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It's Just a Dream

  • Jun 5, 2010
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There are some games that get by on simple things.  Simple gameplay and fun.  That's Alan Wake.  Others get by almost entirely on their story alone.  That is also Alan Wake.  Yet in many video games getting that expert blend of both can be tough.  I won't try to tell you that Alan Wake doesn't have it's problems, only try to explain that in terms of blending gameplay and story, Alan Wake does it in a way that it's easy to see something special about the game.  As a result, you can expect that this is going to be one of those games many a gamer will pass over just because the package may not feel big enough.  But what you get within it is pretty darn good.

In the world of Alan Wake, you play as the title character.  Alan is a bestselling writer of Thriller and Horror fiction who suffers from a bad case of writers block.  He's been unable to write anything down for two years.  Much of his inspiration seems to have run dry.  He and his wife Alice have gone to Bright Falls.  For one is to work things out in their struggling relationship, but she's also hoping that Alan may be inspired by the place to write another work of fiction.  A change of scenery should be enough.  Upon arriving in Bright Falls this quaint little town seems like a good one.  Alan and Alice have a nice little cabin on the lake, the denizens of Bright Falls are friendly and it just seems like a humble town.  During their first night, however, the lights go out and suddenly Alice ends up missing.  Now Alan not only has a bad case of writers block... but he's also got to save his wife.  Even more than that, he finds himself in a story that he's constantly finding manuscript pages.  The author of this story?  Why Alan Wake, of course... even though he hasn't put anything on paper for two years.  What exactly is going on in Bright Falls?  More than that, what is it about this nightmare that Alan can't seem to escape when the sun goes down? 

Alan Wake may not sound like much, but the story is surprisingly absorbing and interesting.  There's a good cast of characters that are abound and the set up is remarkable.  If story is your cup of tea, Alan Wake is a game worth playing just for it's narrative alone.  For horror fans there are also plenty of references to horror films, literature and the like.  At times it can feel like you're playing something straight out of a Stephen King novel or a H.P. Lovecraft horror story.  It's interesting stuff.

The atmosphere may, in fact, be the best part about it.  The presentation is astonishingly beautiful.  The land of Bright Falls is incredible to lay your eyes on.  More than that, the game has an atmosphere that draws you in all throughout.  The environments are dark and moody when you need them to be.  Even better than that, are the lighting effects.  Alan Wake is easily one of the best looking games out there right now, but it definitely makes the best use of its light and the atmosphere which it has.  In short, Alan Wake isn't just beautiful... it has character.  It's incredibly easy to be drawn into the world which you're playing in.  There are even a couple of scary moments throughout the game.  You might not jump much, but there are definitely a lot of moments that can be a little creepy, especially in moments when the lights suddenly go out.  You know that means danger, but it's always just what that danger might be that become intoxicating.

The atmosphere is helped even more by the sound effects and the haunting soundtrack.  There's always a theme that plays when the bad guys are close, but Alan Wake also has a lot of sound effects that can make you uneasy.  There's nothing that really keeps the presentation down.  The sound effects and the lighting are easily the best of its production values.

If there was anything that made the story feel a little iffy it might be the voice acting.  Some of the voice acting is a little too overdone and too exaggerated.  Sometimes you'll be playing the game and the dialog can come off as a little stilted or, in some cases, a lot of strange pauses.  The dialog itself isn't actually that bad... but the exaggerated way in which the characters deliver it or their exaggerated hand gestures might be enough to take you out of the story for a moment.  This isn't some B-Horror movie.  If Alan Wake didn't have a lot of these exaggerated moments it would be the perfect horror story.  But a lot of these exaggerations and it's (sometimes) pitiful attempts at humor can take you out of the moment, and make it hard to take the story seriously.  That's not to say it doesn't have its heart pounding moments.  There are actually plenty.  And as you explore you'll be able to listen to other people talk, the radios and figure out just what's going through the minds of some of the supporting cast.  It seems to only be face to face conversation that Alan Wake's dialog and voice acting become exaggerated.  It doesn't mean the mystery or the story are bad.  It just means that until you get used to it, you'll sometimes be taken out of some of the story's more urgent moments.

All this talk about the story may make it seem like Alan Wake's gameplay might not be as interesting.  For the most part it isn't.  On the other hand, it's a very well designed game, and very challenging.  It's structured in such a way that despite there being a set pattern the story keeps things interesting and the pacing is good enough that you never get bored with it.  You'll never find yourself strangely overwhelmed by enemies because the game is always willing to take a break from combat to continue the story.  There are also plenty of things to interact with in the environment.  You'll stumble across radios to listen to, TVs you can turn on that reveal more about Alan Wake or the story.  You'll even find manuscripts to the actual story you're playing through that you can read.  So even if you're taking a break from the shooting action, Alan Wake gives you plenty of other things to do. 

