The “other” big finnish video game of 2010 is Remedy’s Alan Wake. The follow-up to 2003 Max Payne 2 took a long time coming – and the delay shows. Both in the occasionally outdated graphics and the rushed storytelling.
Alan Wake wallows in its episodic nature. The story of a writer facing supernaturally hard times is told like a mini series. It takes six episodes, all of which end up in an exquisitely soundtracked coda and begin with a “previously in” introduction. The episodes last about an hour to two hours each, there are plenty of autosave positions to minimize repetition in case of fatalities.
And there will be plenty of fatalities. The protagonist’s struggle against hundredes of “Taken”, locals possessed by darkness are marred by slightly awkward controls, and that inevitably leads to death. The taken need to be exposed to light before they are susceptible to gunfire. Thus the game is dominated by its duo of mechanisms – first wash away the darkness with a precision aimed flashlight, and then remove the enemy with a couple of well-placed bullets. Sadly, that’s pretty much all that there is. Flare guns, floodlights and flashbangs liven up the action a little – but the tricks of the game seen well before the plot runs out.
The plotline follows its own twisted logic. Its origins are in the likes of Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone, but it goes deeper, a lot deeper. With the bonus that it doesn’t explicitly spell out what is going on. So understanding the story requires seeking out additional information in the game. Some of it is available in the form of loose pages from Alan Wake’s upcoming book (that bears a frigtening resemblance to current events), some in television screens scattered around the city of Bright Falls. Television screens that broadcast snippets of “Night Springs” – a horror show that also bears more than a little resemblance to what is going on in the town.
The town of Bright Falls is criminally under-used. Originally the game was much more of a sandbox, and in the published form most of the action occurs in rural areas.
Alan Wake is mostly a very pretty game. Especially the exteriors are breath-takingly well-done. Too bad a lot of the action occurs in tightly packed forests where the powerful graphics engine is not used to the full effect. The age of the game is shown in the cutscenes – facial animation is wooden, and lipsync nowhere near the likes of Mass Effect.
Even though a lot of the game is quite repetitive, there are several beautiful set pieces to play through and enjoy. Bonus points for a scene where getting wasted on moonshine advances the plot. Drunkenness is a seldom used plot device.
Alan Wake begins very effectively. The elements of the story are introduced in a disturbing introduction. But the effects of darkness soon diminish, and the game degrades into rinse&repeat form. The ubiquitous weirdness is present in the backstory, but quickly vanishes from the gameplay.
The ending was a rather severe disappointment. The twin Max Payne games demanded a lot of attention in their final combats, but the final showdown in Alan Wake was a cakewalk compared to them.
The story of Alan Wake is not over yet. The Signal, the first extra episode is already out as downloadable content, with the second to be published in the near future.
Sadly the sales figures have not been as high as expected (that’s what you get going head to head with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Horse, Red Dead Redemption). And the lack of a windows version cuts down on the revenue as well.
Not bad by any means, but not exactly an AAA-game either. But definitely good enough to warrant picking up the upcoming DLC and finding out what really happened.