remember playing it in 2010 when it first came out. Really good game, undervalued at $3.

  2. Was pretty good, not sure if I ever finished it but might be worth another go.

    I can’t wait for domeone to preview/review Escape from Tarkov.

  3. I almost can’t recommend Alan Wake or Quantum Break (Remedy Entertainment’s follow up) because the gameplay just isn’t there.

    They’re basically walking tours of interesting places and events, but the writing is so good they’re worth playing. Like an actually good walking simulator game.

    • Quantum Break was okay, but it didn’t connect as a story or as a game the way Alan Wake did.

      This and Alpha Protocol are on my list of games that deserved a full-fledged sequel, whatever their flaws.

  4. I just picked it up. Don’t know when I will get around to playing it, but better to have it in case it never goes back up.

      • No. If you purchase a game on steam, even after it is no longer licensed, you can still download it.

        The only time this has been an issue is with a GTA game where they patched the licensed music out of it… but that was laziness on Rockstar’s part. In this case Remedy has decided to forgo additional sales rather than remove the music, so you’re fine.

  5. I tried playing this with the lights off.Big mistake. Only game that made the hair on my neck stand up. Not really a combat game where youre dispatching mass hordes of enemies while carrying enough firepower for a squad of Marines.

  6. Thanks for letting me know about this on the same day it’s pulled from Steam… while I’m at work.

  7. Nothing makes me want something more than being told I’m not supposed to have it. Buying it now, worrying about system specs later.

  8. dead space takes the crown when it comes to survival horror these days. i still dont understand why we dont have real deadspace movie. it would be amazing

    • The first Dead Space was awesome. A truly good survival horror game. The sequels, not so much. 2 felt like the development team was split into two different rooms, where one half was told to make a survival horror game, and the other half was told to make an action game, which made the tone and overall game play an inconcistant clusterf*ck. 3 just turned into a bland action game. As for them not making a movie, I think it’s because the interactivity of the game is the best way to experience its tone.

  9. To me, Alan Wake was Luigi’s Mansion for adults. Point the flashlight, and then press the button. You can literally beat the majority of the game by running from one streetlight to another. The story was just okay, not bad but not great. I would suggest Dead Space instead. (obviously your mileage may vary)

  10. I didn’t much care for Alan Wake, but its Download-only sequel, Alan Wake: American Nightmare was awesome. It’s tone was much more in line with an episode of the Twilight Zone, instead the original’s Stephen King-esk vibe. Plus, way more weapons than the first game, including an AA-12 and a nail gun.

  11. I’d sooner play STALKER Lost Alpha Deveveloper’s Cut. At least it is free and worth the 8.5GB download.

    It has the material cut from the original Shadow Of Chernobyl game along with the earlier versions of the final maps. SoC was only 25% of the size of Lost Alpha.

  12. One minor quibble:

    The Division isn’t TC’s latest offering. Ghost Recon Wildlands is their most recent game.

    That said, the story line is pretty ham fisted.

  13. How is this Video Game important to the POTG?

    You should try SWTOR and play the smuggler. You’ll get a taste of Lucas Arts 2A opinions. Note sure if Disney is aware of some of that content yet.

  14. Loved this game. Agree with the making you jump. The music was freaking awesome. I fell in love with Poets of the Fall (in game as the Old Gods of Asgard). Sad they’ve never done a US tour.

  15. I love how you trash talk the entire Mass Effect franchise for the end of one game. You remind me of those people who sat Twin Peaks was the greatest show ever, without acknowledging the second season.

    I’m glad you’re idea of a good game is linear storyline and two button fight sequences. (Point light, shoot at illuminated enemy, repeat until end)

    Do yourself a favor, stick to gun reviews. You actually sound like you have knowledge and experience in that field.

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