[Four and a half stars]
Alan Wake can’t be compared to other games. While it is a horror game in terms of genre (psychological action thriller if the spiel on the box is to be believed ) it’s so many different things at once that summing it up in a single word is close to impossible.Â For starters, the game weaves an intricate tale of a once awesome crime fiction writer, Alan Wake trying overcome a serious case of writer’s block by visiting the idyllic town of Bright Falls with his wife. This sets of a chain of events leading to his wife going missing and proceedings playing out from a novel he has no recollection of writing. It makes for a very intriguing plot with enough twists and turns to keep you interested.
If this wasn’t enough, the game is punctuated with memorable characters, from the small-town-hating city slicker Barry Wheeler who is Wake’s agent and sidekick (perhaps the best video game character of the year) to the eccentric, geriatric Anderson Brothers, senile rockers of a band named Old Gods of Asgard, Alan Wake is replete with what is arguably the best human cast in video games ever. They’re all very well imagined and do a better job in convincing you of their plight than most actors in a real TV mini-series or a movie.
Speaking Â of TV and presentation, the game marries the best elements of the television format to the game giving it a slick, well-edited feel akin to shows like the X-Files or Lost. These are broken into episodes, complete with a recap of the crucial events of the last one. It works really well and gives a sense of urgency and tension to the proceedings, leaving you compelled to see this game to its very end. However, it wouldn’t be as half as immersive if it weren’t for some godlike attention to detail in terms of atmosphere and surroundings. From the in-game spoof on the Twilight Zone called Night Falls that’s viewable on TVs across the game to the well written radio shows, Remedy, the developers of the game have managed to make a very atmospheric game that far surpasses any other title that’s come out this year in terms of immersion.
Slick presentation and atmosphere is not all that makes a good game but it sure adds a lot to it if done properly. Having said that, the core gameplay is quite strong. Throughout the game you face off against possessed townsfolk known as the Taken in utmost darkness with nothing more than a pistol and a flashlight. Shining your flashlight on them leaves them susceptible to shots from your pistol essentially making your flashlight your crosshair and a very potent weapon. Eventually you’ll find more powerful weapons ranging from flare guns to search, lights all of which help tilt the scales of battle a little more in your favour. The game’s AI is relentless in its approach making for very tense, heart pounding encounters. Throw in some fantastic set pieces involving rock and roll, flare guns and garden mazes and you have something that doesn’t only add to the horror genre but also distills the best parts of it.
All in all Alan Wake is a must-have title for every Xbox 360 owner. And if you aren’t convinced that Microsoft’s ‘box is worth a purchase then Alan Wake will definitely change your mind. Hands down one of the best games of the year and an early contender for best game of the year.