Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure some parts of this post can be viewed as spoilers. I don’t give away any major plot details, but I do talk about some gameplay elements, enemies, and other topics that you may not want to know if you want Alan Wake to be untarnished for you.
I’ve been playing video games for a long, long time and I will admit that there has been a few times I have become bored with part of a game. When boredom sets in I usually leave it on the shelf and return in a few days with renewed vigor and push through the boring aspects. Unfortunately, it seems as though Alan Wake is nothing but one large, boring game that takes place int the forest obviously designed by an automotive engineer. I will be honest with you, I didn’t read a review so I didn’t know much about the game before I bought it. Every now and then I like a surprise, so I buy a game that I know has some hype around it but I don’t look into it first. The last time I did this was with [prototype] (which I enjoy quite a bit). Another reason I bought it was because my wife’s interest was piqued and she wanted to know what it was about. I figured what the hell, it sounds interesting enough. A Psychological Thriller sounds interesting right? It gives off an air of mystery and addictive game play.
I have never been more bored playing a video game. I can do repetitive, after all I am one of those guys that spent 3+ hours jumping cars on the beach in Crackdown to level up the agency car all the way so yeah, repetition isn’t an issue. The issue is that the characters are flat. The game play mechanics aren’t that great. ”But Jeff, you have to drain their darkness with the light before you can kill them.” Yeah, so? It’s a 3rd person shooter with two weapons instead of one.
Step 1: Shine the light. (It’s like… an energy weapon to drain the shield!)
Step 2: Shoot the bastard. (Use bullets! A fast moving, deadly projectile… what a novel idea!)
Step 3: If they swarm, throw a flare or flash bang. (OMG a grenade!)
Step 3.5: If there is a lot of guys, fire the flare gun. (A hand held rocket launcher with no recoil – yay!)
See how it really isn’t any different than other games? ”Ah, but Jeff, your forgetting the amazing story telling part of the game. It’s revolutionary!!” Zzzzz, I’m sorry, did you say revolutionary? Been drinking the Kool-Aid have you? What is so revolutionary? The manuscript that you pick up off the ground? The same manuscript that foreshadows events to come so that any surprise is ruined? (Seriously, I hate this so bad that I don’t even read them after episode 1.) Or maybe it is how Mr. Wake talks, like I’m an idiot with everything being read as if it were a book (yes, I understand this is what they were going for). I don’t really need to be told that “…there is more information to find here so I shouldn’t leave.” I’m a smart guy, I think the current objective being shown in my screen along with the fact that I can’t open a door pretty much says I have to do something before I can walk out – I can put 2 and 2 together, it equals 5 (for extremely large values of 2). So where is this revolutionary story telling? It can’t be the main story line… is it that he finds parts of his manuscript lying around that he doesn’t remember writing? Or maybe it’s the darkness and some strange woman who seems to control it? This doesn’t sound any more far fetched than the story line of Gears of War with giant mutants crawling out of the ground, or Mortal Kombat where a B level American actor can save Earth Realm.
At this point I am half way through episode 3. I plan on pushing through over the next day or two for a couple reasons.
1. I want to trade it in while it still has some value.
2. If I don’t do it fast I will lose interest and will have completely wasted $60 on it.
3. I am mildly curious as to what the hell the darkness is all about. (Hopefully it is something decent so Alan Wake can at least have the partial saving grace of a good ending.)
When I do finish the game I will report back with an update so that you can all see whether or not I found it worth my time. For those of you who have finished the game, if you would like to enlighten me about what is so damn revolutionary (be specific) about Alan Wake, please do.
