Review: Alan Wake (PC)

Alan Wake
Publisher: Remedy Entertainment
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: 02/16/2012

Not having an XBox 360, there are a few exclusives that come out that I miss, like Halo, Gears of War, and of course, Alan Wake. After getting the rights to put the game out on PC from Microsoft, Remedy has gone back to their PC roots with Death Rally, Max Payne and Max Payne 2 with releasing this back on the Windows platform. Not necessarily a straight port from the 360 version, the game includes the 2 DLC chapters released on the 360 with this release. But have they captured something with this again on PC, or is it just a cash grab? I’m happy to say it’s a welcome addition to my collection, but it’s not exactly perfect. Let’s take a look.

The story of Alan Wake is broken down into episodes like a thriller TV show, think The Twilight Zone. There are 6 episodes in the original game and another two ‘extended’ episodes that help to, what I’m guessing, is bridge the gap between season one and what will be season two. Even if you never play season two, there is a sense of closure here, but at the same time making you think about what’s happened and what could happen. The game starts off with Alan Wake describing a recurring nightmare and really setting up the game and the way the game world works as well as the fact the he’s suffering from a severe case of writing drought. He wakes up and he and his wife are taking a vacation in a remote town in the middle of nowhere. We go and get the keys and directions to the cabin under dubious circumstances and head out to the cabin where Alan ends up descending into Hell. Alan’s wife has gone missing and there is a Darkness that is consuming people in the area and turning them into the Taken trying to attack and kill Alan while he hunts for his wife and whatever is causing the problems in the area.

As far as supernatural thrillers go, this is probably one of the better ideas I’ve seen in awhile, even if it is borrowed from some of the better horror stories I’ve read that deal with a horror writer losing himself in his own work and ending up in a world of his own creation. The characters are flushed out pretty well and there is a definite narrative and flow to the game, probably due to the episodic flow of the game itself. There are a lot of neat touches, like a Twilight Zone-esque show that plays on random TVs that relates to what’s going on, the ongoing radio show through the game, and the random spouting of those that have been Taken that drop little hints in between all the random nonsense they come up with.

Visually there is a definite improvement over the 360 version from what I’ve seen of actual gameplay and visuals. Everything has been tweaked to get the most out of what’s available from PCs that are slightly beefier than the 360 hardware and what they’d been planning back when Alan Wake was going to come out in 2010 on PC. My only complaint here is some of the facial expressions. The game itself is beyond cinematic in presentation with vast camera panning moments that leave your jaw hanging, which apparently carries over to the characters as well because they all seem to have this slack-jawed look on them whenever anything is going on that doesn’t involve them talking. It looks a little ridiculous and kind of breaks the mood of the game, but it isn’t anything that makes me want to uninstall it or anything like that. Just something that kept sticking out as I was playing the game. Close your mouth Alan, you’ll swallow a fly.

The game has some fantastic audio to it that really helps with the immersion. When the Darkness rolls in or you hear one of the Taken in the distance, the music itself that is very haunting, and the radio selections of songs not only fit into the game, but are generally excellent songs in their own right. It all blends together fantastically and I highly recommend playing this wearing headphones as it will really suck you in and make it really feel like you’re out in the woods avoiding axe murderers.

Where the game kind of suffers a bit is in the way it controls on the PC. While the keyboard and mouse do everything you tell them to, the base mouse sensitivity is way off the charts and will have you spinning all over the place. I’ve actually had to turn the sensitivity down to almost nothing to make it so I didn’t feel like I was going to lose my lunch swinging a flashlight around. The controls are set up like a basic third or first person shooter, with the option to have aiming assist, but I recommend turning auto-aiming off on the PC version. You can hook up a controller, in which case I do recommend auto-aiming, but with the mouse I found I was getting overrun and wasting loads of ammo and batteries when I didn’t need to. Turning on aiming and not only was I not getting swarmed anymore because my shots were connecting, but I was wasting far less ammo and batteries in my flashlight. You also have the option of dodging, but I’ll be honest, the mechanic feels clunky on the keyboard and mouse and I’d never gotten it to work quite right.

