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Alan Wake could have been all-important for the Xbox 360. But falling short of expectations, it's a game as waylaid as me, while still provided an old-fashioned thrill.
Alan Wake was in its planning stages around the time I dropped out of gaming. Four years later, it was announced at E3. Five years after that, it was in my Xbox 360.
A long wait only ever raises the stakes, but they're ramped even higher when you compare your work to Twin Peaks. Remedy hadn't been shy about trying to create something that would evoke memories of Dale Cooper's beautifully twisted story. And that was quite the hook.
While I was distracted by the business of growing up, gaming has matured somewhat in my absence. Thought-provoking games like BioShock, Braid, and Flower are now common. Gaming is more than a showcase for blood sports and visual wizardry, but also a medium with an inimitable way of captivating us within narrative.
Nonetheless, I wasn't sure it could rival the enigmatic delivery of TV's finest mystery show. I had grown up enraptured by the quirky cults of Twin Peaks and The X-Files. A dogged copy of the Twin Peaks prequel book, 'My Life, My Tapes', sits on my bedside table. The X-Files box set neatly resides by my TV. I had the standard-issue childhood crush on Gillian Anderson.
I longed to see a game as gloriously obscure as these iconic, classic shows, but as exciting as it sounded I was cynical of Alan Wake. This was a bar was looked way too high.
I had the standard-issue childhood crush on Gillian Anderson.
Alan Wake hooked me in early and I was pleasantly surprised. Discomfited facial animations and inconsistent texturing aside, it was a striking take on the Pacific Midwest. In that first hour the game 'got' Twin Peaks. The diner waitress made small talk with the deputy, and immediately I was back watching Norma and Harry idly flirting across the counter.
I found my first coffee thermos, and thought of how much Special Agent Cooper appreciated a damn good cup of caffeine. Then, as the old lady cautioned me about straying too far into the dark, I saw hints of the peculiar log lady sitting quietly in the corner. It wasn't quite the Double R Diner, but it wasn't too far from it either.
The next few hours were sadly not as inspiring. Wake became entangled within the dark secrecy of the surrounding Bright Falls wood, and as he did his journey shifted towards traditional survival horror.
The suspense grew tight in my chest as the mystery simmered evermore.
As it did, Alan Wake lost its ability to make me feel uneasy. Roaming around the dark woods shooting down one group of baddies after another, I found the atmosphere soon drained. It all became routine - shine the flashlight, shoot the bad guy, put a battery in, shine the light again, and shoot the other bad guy.
I kept pushing through. The Mulder wannabe in me wanted to find out what lay dormant in the murky Bright Falls coffee. The deeper mystery beneath the superficial was tantalisingly dangled throughout my journey and had me hooked.
It's not long before I found myself thrust forward again as I traded the woods for the unhinged town. The suspense grew tight in my chest as the mystery simmered evermore. There was still too much fighting but I was racing through it now. This wasn't like an episode of The X-Files and I didn't have to sit on my hands and patiently wait for the all-revealing climax. I was in control, and I desperately wanted to get to the end.
By the end I had enjoyed it all. Albeit too briefly, it awoke the curious teenager in me again. It's a small thing but to be applauded, so often I find myself waiting for a game to end just so I can move onto the next one. Wake really got under my skin like those shows I used to watch did when I was younger.
Coming away from it, I knew it could have been so much more, possibly even one of this generation's most important games. Maybe that will happen in due course, but this first outing is not nearly on par with Twin Peaks. It was worth the wait, but in the waiting I had dreamed this into a much better game.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: