Tea: Rooibos Tea
Dead tree branches swinging in the wind, a wave of darkness flooding the forest with its unrelenting torrent. Flickering lights in the distance promise a safe haven still out of reach. A cautious step into the familiar yet foreign lands reveals the extent of the power the malicious dark presence holds. Shadowy reflections of their former selves are born into existence and relentlessly rush at the writer. The only way to fight the dark is with light.
Alan Wake developed by Finish developer Remedy had my interest for the entire duration of its frankly ridiculously long development cycle. Sadly, I did not own an Xbox at the time, but Alan Wake would have been THE game for which I might have bought the thing. Now, a few years later, I actually had the chance to play my anticipated horror title, sorry: “Psychological Action Thriller”. That my expectations were high would be an understatement, so poor Alan had the bad luck of being confronted with even more unrealisable standards than usually. Could Alan Wake achieve the impossible and still live up to expectations somehow?
– When being a writer or fighting the darkness one absolutely needs elbow patches –
The story is about the titular Alan Wake, a crime-author and currently stuck in a pretty heavy case of writer’s block (I know your pain Alan). To get some distance and maybe start writing again, he and his wife Alice go on a vacation to Twin Peaks, I mean Bright Falls a small town on the shores of Cauldron Lake. Sooner rather than later, Alan’s wife falls into the lake after they had a little argument about whether a professional writer should do some actual writing or not and disappears, a slightly supernatural kidnapper claims to have taken her and Alan will have to get her back. The problem here is that at night the peaceful town transforms into a hellish gauntlet of shadowy figures throwing axes and objects coming to life looking to get uncomfortably close into your private sphere. All of this might sound somewhat familiar to you, if you have read the endless parade of Stephen King novels about writers struggling with their job and being haunted by some vague evil entity in a small American town. Yet the game openly acknowledges this connection and mentions Stephen King not only as the first word uttered in the game but several other times as well.
– Bright Falls: Capital of randomly lying around flashlights, ammunition, flares, and flashbangs –
The combat bit of the psychological action thriller comes into play at night when you are running for your life from the shadowy people looking to show you their new axe up close. You shine a flashlight at them which burns away their protection and then you shoot their physical form. Works fine throughout the game, but a rather monotonous routine settles in, since enemies are stunlocked when you shine your light upon them which takes a lot of tension out of the combat scenarios. The objects (and they really are random objects) are a bit more interesting since they move very unpredictable and the entire fight sequences are always hectic and adrenaline filled. I vastly prefer those to the Taken – as the shadow people are called -, however you cannot build an entire game around inanimate objects being flung at you (or maybe you could). But the Taken are a big source of comic relief in an otherwise kind of brooding game, since they always utter phrases with no context, relating to their work or just random bits of trivia. My favourite has to be an axe murderer chasing me while simultaneously telling me that omega 3-fatty acids would be good for my heart. Still, the objects are used to greater effect. A stand-out fight was against a harvester and one would previously wander through the shed housing the beast and you can certainly feel the upcoming and intimidating fight. It is a good way of foreshadowing, while instilling fear with very mundane tools.
– Seriously, no other town has this many random light-related objects lying around –
What Alan Wake does best is atmosphere and it sure is well aware of that. The spooky forests and abandoned constructions sites are expertly presented and are very effective in terms of building tension. There are two problems with this, however: First, due to the fact that it is aware of these facts the game has to force Alan into these very specific environmental circumstances and this sometimes comes off as really contrived. Second, as soon as monsters arrive the tension diminishes somewhat. This is because the build-up atmosphere cannot hold up the actual fight taking place and also due to a very bad development decision. In some fights whenever a new wave of baddies appears the camera will zoom in and slow down giving you a good look and what you are fighting and where it comes from. Tension = 0. I cannot understand the thought process behind this decision since one of my major issues would be solved if this just didn’t happen all the time.
– I honestly could wander these woods for hours without a single enemy encounter. Sometimes less is more (again) –
Big props to the sound department, since both the environmental sounds and the soundtrack itself is rather superb. Actually, the Alan Wake soundtrack was the first one I bought a physical version of, even if I hadn’t played the game and only heard the music. Facial animation is somewhat hit or miss with some characters looking very odd and plastic-y, but others hold up fine. The game is also in an episodic format (just like Twin Peaks) which seems a bit odd, since it was released all in one package and I am unaware of single episodes existing as separate content. Secondly, you cannot quit between episodes. So inevitably you will have to watch what you just did five minutes ago when you want to continue. A minor gripe, but a weird decision none the less. What I also don’t quite grasp is how you focus a flashlight beam so hard it drains a battery in a few seconds, but video games I suppose.
– Also the capital of logging mills and generally wood-related architecture –
So what do we have: a thriller game with somewhat okay combat, an intriguing story that is sometimes a bit too caught up in its Stephen King blanket, generally great atmosphere that gets stomped on by a bad camera decision, all of that with a gear soundtrack. This is the point where I would usually declare this a failed project, but I can’t. Call me pretentious, but there is something about this game I utterly love. Something about the game just pulls me in and doesn’t let me go. Perhaps it is the atmosphere, since that is a saving grace in any game for me simply because it is utterly lacking in most other titles. Perhaps it is the lovable yet slightly inept character of Alan Wake or my own futile ambitions at being a writer. The game has a lot of heart besides all the odd decision made. And since Alan Wake is so old you might as well find out for yourself whether it touches you in the same way it did me. I cannot fully recommend it from my non-existent professional position, but another part of me desperately wants to shove it into your face. If atmosphere can save a game for you then Alan Wake is sure to deliver, if you are looking for the next horror game to increase your Youtube subscribers by screaming into a camera, keep looking.
Image sources in order of appearance:
- http://www.shooter-szene.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Alan-wake-2.jpg (Last date of access: 30.05.2016)
- http://everydaygamers.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/AlanWake-Bright-Falls.png (Last date of access: 30.05.2016)
- https://criticalteatime.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/47f4e-alanwake_01_wakedefending_720p.png (Last date of access: 30.05.2016)
- http://wisegamers.ch/images/346/alan_wake_pic.jpg (Last date of access: 30.05.2016)
- http://www.nexxtup.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Alan-Wake-Wallpaper-3.jpg (Last date of access: 30.05.2016)