We discuss how Alan Wake evokes a sense of place and then loses us in it as we career to an never ending stream of distant lights. We end up seeing it as one of a very few grownup games that aren't embarrassing to be caught playing.
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Videogame Podcast Guests
Andy Robertson appears in this podcast. "Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."
Alex Beech appears in this podcast. "Games connect us to exhilaration in various ways. I love mine to scare me. Although the shock, horror and gore are all pretty unnerving, nothing comes close to the sweaty palms of playing games that take you to ridiculously high places - InFamous, Mirror's Edge and Uncharted to name a few."
Mark Clapham appears in this podcast. "I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."
Before the tape started rolling, here are our scribbled notes.
Not the sort of story I would usually watch, being something of a horror light weight, but being a game I felt more comfortable with the experience than a film. Safer maybe.
The clincher for me was the length. It was long enough to enjoy but not too long to get through in a few sittings. This more drawn out experience, compared to a film, gave me the space to come to terms with the horror nature of the game. Rather than feeling beholden to what I was watching, I had the space to appreciate how it was working itís horror magic.
I really connected with the way the game was split into episodes that each ended with a song. This was the strongest sense of progression Iíve had in a game. I wanted to play on to experience those end of episode moments. The problem was that these episodes were just too long, and a little unpredictable so my sessions often ended up straddling a couple and undoing some of the pacing.
Although the story was at times hammy and a little disjointed it never lost its sense of internal consistency. The foreshadowing by the manuscript pages worked well for me throughout and I enjoyed the whole conceit.
I gushed about Alan Wake in my review but I have a couple of big complaints. The HUD was distracting (far to bright and always on) and the thermos flask of coffee ruined the tension by distracting from task of getting to safety and asking me to search for pointless trinkets.
I confess it has been some time since I last played Alan Wake but its effects remain with me. Itís in many ways far from the conventional Ďsurvival horrorí game. Unless the difficulty is cranked all the way to hard there is little of the typical inventory management, or scarcity of resources that usually hallmark the genre.
What really stayed with me however was the story and the darkness. I know some would argue that the story was a poor blend of media, book and game, but I thought how it was integrated worked wonderfully -- allowing for a brilliant pastiche on horror fiction.
Indeed the script itself foreshadows its own cliches with all of its talk of Steven King at the start. I understand the manuscript pages that revel upcoming events (more heavy handed foreshadowing) may not be to everyone's taste, and could easily ruin tension, but for me (given the nature of the Ďactioní horror/panic over tension) knowing a hard area was coming without knowing exactly when remained effective and unnerving.
I liked the idea that creative people ruled the world of Alan Wake, with their medium being how they shaped it. It plays well in to the narrative, especially in the later stages and the second piece of DLC which truly capitalise on Alanís affect on the world through his writing.
Darkness was effective through out Alan Wake, more so than in any other game I can think of (maybe bar Amnesia). The safety of being in light played well against distant dangers. There was little scarier than approaching light while being chased as the obscured enemies grew ever more shadowy.
Alan Wake has an absolutely brilliant sense of place. The feeling of the American wilderness is creates is hugely compelling. This is accentuated by the stunning vistas that enable you to look across the landscape to the foreboding Mirror Peak.
But it's not just nice to look at, it creates a beautifully lonely setting. Being lost in the dark, with the night radio playing in forest shacks is an experience to remember for many years.
This has been said, but there are a lot of very valid criticisms. Not just the repetitive nature and enemies of the gameplay but also the pretentious story make the game just too rough round the edges for some people.
And besides, what does the Dark Presence want with a hack horror writer anyway? Couldn't it have gone for a better writer?
Other Reviews and News
Here's what else we have written about this:
Alan Wake is a survival horror adventure on the Xbox 360. You control Wake, an ill-fated writer, as he journeys into the collapsing nether-world of his imagination. If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, hold judgement a moment as I felt just the same before playing... read now
In today's instalment Bob and Fred our scripted duo have tip toeing through Alan Wake and discovered their own magical type writer... listen now
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Alan Wake's American Nightmare XBLA 360 takes the self-absorbed author out of the woods and into the desert in an action-oriented mini-sequel... read now
Alan Wake's American Nightmare 360 sees a return to the creepy thrills of small-town horror, with a new adventure in a standalone downloadable title on XBLA... read now
Alan Wake 2, although a certainty, remains the subject of speculation. As we get closer to another generation of hardware, the idea of it being developed for the next Xbox is one that gains credibility... read now
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Game People writes the Game People column.
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