A few days later…
So… I finished Alan Wake the day after I wrote the first half of this post, but the feeling hasn’t changed much. In between writing the first half of this post and finishing the game I took some time to reflect on why so many people are in love with Alan Wake. I understand the story telling devices that make this game different – you are a character in a narrative and the game unfolds as if it were being read in a book. Ok, sure this is a different way to go about it, but I found it to be distracting and rather than pull me into the narrative it constantly reminded me of what the developers were trying to do. As the story unfolded, details regarding Alan Wake’s situation were revealed. But, if you are a TV junkie like me and find yourself able to predict 98% of plot details then you aren’t going to be surprised by what happens in the game. To further add to the revolutionary way the story is told the game is divided into episodes and at the beginning of each episode is a recap of the previous one. Seriously? Are you trying to emulate a book or a TV show? It is obvious that the developers didn’t find their own game that interesting because they needed a recap to tell them “Previously on Alan Wake: You ran through the forest in a twisting fashion taking the longest possible route to your destination because you can’t swim, slide down steep hills, or go very far off the beaten trail. You were attacked as you made your way from waypoint to waypoint with only your flashlight and dinky revolver to save your ass.” Golly gee Remedy thanks, I forgot how much this game bores me!
Ok, ok, so I exaggerated a bit but the first half of the game is a drag. The time you spend in the forest never seems to end and to make matters worse it all looks the same. Once you get to episode 4 the game becomes more interesting and from episode 4 on I actually had moments where I enjoyed playing. Running around town, through farms, with small stints in the forest wasn’t too bad at all. Was it enough to make up for the first half of the game? Not at all, but it did make it easy to push through the rest of the game so I could trade up for Red Dead Revolver.
Not everything about Alan Wake is terrible. The environments are beautiful and the lighting effects are spot on. It is a really good looking game – it’s just too bad you have to spend so much time in the forest. I do like the way they used the flashlight as the reticule for your weapon, that was a good way to provide some accuracy without bringing in a foreign object. Another beef I had with the game is that it became really hard, really really quick. Episodes 1 – 5 had some Taken that swarm on you and make it a bit difficult, but the majority of the Taken were light weights that were easily dispatched. But in episode 6, all of a sudden you are met with swarms of badass Taken that require a lot of light and bullets to take down. It was a stark change, but a few deaths and strategy changes and I found one that worked.
My favorite part of Alan Wake (besides trading it in) was the poltergeist objects. When the Darkness takes over objects and throws them at you it is a different change of pace and one that I thought really required you to pay attention to the world. Oh yes, I almost forgot. Let’s say you are running down a trail and a Taken pops up behind you. Rather than force you to slow down and carefully move throughout the world, Remedy chose to use a slow-mo camera that zooms out and says, “Hey you! Someone is behind you! Better whip around and blind the sucker so you can kill him.” It’s almost as if they want you to run through the whole game. Ah, back to the poltergeist objects. The final thing I want to say about them is that they can be big, really really, big objects that can attack you or free fall from the sky landing five feet in front of you.
The last thing I want to talk about is Barry, Alan’s agent. Most people hated him but I found him to be a funny character, even if his lines were cheesy. You see, I was bored with the game and couldn’t get into the story. Most people’s complaints have been about Barry pulling them out of the story, but for me, it made it a bit more tolerable to play. My favorite line is one about going into the Eye of Mordor, lame, but funny.
While I didn’t intend this to be a review I guess you could read it that way. I know a lot of people love this game and what Remedy did with it, but not me. Maybe it isn’t my cup of tea, but I have generally liked creepy horror games (Condemned anyone?) but I found this one to be predictable, boring, and nothing more than a new attempt at a 3rd person shooter with a generic story line. If you are thinking about playing Alan Wake, rent it first. Even if you like it the game isn’t that long. I played on hard and beat the game in about 10 hours. Yeah, I didn’t collect every manuscript page, but then again I didn’t want to as it ruined the game for me. I didn’t collect every coffee thermos, but who cares? Both of these are cheap ways to make the game longer without offering any significant reward (that I know of). Bottom line, if you want to have a cheap horror thrill read a book, watch a movie, or go play Condemned, a game that will really make you jump out of your seat.