Review: Alan Wake (PC)

Are you afraid of the dark?

Alan Wake is about a best-selling author who hasn’t written a book for two years. His wife, Alice, disappears while they’re on holiday in a little town called Bright Falls, and Alan must try to find her while experiencing events from the plot in his latest novel, which he cannot remember writing.

As Alan searches, he finds out that there’s a darkness taking over humans, animals and objects in the Bright Falls area. This darkness turns its host bodies and objects into ‘Taken’, vicious enemies blanketed in a layer of impenetrable shadow. Naturally, the Taken are affected by light, and that element is an important part of gameplay in Alan Wake. Kind of like a reverse of The Darkness II.

This third-person shooter has camera angles and controls similar to Silent Hill, though you’re not given the option of changing camera distance. It moves easily, if slightly impaired on the PC version. Alan Wake is a port from the Xbox 360, and the controls feel like they’d be more comfortable on a control pad especially when there are dodgings involved. I got hacked several times in the back before I got the hang of it. Fortunately, like most PC games, you do have the option of remapping the controls.

What really impressed me in Alan Wake was the combat system. The need for light sources to first burn away the Takens’ shadow coats is an interesting addition to an otherwise bland point and shoot combat. Using the flashlight also drains its power, and you’ve got to reload batteries on top of your revolver. You’re also encouraged to make use of environmental light – standing in a streetlamp’s halo regenerates your life.

It’s great that Alan Wake utilises its environment so much, because the game has a beautifully realistic graphics engine that makes playing it a visual feast. I might be biased, though – I always like how grass parts before my character.

The bad thing about Alan Wake looking so good? Nearly everything about it, save its stilted character animation, is too real. And that makes for a frightening experience, especially if you’re afraid of the dark like Alice, Alan’s wife, (and me). The way the Taken appear and how their shadowy darkness smokes gently off them is pretty damn terrifying. The Taken also whisper evilly to you, so if you’re a wuss, I’d recommend playing the game with speakers (and not one of those acoustic-realistic 7.1 headphones).

During those moments where I’m always afraid one will turn up behind me, I try and cheer myself up by remembering how Alan and the other main characters look when they’re talking: like they just had a bad Botox jab on their lips, and couldn’t use them properly anymore.

The character animation is about all that’s bad about Alan Wake. In terms of storyline and pacing, the game plays like an animated movie. It is cut into episodes and comes replete with plot twists, cliffhangers and moments that make your heart jump into your chest. It doesn’t quite pull a Heavy Rain, though. There’s enough action in between to keep it a game instead of a cinematic storybook. Apart from the six main episodes in the game, there are also two DLC episodes, titled The Signal and The Writer.

On a whole, Alan Wake isn’t quite as frightening as its storyline makes it out to be. There are adjustable levels of difficulty, and the Taken aren’t tough to take out at all. In fact, the only stumbling block you might face when playing the game through would be your own fear of the dark.

Graphics 8.0
Gorgeously spine-chilling all-round. Surroundings are lit well to suit the game’s mood. Characters look like they’ve had bad botox jobs, though.
Sound 9.0
Frightening as heck, with evil muttering from the Taken. We wouldn’t recommend playing with headphones on if you’re easily scared.
Gameplay 8.0
Controls with a keyboard and mouse are a bit clunky and don’t allow for sharp turns. Otherwise the game is simple and easy to follow.
Lasting Appeal 7.5
There are higher levels of difficulty to play through, as well as items you can only get on those levels. Worth another try for the brave.
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Alan Wake
 PC is a third-person psychological-thriller shooter developed by Remedy Games (and Nitro Games), published by Microsoft Game Studios and distributed locally by New Era Entertainment. The game is a port of the Xbox 360 version, which was published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360 in 2010. We reviewed the PC version.