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Alan Wake The Signal 360 Review

06/09/2010 Thinking Story Gamer Review
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Alan Wake The Signal 360

Alan Wake The Signal




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Further reading, films and books that create similar stories:

Alan Wake: The Signal 360 doesn't radically depart from the parent game, but is DLC that provides enough imaginative and playful twists to while away an evening completing this short story.

The Signal picks up right from the end of Alan Wake, to an extent where it's impossible for me to discuss the game without spoiling that ending. So if you don't want to know how the main game ends, don't read this review.

Got that? On we go.

The end of Alan Wake saw our hack author hero trapped within the Dark Place, a mysterious netherworld of the imagination, having bartered his own freedom to the Dark Presence to save his wife. The Signal takes place entirely within the Dark Place, and sees Alan fighting to make contact with fellow author and prisoner Thomas Zane.

To get to Zane, Wake has to follow the Signal, but in the unreal world of the Dark Place getting anywhere is far from straightforward. Alan is also plagued by the Taken, the light-fearing agents of the Dark Presence, who attack in even greater numbers than before in frenetic action set-pieces.

This being a downloadable bolt-on rather than an entirely new game, the Dark Place isn't that imaginative a dream world: instead of a dream landscape of sphinxes made of cheese and zebra skyscrapers, Alan finds himself in a twisted version of the main game's Bright Falls, this time with shifting geography and chasms in the ground that make it seem even more like Silent Hill.

Pretty soon Wake gets out of town, but even then most of the environments are built from existing game assets: woodland, agricultural buildings, industrial areas are all here again, just with different layouts.

I also enjoyed The Signal's imaginative reminders that Alan is essentially trapped in his own mind.

The Signal's main twist is actually a development of an idea that briefly appeared in the main game's later levels: that in the Dark Place, words have power, and can become real. In practice, this means words floating in the air can be activated with Alan's torch beam, bringing them into reality with a clatter of typewriter keys.

At worst, this is just an extra bit of faff in terms of acquiring ammo, but there are also some neat environmental traps: in some of the more hectic Taken battles, words like 'boom' and 'blast' can be hurriedly lit into life, with explosive results.

These battles are fun and chaotic, and I found them relatively playful compared to the gloomier conflicts of the main game. They're also quite hard, and I took a good few tries to get through many of them.

I also enjoyed The Signal's imaginative reminders that Alan is essentially trapped in his own mind.

A ghostly version of Alan's friend and agent, Barry, appears to help Alan, but being a projection of Alan's own mind his knowledge is limited to things that Alan knows already.

At various points, Alan can also activate memories, and these play out in ghostly form, but sometimes with real effects that allow further progress: a memory of a door being opened results in the door opening, for instance.

In terms of the ongoing story, The Signal doesn't really advance Alan's predicament very far, but does throw out some clues.

In terms of the ongoing story, The Signal doesn't really advance Alan's predicament very far, but does throw out some clues.

Are the Missing posters littering the town an indication that Alan is being searched for in the real world? Are the cardboard standees for various game characters, promoting books from all of them, just an indication of Alan's insecurity or a reflection of how Barry has replaced him with a string of other writers?

These questions may (or may not) be answered in the next DLC installment. For now, it's hard to tell which of the background details in The Signal are relevant to the main story and which are just in-jokes and easter eggs.

While it doesn't advance the main story very far, The Signal has enough notable set-pieces and twists on the original game to be worth a look. I enjoyed it a lot, and it was a pleasure to revisit Alan Wake's atmospheric gloom and heart-stopping battles one more time.

Written by Mark Clapham

You can support Mark by buying Alan Wake The Signal

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Mark Clapham writes the Story Gamer column.

"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."

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