Review by no2morro
Disappointing doesn't quite cover it.
Alan Wake is a very strange game to review. It's strange in that the story is actually somewhat interesting and has a lot of symbolism, but simultaneously it has some of the worst game-play mechanics I've experienced.
To be quite honest, I didn't like the story. The story was something out of a David Lynch production. If you are at home with movies like Lost Highway...you might like this. Everything convoluted, who is who and what is what doesn't make itself apparent until, in this case, you just don't care. Let me get to the crux of it so you can understand why.
Game-play - 4
The game-play is out and out horrible. In between battling, you basically move from street lamp to street lamp to trigger checkpoints. When you aren't out in the street shaking your stuff, you are doing mundane chores. For Example, the game says I need "Alan needs a key to open this door. Alan need to find the key" This is a typical survival horror (I copped that in the Resident Evil Series, and Dead Space and a few other series)...the main difference though was the key wasn't in the very next room. Also, series like Dead Space didn't excessively use that to extend game-play.
The biggest problem with this game is that you can feel that the developers are artificially trying to extend the life of the game by doing this, or by having a poltergeist knock down a tree in front of your path prompting "I'm going to have to find another way around." It just gets old, really fast. I would give specific examples, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Suffice it to say, the whole game is stretched like that. E.g. A gate is electrically locked. I have to go deactivate the generator. The big question though is if the gate is located in a factory that hasn't been used in 20 years, why is it even on? The same goes the other way around. A second example is about starting generators to open gates. Why would it be electrically locked if no one is using the factory? Honestly, I don't mind playing through a story if its compelling...but the developer stretch this like an elastic band. I understand why, without the stretching, this would only have been a 2-3 hour game (as opposed to the 8 hours it is), but it doesn't mean this is enjoyable to play for those hours.
There is also the fact that the game telegraphs everything. If there is ammo around, you know straight away that you are going to get into a fight. It's kind of like those chest high walls in Gears of War...if you see them...take cover as there are likely locust around. The same is true here, only the battle mechanics in this are terrible, and there is no ability to take cover.
Having said that, there are big issues with the inventory, namely that there isn't one. If you play games like myself (you horde resources), that is you are the kind of guy that finishes a level full with frag grenades, or potions because the situation just didn't feel like I needed to waste one, then this will irritate you. Sure you can collect flares, and flare guns, but its of no consequence. If Alan loses consciousness, or he starts a new episode, everything you horded gets stripped. This means that there is no point collecting anything as it will just get taken away. That's also very annoying.
Controls - 4
The game has standard Third Person Shooter (TPS) mechanics, albeit without the zoom. I'm not going to get into the fact that Alan can only dash for about 3-5 seconds before he is exhausted and how that can infuriated you. What I will get into is the controls.
I have played a lot of TPS games. I might be the only person who is actually excited about Quantum Theory. That said, this games controls are terrible. You use a flashlight to burn away 'the Takens' darkness shield and then you fire away with your handgun, rifle, or shotgun. Or you could take a shortcut and just fire a flare gun into the enemy. Sounds nice enough, right? Why this is a problem is because of accuracy. Imagine playing gears of war ONLY shooting from the hip. Then imagine being surrounded by six guys with attacks that can take of half your energy. That's the fun that awaits you in Alan Wake. Don't get me wrong. I beat the game, but I don't think I enjoyed a moment of it. It was a chore. Gaming should never be a chore (Final Fantasy 13 is another chore I have to finish (I am on chapter 9 now).
Though the game-play is cheap (you will die...its inevitable. You step round a corner and suddenly you have 3 guys behind you with scythes hacking you down...that's worst than Ninja Gaiden 2 cheap), the game is far from difficult. For the bulk of the game, its a cakewalk. You basically point your flashlight to burn off the darkness, then fire 1-5 shots depending on which of the lumberjack style enemies you have. You can also dodge with RB. If you've played God of War, Devil May Cry, or Ninja Gaiden, your dodging skills will be tight. If you have space you can dodge to your hearts content and cap away...that doesn't save the game-play though. The game is not very balanced.
Story - 7
The story is not altogether bad...its just a stretch to expect a player to sit through it after the terrible mechanics it throws at you. By the time I got to the end, I just didn't care. I actually browsed the net while the cut scenes were on because Alan Wake and his wife are unlikeable people. I find it difficult to play as a protagonist that I feel indifferent about. That said, having read up more on the story after completion, it is interesting, but its poorly conveyed by the writers. Let's just say there is a logical reason why Alan Wake is finding those collectible pages as you go through the game. Does it make the story any more interesting though? I don't think so. As I said in the introduction, the story reminds me a David Lynch movie. It also reminds me a lot of: Secret Window with Johnny Depp, as well as Shutter Island and Lost Highway. They are all good movies, but they are really targeting a select audience with a story like that, especially for a game. It's not for everyone. It's been pointed out to me that people who liked Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain would like this game...but again, those games are for a select audience.
Also in regard to story, I also think many of the plot points were too subtle with conveying key plot points (like the significance of the old lady who bothers you throughout the story). Basically, the idea is good, but I think the execution and game-play are a poor match for it. The fact that the story is unfinished (requiring DLC and Alan Wake 2) going into the game is also a nuisance.
I want to say that the graphics are great. There are times when the game looks a 10...but then you have the semi-pixelated cut CG (I'm playing on a 32", 1080p TV if you are interested), which just destroy the atmosphere. Then again, there way nothing really special to render anyway. The character designs are nothing special. With the exception of an old lady with a Veil, the rotund friend of Alan Wake that reminded me of George Costanza was probably the most interesting character model. Everything was bland about the characters. The scenery on the other had was good, but to praise that would be like praising the billboards in Forza 3 and saying the car models were bad. Honestly though, if I have to look at a character model for 7-10 hours, you would at least expect that the company making the game would design the model so they look semi-interesting. Sure Alan Wake looks like a writer. Sure the lady cop looked like a lady cop, but would it hurt them to spruce up the visuals? I'm not expecting a guy with an Microphone-hairdo with a bird in his hair, but something that shows Alan Wake has a bit of class to him. Maybe that's not how Zane visualized him, but still, they could have done something with this.
Replay-ability - 9
Aside from achievements, there is nothing to play through. The game-play was terrible. You would have to be a masochist to want to sit through another session of it. I highly recommend searching on net to watch game-play videos on this.
Overall - 5
Its really hard to say anything nice about this. I don't know how the mainstream sites could have reviewed this as an 8 while Alpha Protocol got a 6. The controls and game-play mechanics are terrible. The story feels cliche for the bulk of it (though its not), and you just don't really care. Some may like it, but I assure you, this game isn't for everyone. I couldn't even recommend this as a rental or a borrow game. It's that bad! I would read up on the story and save yourself the time of playing through it. If you were thinking about buying it...I would still read up on the story before hard to try and understand what the designers were trying to do. You might appreciate it more if you do, but all in all, its fairly poor execution of a semi-interesting idea mixed in with awful game-play. Avoid it if you can.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Alan Wake (AU, 05/20/10)
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