Along with many other people, we were originally very impressed by Remedy’s Alan Wake, the third person psychological action thriller which was released on the Xbox 360 in 2010. Before disappearing into development limbo in 2005 the game had actually been planned for PC, with the shift to a console happening over fears about how rampant piracy was. Now things have come full circle with Remedy finally releasing the game on the format it began life on.
For those unfamiliar with the game – you take up the role of struggling writer Alan Wake. Suffering from writer’s block, he and his wife visit an out of the way town called Bright Falls to get away from it all. On the way there Alan has a vivid dream in which he is attacked by characters shrouded in darkness which can only be penetrated by light before regular bullets can wound them. This serves as the game’s tutorial.
After only one night in Bright Falls, Alan sees his wife dragged into a lake before waking up behind the seat of a crashed car. He stumbles into the woods only to be attacked by twisted humans called Taken. What follows is Alan’s battle against what he calls the Dark Presence, while also trying to find out whether everything he’s experiencing is real or a mental breakdown brought on by his wife drowning.
In our original review we praised the pacing, plot, and in particular the manner the game treats a horror experience which doesn’t rely solely on cheap scares. It is to the game’s credit that nearly two years later – and despite knowing exactly what is going to happen on the larger scale – we loved our time with it and still found ourselves impressed by the tension the game creates through subtle, yet powerful concepts of good psychological horror storytelling.
It is not a concept of horror that will appeal to everyone however. It falls somewhere between a Stephen King novel (where the denial of explanation is part of what helps keep the story going) and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which implied a lot more violence than was actually seen) with a sprinkling of Twin Peaks weirdness. If the horror you prefer is more like Dead Space or something equally as gore-centric it’s possible to feel let down here. Alan Wake is a game about being alone in intimidating circumstances without the means to adequately protect yourself against a sinister entity which will not stop chasing you.
Gameplay wise Alan Wake transfers over to mouse and keyboard without any problems. Controlling Alan, aiming his flash light or his gun, and changing between flares or flashbangs flows easily.
The game rewards exploration on a small scale with boxes containing more items to help you and some collectables, but always encourages you to remember that sometimes running to the next safe haven (a light) is the better option than trying to fight the group of Taken coming at you.
Graphically the game looks a little crisper than on the console at maximum settings and overall has a look that holds up well enough by today’s standards, even on lower settings. Shadows have also been refined and upgraded which is a very obvious visual improvement between the two versions. The game is also 3D compatible for those with particularly fancy systems and covers both AMD Eyefinity and NVIDIAVISION2.
We originally nit-picked the need for the game to present itself in a series of episodes since it detracted from the quality of the storytelling, and they still didn’t sit well with us this time around. It felt unnecessary then and it does now. As with the original release players may also get frustrated that Alan runs out of breath quicker than a thirty-a-day smoker when you sprint for just a few seconds (even if this is done purposely so you’re never one step ahead of enemies for too long).
Voice acting is to a very high standard for the most part and the music is even better. As with the Max Payne games Remedy mainly focuses on Poets of the Falls whose music features both as themselves and also under the guise of Old Gods of Asgard.
Along with the original game (which itself is a very satisfying length at around 10-12 hours), PC gamers also get The Signal and The Writer DLC episodes for free. These two episodes of 2-3 hours of content are slightly more challenging and pick up right from where the main game leaves off before carrying players through to where things begin in the recently released Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
For those who missed it first time around and are fans of horror games there is now no excuse for not playing Alan Wake. On paper a game about playing as a middle-aged washed up writer pointing flashlights at enemies might sound bizarre or even boring, but it’s one of those rare gems that you can tell was produced by people who cared about creating a quality gaming experience.