Back in 2005, I bought an Xbox 360 about a month after it launched. I went back and forth on whether or not I should get it, but there was one game in particular that pushed me over the edge and made me decide that this was something I needed. I of course am referring to Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. Nah just fucking with you, although I did end up owning that game.
Of course I’m actually referring to Alan Wake, which yes indeed, has actually been around since 2005. For a long time most people just assumed it had quietly been canceled, until it resurfaced like a motherfucker at 2009’s e3. Excitement for the game grew once more but deep down we were all wondering if the long wait would be worth it. Why did it take so many years to get this title out the door?
Well after playing through the game that answer is immediately obvious – they were making it really fucking good.
Had I not just played through Super Mario Galaxy 2, I think we would have our new contender for game of the year so far. Yes, Alan Wake is really that good. This is one of those games where I honestly don’t know how anyone could not at least like it. In fact, let’s just assume that anyone who claims they don’t, is just lying so they can be edgy. They’re also probably racist too. And at some point they have covered up a murder, one that was likely committed by them. In short, people who claim to not like Alan Wake can’t be trusted.
Now I know what you’re thinking, it’s pretty high praise to claim that anyone who doesn’t like a game is a racist murderer. Well let me explain why I feel this is a just stance to take.
Alan Wake is one of those rare games where you physically don’t want to stop playing. This isn’t just because the game play is so good (which it is but we’ll get to that), but because you absolutely have to know what’s going to happen next in the story. This easily ranks up there with some of the best story telling I’ve seen in a game, most likely ever.
The main idea behind the story is a little routine. Alan Wake, an author, and his wife both have weird puppet mouths and travel to a small town called Bright Falls. As these things always go, Wake’s wife mysteriously disappears and Alan has to figure out just what the hell is going on. While the story itself is fantastic, it’s the way it unfolds that really makes Alan Wake stand out.
This game really makes the most out of the protagonist being a best-selling author. In addition to his running narration throughout the story, you can also pick up manuscript pages from a book that he doesn’t remember writing. These pages usually foreshadow an upcoming event, or sometimes detail what is going on elsewhere with some of the supporting characters. It’s a really great narrative device that not only adds to the story, but provides incentive to explore the environment and hunt these pages down.
Speaking of the environment, this game has absolutely incredible atmosphere. I mean even if there weren’t pages to find, you would want to explore the world just because it looks so damn good. The majority of the game takes place in a dark forest but don’t worry about the scenery getting old as you’re always likely to run into a logging yard or a construction site, where more often than not, a possessed bulldozer will try to kill you. There are just so many amazing touches here that it’s impossible to name them all. The way that the wind whips through the trees, the look of the fog as it starts to roll in, the way the lightning will cast an enemy’s silouette on a nearby wall causing you to shit yourself, the list really does go on and on.
The graphics and presentation aren’t completely without problems however. As great as the environment and everything within it looks, there is a wee bit of an issue with the character models. Mostly in that they look like god damn puppets. Seriously their mouths flap open and shut as though being operated by somebody’s hand. It’s actually pretty comical, which is not a good thing for a game that relies on a dark, spooky atmosphere. They’ve said they are going to resolve this in the DLC episodes, but for the main game we are sadly forever stuck with these jaw flapping weirdos.
Of course you can have the greatest looking environment in the history of gaming but it still means nothing if the game play falls flat. Alan Wake’s game play does not do this. It walks tall, and as a result also carries around a giant ass piece of cedar.
What surprised me the most is that at its core, Alan Wake is very much a third person shooter. It’s not cover based or anything like that. But much of the game really is spent running around the woods, shooting people. The upside? It is ridiculously fun to do that. The main mechanic is centered on the flashlight. You use it to weaken the enemies, and then you can shoot and kill them. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun too. I was definitely not burnt out on the combat by end of game, which is more than can be said for most of the action games I’ve played recently. Ok mostly just Dead to Rights Retribution.
That brings me to my next point – the game’s length. As far as action adventure titles go, this one is the standard length of about 10-12 hours. In fact that’s a good deal longer than many similar titles. Yet for some reason with this game in particular, people are getting really up in the arms about how “short” it is. Jesus Christ people really? You mean we may not get a sequel because 10-12 hours of pure awesome isn’t enough for you? So by that rational, were the game padded out to 20 or 25 hours, it would immediately be worth it, even if that hurt the game as a result? If there was a three hour side quest in the middle where you fucking go fishing, it would make the purchase more worthwhile? I bought the game, I beat it in about 10 hours, I feel it was completely worth it. You know what, there’s a rant here that needs to be made. Stay tuned folks, stay tuned.
As sort of a side note, I don’t normally advocate buying the special edition versions of video games, but if you were ever going to indulge, this is the game to do it on. The limited edition is easily one of the best I’ve seen. You more than get your 20 bucks worth of extra content. I showed it to people who know nothing about games and even they recognized how fantastic it is. I mean it’s a game, that looks like it’s actually a book! It’s like magic! It is like actual magic!
So was Alan Wake worth the nearly five year wait? I would say so. If they needed that time to make the game what it is, I’m glad they took it. It’s better than the other timeline where it’s 2007 and we’re playing a broken ass, awful, unfinished version of Alan Wake. Thankfully we dodged those dark times and are left with a game that I really can’t recommend enough.