The game itself is divided into six episodes.  And each time you complete one episode, the next episodes begins just like a television show.  Reminding you about what happened previously and then giving each episode a title.  Alan Wake isn't really a long game.  It might take you 8-10 hours to finish because there are only six episodes and none of them are really that long.  They can feel a little longer because there's a lot of story and dialog to swallow from time to time (especially if you insist on watching every TV or reading every page of Wake's manuscript), but the game is a relatively short experience that you may be able to finish in a weekend if you're not too busy.  The game is also hampered in this regard by being completely linear.  There's a bit to do off the beaten path, but much of the games secrets are actually on the main path.  There's no branching out and exploring to do.  Even if you do find a manuscript page off the beaten path or something, you'll quickly find yourself backtracking to the main path. 

Yet when you're thrown into combat.  It's easy to put all this stuff to the side because the way combat is done is just so good.  As you play, you'll find yourself fighting these shadowy figures only known as The Taken.  These guys mean business.  You run into these combat situations with a flashlight in hand and usually a gun or two.  Alan Wake makes sure you know that light is your friend.  Without it you've got nothing.  So it makes perfect sense that a flashlight is one of the most important tools in your arsenal.  When faced in combat you have to shine your flashlight on your enemies long enough for them to appear as more than just shadows.  Once you do this you can finally shoot and kill them with one of your weapons.  The flashlight runs on batteries as well.  So you can't just keep shining a light on your enemies (and they do get blind by it).  For the most part you're always running into The Taken, but the game also throws in a good variety of enemies such as birds, some suped up denizens, evil puddles, bear traps and inanimate objects attacking you.

All this can make it seem like Alan Wake doesn't have THAT much.  You'll be fighting the same types of enemies for much of it.  There also aren't very many weapons to play around with.  You've got that trusty flashlight and revolver.  You've also got a rifle.  More than that you've got flares, flash grenades and a flare gun.  The latter two can extinguish enemies instantly.  The problem is that you'll lose your weapons often.  Ammo isn't scarce in Alan Wake but you'll find yourself in the position of having to find a gun often.  Just when you think you'll run out of ammo you usually find more.

There may not be a huge variety of weapons, but as I said, Alan Wake actually does more than simply sending you from one firefight to the next.  It's not variety that Alan Wake has, it's knowing how to use what it's got that makes it so good.  When you're not shooting, you're exploring and getting answers to your questions.  It's not a huge jam-packed game, but it makes sure to never drown you out in any one aspect for so long you become bored.  It does a pretty good job of handling what it gives you.  This is why the game works.  It's incredibly well designed despite several other games out there being so much bigger. 

It may not be a huge game, but everything Alan Wake does is done incredibly well.  The balance between the gameplay, story and giving you these small snippets to learn more about the world you're in make the game a well constructed title.  It doesn't have all the huge chaos of a game like Call of Duty, but it does have a pretty good narrative to keep things going smoothly.  If you're interested in horror/thrillers or mysteries the story of Alan Wake alone just might be amusing enough to keep you going.

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June 12, 2010
Hmm....sounds interesting. I'll be eating bread and water soon if I keep on reading your video game reviews. This does sound like my kind of stuff. Thanks!
More Alan Wake reviews
review by . June 06, 2010
"Stephen King once wrote Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear" This is the quote that begins the journey of Alan Wake through the small mountain town of Bright Falls, and the dark corners of his own imagination.  Anyone who has read my reviews knows it's no secret that I'm a horror junkie and while I was preoccupied anticipating the arrival of Dead Space 2, a little gem …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this video game


Alan Wake is a survival horror video game developed by the Finnish Remedy Entertainment and published by Microsoft Game Studios that was released in Europe on May 14, 2010 and in North America on May 18, 2010 exclusively for Xbox 360. A psychological thriller, the plot follows thriller writer Alan Wake in uncovering the mystery behind the disappearance of his wife while both on vacation in idyllic small-town Bright Falls, and having to deal with blackouts and visions of characters and ideas from his latest novel, which he cannot remember writing, coming to life.


The story plays out in an episodic format, with a television show-style presentation where each episode/chapter brings another piece to the puzzle of the main plot. Remedy has confirmed that Alan Wake is only the first season of a bigger story, opening the door for future sequels.

Light plays a significant role in gameplay. The enemies, called "the Taken" in the game, are sensitive to light, encouraging the player to take advantage of environmental light sources and placing significant emphasis on the flashlight as a primary weapon.

A major element of gameplay is the discovery and collection of manuscript pages, which describe scenes that have yet to occur and act as warning and instructions for proceeding through the episodes. Other collectibles include collection of coffee thermoses, ...

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Number of Players: Single-player
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Console: Xbox 360
Genre: Shooter
Release Date: May 14, 2010
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"It's Just a Dream"
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