Alan Wake Impressions

Apologies for the long delay here between updates. I’ve started a new gig (to be written a in a future post) and have been kind of fumbling around a bit trying to get my rhythm. I also seem to be trying to do an inordinate amount of “household” things as Spring is here and my apartment is a mess. What better way to waste some of that critical time than by playing a game? :)

Alan Wake LE Boxart

The Limited Edition case...

I’ve been limiting myself to a one-game-per-month kind of digestion cycle. Partially this is a money thing– at $60 a pop I’m trying to save a bit of cash for other personal projects. This month I chose Alan Wake and it’s Limited Edition Variant too. Ooh. Gaze at it’s mighty splendor here:
The LE contains the game, a printed book, a bonus .XEX with themes, trailers and an unlockable dev commentary mode. There’s also a nifty soundtrack that I didn’t find relevant until I started playing the game. Hello context!

You play as (duh) Alan Wake an author who takes a brief vacation with his wife Alice to a fictional place called Bright Falls, WA. Alan is suffering from writers block and hasn’t written a page in a few years. His wife find a specialist in the city who could potentially help Alan, but then weird shit starts happening. Alice is kidnapped and Alan keeps waking up in the dark having to fight some mean nasties with the only tools at his disposal: photons. I’m not kidding: the primary weapons are flashlights, road flares, and other lights. Guns play a big part too, but the light-dark thing is the key game component here. The game is episodic in nature and plays out a bit like a TV show which really works for it.

Alan shooting a flare gun

See? Photons.

Other folks have drawn comparisons to The X-Files or Twin Peaks– personally it feels quirky like those with a healty dose of The Outer Limits thrown in. In fact the in-game meta-media (my term for the media assets you’ll actively engage in the game: radio, TV, posters, other messaging) has a TV show called Night Falls. I’ve actually watched a couple of episodes in game. It’s nifty. :)

Here’s what else you need to know: It’s third-person, smooth, fluid and fun. The story is not exactly a surprise but its still very tense. Audio design is excellent and I really benefited from experiencing it in 5.1. Visual design is somewhat striking but I’m not sure if I enjoy it because I’m from the Pacific Northwest and they seemed to get a fair amount correct. The flora and fauna are very accurate, and the small details are what I like to experience in a game. Something about walking through the forest and noting, really noting that the ferns are the same as the species in your backyard is kind of cool. The woods manages to feel like a tangled place without a path and a led path at the same time. Great cuing. The engine itself specializes in the day/night cycle and things really do look beautiful. Draw distance is quite nice, and I’ve only seen the engine shortcut while drawing fog (super-scaled down res and masive pixelation).

Alan Wake engine showing day/light shift

Engine rendering of times of day.

As you might’ve surmised there are a great deal of real-time lights and you can generate gobo effects with Alan’s flashlight and shadows from other objects in path.

Where I’m yanked out rather quickly are the cutscenes. Wooden character animations, and that awful chuck-tooth mouth open close maneuver that reminds me of marionettes. The voice acting is ok, but we’re down here in zombie character land and it shows. It’s a shame really because its about the only negative thing I can find so far.

I’m currently about 40% through the game and my decision is pretty well made up. Alan Wake is worth your time. For a game that’s been in development for 5 years it shows some attentiveness to vision.