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Alan Wake works because it feeds our shared fear of the dark. Rather than cheap shocks, this is a creeping insipid horror, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Suspense, foreshadowing and lighting are all expertly used to create an inescapably dark atmosphere.
After five years in the making Alan Wake, Remedy's latest game reaches shelves. I adored Max Payne's pulp noir fiction and have been itching to see how they'd tackle Twin Peaks influenced suspense horror. The result is a game that blends horror and action more proficiently than any title before it, with a sublime melding of story and atmosphere.
Everyone holds some fear of the dark, if not the blackness itself then the unknown that lurks in it. Robbed of our sight, every little creak is amplified in our imagination. As children the mundane movement of a floorboard had us clutching our duvet fearing an imaginary monster, while the same innocuous noise has adults imagining less fanciful, but no more real, dangers.
Alan Wake takes this fear of darkness and injects it into its core. From the outset the eponymous author is tasked with fighting away darkness, not from himself but from his wife, Alice, who suffers from crippling achluophobia. This fear of darkness is the driving force of the opening scenes, and foreshadows perfectly what is to come.
On holiday in Bright Falls, the opening sees Alan needing to start the building's small generator before sunset. It establishes many key elements of what is to come, but in the safety of daylight, even as the sun descends there is a feeling of warmth within the cabins walls. This sense of comfort is soon shattered. An argument ignites between the two, and knowing Alice won't follow him into the dark, Alan storms off.
His short temper is one of a number of flaws in our hero. A few brief seconds later though his other more venerable side is seen as well. Hearing Alice scream from the house he turns and sees every light is extinguished. Panicking, he runs back to the cabin just in time to see his wife dragged into the black lake on which the building sat. Diving in after his wife the scene ends, and his quest to free her from the dark begins.
Like some day glow breadcrumb trail that mark my path as I make my way forward. I fight only as a last resort.
In a matter of minutes this opening encapsulated the tone of the game perfectly. From reminding me of my own fear of the dark, to offering a glimpse at the terrors that lurked further on, I was instantly drawn into the suspense.
Alan Wake's atmosphere and use of lighting had me clutching at my controller from the first. Dancing silhouettes from my flashlight had me constantly on edge, never sure if it was my shadow or one of the Taken.
Attacking only at night, these Taken are distorted incarnations of the town's residents. Encircled by dark inky clouds that rise off them like smoke, these creatures' once human forms are constantly obscured, mirroring the evil of the darkness around them.
Night itself seemed to attack me as I travelled through the world. The Taken amass in the landscape and it becomes increasingly shrouded. Trees reach out and shadows lunge at me. Once the sun fades, the only safety is light.
I'm soon drawn to any light source, knowing it provides respite from the suffocating shadows. Once the sun sets I am constantly moving from street-light to cabin and the sanctuary they offer. As the residents of the town run after me, and poltergeists hurl loose scenery I instinctively drop flares to slow their attacks. Like some day glow breadcrumb trail that mark my path as I make my way forward. I fight only as a last resort.
What was incredible about my fear here is that it is unwarranted. Compared to most horror games Alan is well equipped.
Being presented with a hedge maze to work through was almost too much for me. I know it's contrived, but being forced down the tight corridors with blind turns made me simply freeze, unwilling to move for fear of triggering the release of a new evil upon myself as I edged through the mist of the maze.
What was incredible about my fear here is that it is unwarranted. Compared to most horror games Alan is well equipped, with enough firepower and light to fend of any who try to cross him. Even within the maze the advantage was mine, with the corridors funnelling any Taken who attacked me straight into my attacks. But Alan's aptitude to deal with the situation did nothing to alleviate my tension. As uncertainty and mist continued to swirl around me no amount of reason could stop my heart racing.
For the entirety of the week I played it I was unable to escape the anxious tension the game produced.
Alan Wake is the horror game of a generation. It may not be the scariest, but its haunting use of relatable fears we all harbour leaves an impression more lasting than its peers. Between suspense, foreshadowing and use of lighting it created an experience that locked my attention and for the entirety of the week I was unable to escape.
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: