11 May 2012

Review: Alan Wake (PC)

It's funny because people keep telling him to wake up.
I often complain about games that were made by people who really just wanted to make movies. Alan Wake is definitely one of these. Well, I guess the intention was more to make a TV-series... They even broke it down into episodes and what not.

As a matter of fact, it fits that description so well, I think I'll review this in three separate parts: As a game, as a series, and as a book.

Alan Wake: The Game

Alan Wake isn't much of a game. It's linear, slow, tedious and boring. The same encounters are repeated over and over ad nauseum and it feels like slogging through endless filler. The controls are lazy and the camera angle is horrible. There are few enemy types and few weapons. What's there is annoying to use. The incessant tiny ammo cashes every five paces are stupid and immersion breaking.

Gameplay-wise, the one potentially interesting thing about it is the novel gameplay mechanic: Your enemies are clad in shadows, you must shine your flashlight on them first to make them vulnerable, only then can you shoot and kill them. It's even kind of neat- until you realize this idea is as old as time: Point (and shoot) your shield-destroying gun at enemies until their shields are down, then shoot to lower their health, sound familiar? Still, credit to them for giving it such a nice new spin.

Alan Wake: The TV-series

As a visual-thing-that-one-watches, AW is not bad. The visuals are pretty nice. The dark woods look beautiful, the locales are interesting, detailed and well made. The characters are irritating but amusing to watch. The "acting" is quite hammy and bad, but again, it manages to be amusing in its incompetence, so it's okay. I also really like how, occasionally, you get TV-screens turning on to show yourself monologuing about the plot and just generally exposition-ing.

One annoying thing are the cheeky "Last on Alan Wake" recap segments. These happen at the beginning of every "episode's" cutscene. I don't know why they thought everyone plays their games one part a time - I don't! I play until whenever and save when I want to stop. Sometimes I save mid-episode. Sometimes I do more than one episode in one go. You know how super annoying it is when you marathon a TV-series and you have to keep skipping the recap bits because you literally watched the previous episode five minutes ago? Well, in Alan Wake, you can't even skip them.

Alan Wake: The Story

At the "low-level", the writing is great: The way the sentences are strung together, the tone, the word choices. It's all quite well executed and enjoyable to hear.

At the higher level, hoo boy. It just makes me grit my teeth in anger when I think about it. The story is full of overused cliches, cliches which are extremely obvious to someone who doesn't read a many horror books like me. But more importantly, it commits the cardinal sin of these stories: The characters are dumb. Why doesn't Alan just talk to the bloody police when he first gets proof of his wife's kidnapping? So what if they might kill her? Maybe if he plays along, they'll kill her anyway. And why is he just so damn... Stupid? Why does he not notice when characters start speaking in a creepy, monotone voice all of a sudden? Why does he not draw attention to the fact? Why does he keep leaving people and his weapons in places where something might happen to them? Why does he never question how his flashlight can recharge its batteries while on? Or how paper can stay planted firmly on the ground in a wind strong enough to shake trees? Why does he keep strutting straight into situations that will be difficult to get out of? The unfortunate fact is that the game would be minutes long if only Alan had an ounce of the sense he purportedly does, and you can never really forget about this because of how much the plot hinges on Alan's tremendous stupidity and ridiculous lack of genre-savviness. I mean, he's a horror writer, trapped in a horror story, that HE'S writing, and clearly aware of it no less. Come ON.

And not just Alan, either. Why does Barry, his supposed close friend, refuse to believe Alan when he clearly has been injured? Supposedly, he knows Alan as very logical and sane - why does he immediately assume he magically developed severe schizophrenia overnight? Why does the FBI begin to fire on an unarmed, innocent man with lethal force out of the blue? Why do they not take action against the fucking shadow zombies?

In the end, Alan Wake is a bad game with pretty visuals and a story good by videogame standards, but awful by book standards. It's a fairly interesting story, but it has no end (he sacrifices himself to save his wife from... drowning... or something; there, saved you a couple of hours) and no point, and the conclusion is unsatisfying and leaves you with a feeling of unwittingly having wasted your time on nonsense. If you like that sort of thing, I recommend finding a playthrough video. The gameplay is too tedious and drawn out; I can only imagine someone playing it in exchange for a decent hourly rate. Be warned: There's escort missions and vehicle sessions, although neither is the worst I've seen.

Score: 2/5