A Brit Late: Alan Wake

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Previously on A Brit Late: My name is Jamie Gibson, and I’m a blogger. I’d heard good things about Alan Wake but I never got around to buying it, despite how cheap it has gotten recently. However, with Christmas nearing, there wasn’t a lot I particularly wanted so I ended up getting it as a present and over the holiday period and more recently I’ve been playing through the game. Here are my thoughts.

The main appeal from the game comes from its story. Alan Wake takes an interesting approach in its narrative, in that it completely rips off a TV narrative. The game is split into “episodes” with each ending on a cliffhanger and the next beginning with “Previously on Alan Wake”. Actually, that’s being harsh, because it works really well. If anything, it makes the game just as addicting as any other good episodic TV show. After the end of an episode, you don’t want to leave the game without at least finding out what happens after the cliffhanger. It sucks you further into the narrative. It’s also useful from a storytelling perspective as each of the major events in the game are nicely segmented and the recap at the beginning makes sure you always know what’s going on.

Outside of the actual method of storytelling, Remedy have done a great job with the characters in the game as well as the town of Bright Falls itself. In fact the latter is more interesting than the actual events affecting Alan Wake. While it appears to be a nice peaceful town, you slowly find out about its dark history, hiding in the shadows, much like the Fallen. Some of the details you would never even know about unless you looked for it through the game’s hidden manuscripts and information signs.  We slowly find out more about the town but the game leaves plenty of mystery surrounding it, which is annoying in a good way, since it leaves you wanting more. After all, any good story, regardless of its medium, should have that. I’ve heard the town being compared to the locations in a TV show called Twin Peaks, but honestly I’ve never seen it.  The same goes for the apparent Stephen King influences. For the most part, I was able to go in fresh, and that may have benefited my experience. (I know, I should hand in my geek card right now.)

Back to the characters, none of them seem to have the standard archetypes which unfortunately make their appearance in most video games. Rather than having simple character traits, they all have complex personalities. Wake himself is struggling creatively and doesn’t realise the impact it has on his wife and the people around him. In fact, one of the best moments of the game is when Wake realises just how helpful his friend Barry is to him, who he often takes for granted. Speaking of Barry, he’s another great character. Sure, on the outside, he appears to be the standard comedic sidekick, complete with a weight problem and a whiny nature, but he actually has a heart of gold and isn’t as weak as Wake makes him out to be. There are too many characters to speak about all of them, but they all have a positive impact on the game in one way or another. I had a problem with the motivations of two characters, as it wasn’t fully explained why they had them, but these were only minor details and it did not stop me enjoying their roles in the story.

Well damn, I’ve written 500 words and not even talked about the gameplay itself. Well I don’t want to call the core of it average but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. You play as Wake in third person and all of the typical elements of third person shooters are there. Well aside from using cover, but that would just be silly in this game. But what I mean is that everything works like it should, so there isn’t a lot else to say. The camera control? It works alright. Aiming? It works alright. It’s just alright. That being said, the one mechanic that instantly makes it stand out is the use of light against the Fallen. Given that only light sources can make enemies weak enough to finish them off, it totally changes the way you have to play the game. Given the limited resources of both ammunition and battery power as well as Alan Wake’s physical flaws, it makes the gameplay less about shooting shadows in the face and more about choosing the best strategy for surviving the onslaught. Sometimes, it’s even just best to try and hightail it out of an area full of enemies to the nearest streetlight. I love it because it requires thought about the response you choose to make. Ammo conservation is what used to make Resident Evil games tense and the same can be said about Alan Wake. I recommend playing on normal first, because without sounding egotistical, I think I’m good at these types of games and I could only get through two episodes on hard before having to switch the difficulty down.

So, should you play Alan Wake? Yes! For me, I found it had one of the best narratives of last year, combining developed characters with a location with just as much character, if not more. It’s gripping, tense, funny and even genuinely chilling at times. The use of light against dark through the control of Wake’s flashlight as well as various other light sources also makes the gameplay unique enough to stop the game suffering from repetitiveness. Definitely worth a try, especially given how cheap it is right now.

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