While everyone is neck deep in Control, the people who voted on my Twitter poll thought I should have some Remedy in my life as well and experience Alan Wake for the first time. I’m not sure if my take away will be as positive as they may have suspected sadly. While Alan Wake has more than enough good things to say about it, ultimately it left me wishing it was a different genre of game.
It’s clear why people love this game. Alan Wake has amazing atmosphere with a compelling story and mystery that most games only dream of achieving. There are great ideas scattered around this game from the use of the light mechanics to the game-stopping Twilight Zone knock-off called Night Springs that bring uniqueness to Alan Wake and ultimately help it become such a memorable experience. However even with all of those things going for it, I couldn’t bring myself to finish the game. More on that a bit later.
Alan Wake takes place in a small Washington town called Bright Falls. It’s a funny name given what often takes place throughout the game relating to darkness. Bright Falls is a wonderfully developed setting that Remedy should absolutely be applauded for creating. The small town vibe really shines through with the scenery and the townspeople who all seem to know each other. It sets the mood as horror movies typically would before everything goes south, and Alan Wake is no different.
I also feel its worth giving props to the voice cast. It’s easy to give performances incredibly cringeworthy especially in games, but the cast here did a great job. Matthew Porretta as Alan Wake feels perfect and the dialogue while narrating or conversing with others is on point. While some of the face animations are stiff, as good as they still look, it’s the voices that bring these characters to life. I’m also not going to lie…I had to check and make sure Barry wasn’t played by Joe Pesci. Spoilers: He isn’t.
Let me back that up a little bit so I can bring up Night Springs. The acting there is perfect as well in an over-the-top cheesy sort of way. I love the bite-size episodes of weird occurrences that the show brings and it makes me wish there was a way to rewatch those episodes from the main menu. Catching them in the world is cool, but its always on a small screen and difficult to make out. Anyways, just another appreciated addition into the game that made me smile every time it came up on a random tv screen.
The story is also right in line with my interests. A missing time frame, a kidnapped wife, and a dark presence taking hold over a small town? Sign me up. Any time the sun starts to go down, I would find myself eager to see what would happen to spiral out of control during the night. Pacing wise it wasn’t always the best, but the story pulled me along like a horse chasing a carrot on a stick. At least…it did for a while.
So I might as well get my gripes out and what finally broke me from enjoying the game. But before the more serious parts – can we address the blatant product placement and awful thermos collectibles? It’s bad in an egregious sort of way. Not to the point of being a reason to avoid the game (let’s be real here – that would be a lame reason to knock points off a game) but it really had me shaking my head in disbelief. Poor Duracell. Bright Falls is just an Energizer town. Collectible wise – 100? Really now? I am okay with collectibles if they add in some sort of lore into the game or have a nice reward for collecting them. This has none of that. Ugh.
So what was the breaking point for my enjoyment?
That hurts to say, especially seeing how great Control looks in action. The idea of using light to weaken enemies in such a dark environment is smart. Unfortunately attaching that mechanic to an obnoxious recharge rate is a big negative. It’s not unusual to run across multiple enemies at one time, and I was finding myself barely making it through one enemy before needing to let it recharge or replace batteries. I played this game on easy too, and if it is even worse in higher difficulties, I don’t know how anyone could tolerate it. Yes, you have plenty of batteries (I had one occasion where I ran out), but having to constantly replace them while avoiding enemies faster than you and throwing things makes everything far less fun.
It’s entirely possible that I need to just “git gud”, but I also had the hardest time landing shots. The flashlight acts as the reticle (also smart) but for the life of me I missed or didn’t hit the body parts I wanted. Sure the shotgun basically one-hit killed them, but in an effort to save ammo for the brute characters or bosses, I typically used the weaker handgun. So with the one-two punch of the flashlight and gun combo, I was not having a good time making my way through the world.
While the world during story pieces is great, part of it loses its magic during the action. I found myself constantly getting turned around after combat or being unaware of my surroundings since enemies can kind of appear from any direction. While areas like the junkyard are nice, too often I felt you were progressing through yet another part of the forest pursued by yet another set of shadow people who were the same in the last section of forest you were in. In other words, I got bored of seeing similar terrain and enemies repeatedly.
Lastly there is the movement. I have a hard time putting my finger on it, but something feels off about controlling Alan. He didn’t quite come to a complete stop when I wanted him to, vaulting over things were awkward, and I think some of the environment would cause problems too. For example, at the beginning of the game you come out of a car wreck. You are on a cliff and overlook your destination and I thought it was a great moment to take a screenshot to inform people what game I was playing. Despite running to the edge and putting my controller down, Alan kept “tripping” forward eventually falling to his death. It wasn’t a steep cliff or anything, but this is one case of weird environment things I would run across.
After calling it quits, I realized how I would rather have experienced Alan Wake. Instead of a third-person action/adventure game, I would much rather Alan Wake be either a visual novel or adventure game ala the Telltale games. This eliminates the worst part of the game while accentuating the parts that made people fall in love originally.
I’m not disappointed in playing Alan Wake. It’s not quite what I was hoping, but I knew what I was mostly getting into. If anything, it made me more excited for Control. The plot of the game has my interest in full and the action looks immensely more satisfying than Alan Wake. It also has me eager to see if a (true) sequel will eventually come out with everything they’ve improved on since 2010. If so, the parts that gave people the most criticism fuel should be ironed out and provide a game that could be an amazing all around experience.
Those are my general impressions with Alan Wake. For my next backlog article though, I’m going to cheat a bit. I will be playing the remastered edition of Final Fantasy VIII. It is one of my favorite games and I couldn’t pass up experiencing it again with those remastered perks. So next time, expect less of a newbie perspective and instead me gushing about how much I love a game!