After years of waiting, Alan Wake is here. And like all other such games in past, the power of Patriotism compelled me to pick it up and rejoice and play this magnificent, obviously flawless game. (Well, yeah, it’s always good to support Finnish game development, but I still have to say this: Nothing interesting happens fast in this country.)
So, is it any good? Yes. The atmosphere of the game is set almost perfectly. I also thought the release was perfectly timed: when I started playing the game, the weather outside was almost a perfect match for the mood in the game. This is the first time I’ve ever played a game that included smell. (And no, I got my copy of Leather Goddesses of Phobos from the Masterpieces of Infocom collection which didn't include the scratch 'n' sniff extras. Luckily.)
Alan Wake is yet another writer who is about to get devoured by dark creatures beyond human understanding, and he’s going to keep pounding the keyboard through the whole ordeal, fully in accordance with the traditions of H.P. Lovecraft. Actually, that’s not exactly how the game goes, but you can’t deny that it’s the intention. Plot-wise, Alan Wake seems to continue the same trend that Max Payne games started. Max Payne obviously started with the premise that attempts to create obvious originality isn’t the path to success: In the ordinary everyday creative formula, making an enjoyable work of art is all about creating an interesting mixture of conventions and clichés. The fun comes from totally seeing what will happen, but not quite knowing exactly how the situation develops and how it all ends. Just like Max Payne, Alan Wake has, at the same time, an interesting an original plot, and a plot that heavily relies on conventions of the genre. Like Max Payne, Alan Wake spices the grim and gruesome cliché pot with some well-needed humour.
You just don’t mind the fact that some of the things you encounter seem familiar when you’ve got evil monsters to mash. Game mechanics work well. When the night falls in the town of Bright Falls, the Taken, hollow shells of men touched by evil creatures beyond human understanding (...yadda, yadda, yadda...) come out of the shadows. Alan kills them with ye olde boomstick or other suitable weaponry… and with the assistance of the thing that the evil creatures beyond human understanding (...yadda, yadda, yadda...) really hate
- light. Light from flashlight, car headlights, or flares makes the
Taken vulnerable; bright light from flashbang grenades, flare guns and
floodlights can destroy them outright. Places with light act as safe
havens - and checkpoints. The use of lighting is beautiful, and it works
particularly well in this game; bright lights harm the enemies, but
also make it more difficult to see things that lurk in the dark. Flares
annoy the enemies, but you have to be prepared for the fact that usually
you can’t see a damn thing either in the bright light. In short, light
works just like you’d expect it to work.
I only have one big complaint about this game, and it’s got more to do with the recent trends in general. The game was six years in the making, and I completed it in less than a week. I’m all for shorter games, but there is such thing as too short. Earlier this year, I picked up Assassin’s Creed II and Mass Effect 2, and I hoped those titles would keep me busy for the rest of the spring. Nope! Assassin’s Creed II had tons to play, but I’ve already got 1000 gamerscore out of it. Mass Effect 2? The number in the end stands for the number of weeks. Longer games, please.
There were some smaller problems in the game. People keep complaining about the screwed-up lip synch in cut scenes, but the makers only completely dropped the ball in a few scenes - not Earth-shattering, yes, but definitely noticeble, and I can understand why people are rightfully annoyed. The levels are interesting, but perhaps there’s a little bit too little of variety. If you like a widely varied asskicking arsenal to choose weapons from and a gigantic varied bunch of different monsters to take out, this isn’t your game - I didn’t mind it much, but I couldn’t help but to notice the fact. First encounters with the Taken could be worth a small clap, but after that, it doesn’t seem too surprising any more. This is also the first game I’ve ever seen that made me notice how ridiculous the physics engines are: it feels as if the physics had been tacked on because Havok marketing department paid for it, and it adds very little to the actual gameplay. You can push crates and chairs over in this game. Exhilarating.
Also, the game was originally designed as a free-roaming sandbox game and it’s now divided into episodes (and yes, they’re really “episodes” in TV sense, complete with recaps in the beginning). I think that the use of cars in this game still reflects that, because the cars aren’t used for anything particularly interesting. There’s cars lying around, and you can grab them and drive to various places, but they’re just that, random cars lying around. The cars don’t even handle too well with the default controls; fortunately, the alternate control scheme at least feels sane. (We’ve played this Xbox thing. We know how to drive a Warthog.) Cars feel like a somewhat underutilised aspect of the game.
Overall, it’s not the Jesus-game we were expecting, but it’s a generally competently made game that was a lot of fun… while it lasted.