The idea is that the Darkness has invaded people, making them the Taken. When you first see the Taken, they’re covered in shadow, and while you can shoot them with your gun you won’t get through the shadows to hurt them. Hitting them with a higher powered dose of your flashlight blasts away the shadows so you can then lay into them with your pistol or shotgun. The exception to this is the flare gun which acts like a bazooka, knocking out large groups of the Taken whether you’ve hit them with your flashlight or not. You have a health bar that you can hide, giving it a more cinematic feel, but really I know I’m playing a game so I kept the HUD up as it also lets me know which way I need to go. Healing ties into the light and dark theme of the game as well and you’ll need to find streetlights to stand under like safe harbors that heal you and keep the Taken away. There are some puzzles and a small bit of platforming around the game, mainly trying to figure out what to move and where to get it out of your way, nothing too terribly complicated, but it varies up the gameplay a little bit.

As far as replaying the game, there are multiple difficulty settings that do change things up a bit in terms of handing you your face when you screw up. I couldn’t find a way to change the difficulty while you were playing but you have the option on a new save to pick that as well as when you fire up either of the extra add-ons that used to be DLC. There are collectibles scattered about for you to pick up, as well as the novel that Wake hadn’t written yet which is scattered around the levels as individual glowing pages, some of which are only available on the highest difficulty setting, at least according to the listing in game. For those interested, there are also achievements to unlock to your Steam account, which is where my copy is tied. A disc version is available for those who like hard copies. Hell, the story alone is enough for me to want to play through again.

For what you’re getting here with this release of the game, it’s a steal. For less than the price of a used 360 version of the game and the DLC, you get a brand new and graphically enhanced version of the game with the DLC. I admit I’m kind of a bargain hunter when it comes to video games. To put it bluntly, I’m a tightwad and tend to wait on a title unless I really want it. Even if I hadn’t gotten a review copy I’d have picked this up off of Steam the first chance I’d gotten. The play time varies with how fast you blow through it. Most of the episodes ran me about an hour and a half to two hours so you’re looking at twelve to sixteen hours overall play time with this title.

While the survival horror and action game has been done a million times over with Resident Evil and Silent Hill series, Alan Wake brings another flavor to this particular genre. I admit some times it felt very much like some of the other supernatural thrillers I’ve experienced before, particularly a movie starring Johnny Depp where he plays a writer who’s losing his mind as he thinks one of his character’s has come to life and is killing people he knows. While things are familiar, the game sticks with the formula that works when you’re telling a good scary story and adds its own personal touches to liven it a bit and keep you from feeling like you’ve been through all of this before. Movies or games that can scare the crap out of you without resorting to dismembering someone on screen in full gore glory are becoming rarer, and I do have to admit I prefer the ones that get into your head and scare you more on that psychological level. If you’re delivering a scary story and I’m not having nightmares later, then you’re doing it wrong. Wake got this right.

I really got into this game and played it in big chunks, usually that type of play is reserved for MMOs or RPGs for me, not action or horror titles. I think a lot of that has to do with the pacing and way they tell the story within the game. The television format and pacing does a lot to draw you in, and as I’m used to watching large chunks of TV due to my DVR and Netflix, this helped foster that in game. While there are a few things I think the game could use work on, the aiming, dodging and the slack-jawed looks on everyone, one thing it does right is get you invested in what’s happening to the game’s protagonist and keeps you playing to figure out what’s coming next and what happened to his wife.

Realistically, I see this title doing really well on PC. It’s a solid game from a company with a reputation of delivering great titles, and the 360 version wasn’t a slouch in presentation either. It’s priced very reasonably, and if you’re on Steam you’ve got achievements to rub your friend’s faces in it if you choose to do so. The constant nods to other horror writers, the surreal and gorgeous town, and even the nightmare sequences with the Taken chasing after you, really stick with you. The panning shots of the area alone make me want to go visit this place, even if it is fictional. I have to say Alan Wake has beat out my two other titles tied for favorite horror game, Silent Hill 2 and Fatal Frame 2. It’s that excellent.

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Great
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Amazing
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize For those who missed it because of 360 exclusivity, or for those on the 360 who want to see it enhanced a bit, or if you’re just looking for a damned good scare, Alan Wake on the PC is for you. With some mostly solid gameplay and visuals, excellent audio, and a story line that would make Rod Serling proud as well as both DLC’s that came out for the 360, this version of Alan Wake is a solid showing on the PC for a very reasonable price. Remedy did a great job bringing the title over and its great seeing them putting titles out for PC again.

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