Game: "Alan Wake"
System: Xbox 360
Published by: Microsoft
Review: My friend recently asked me to describe to him a couple of games that I had played recently, since he had been too busy with work, school and his fiancée to get any gaming done himself. I told him that if he's seen John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness, read anything by H.P. Lovecraft or simply heard of Stephen King, he was as intimately familiar with the setting of Alan Wake as anyone really could be. (NOTE: This is the part where the spoilers kick in. Consider yourselves forewarned.)
Alan Wake chronicles the curious case of writer Alan Wake, who, stricken with a bout of severe writer's block, takes a sabbatical with his wife, Alice, to the idyllic Washington town of Bright Falls. And, as I'm sure you've all already guessed from a survival horror game taking place in an idyllic vacation destination with a cheery name, the majority of the game has Alan searching for his missing, possibly dead wife. This search is impeded severely by the fact that the game opens in a vivid prophetic nightmare that Alan is having and that after his wife's disappearance and/or death, he blacks out and loses a week, waking up with his car wrapped around a tree in the dark forest. Combined, these two events serve to make you completely unsure what is reality and what is just a broken writer's imagination taking over.
The combat in the game is exactly what survival horror combat ought to be: difficult, overwhelming, and not always worth the loss of ammunition. Sometimes it's better to just cut and run. Another feature of the game is how Alice's fear of the dark (If it seems like it took me a while to get to that fairly important plot point, then I'm doing a better job representing this game than I thought!) is manifested in the town by all of the enemies (seemingly possessed villagers) being coated in a layer of liquid darkness. Luckily, Alan (usually) has a flashlight that can be used to burn away the shadows and make them vulnerable to bullets.
The cast of characters in the game are full of some pretty interesting, if terrifically shallow, denizens of the town, more than a few of which seem to be after Alan due to a manuscript that he apparently wrote during a blackout. The manuscript seems to be describing the events of the game that have happened, are happening, or are about to happen, providing backstory as well as motivation for some of the non-inhuman villains of the game.
If it seems like I haven't stated whether or not the game is enjoyable, it's because I'm a little unsure myself. Much of the game involves needless walking through dark forests at night, going out of your way to collect manuscript pages, coffee thermoses, and information from signs strewn about the town. On the other hand, the gameplay is fun, the radio and TV shows you can stumble across (especially Night Springs, a Twilight Zone homage) are quite entertaining and give a lot of explanation of the precepts of the game. It's not the best survival horror game, and the thing is marred by an incredibly huge plot hole ( why does he have to make a trade to get his wife back from the evil entity that took her when the entity never gave him anything in return for her?) but it was worth a Gamefly rental at the very least.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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