Hey all! Sorry this is a bit late; I just got back from seeing The Hobbit. GregTheMad nails it.
So last week, I wrote about one of my favorite DS games ever.
This week, I pop in a somewhat overlooked 360 title. One that's weird as hell, and well worth a look-see.
Alan Wake released on the 360 in May of 2010. It was developed by Remedy, who brought us Max Payne and it's sequel. You play as the title character, Alan Wake, who shows up in the small town of Bright Falls, on vacation with his wife, Alice. Alan is a successful writer of crime novels, but he has been suffering from writer's block for two years. They take a vacation to hopefully clear Alan's head.
Wandering around Bright Falls for a few moments, you immediately get the small-town feeling Remedy was shooting for. It's a town where everybody knows each other, and something seems just a bit off. Soon, at night, things go very wrong. Alice is taken by a kind of darkness, and Alan sets out to find her. Naturally, Bright Falls is not what it seems. The locals are possessed by darkness itself, and the ones who aren't seem to know more than they let on.
The primary mechanic in Alan Wake, above all else, is light. Armed with a flashlight, Alan soon discovers that the possessed townsfolk can be weakened by light. What this means for you is, enemies are bulletproof until you destroy the barrier of darkness protecting them. Giant spotlights also serve as checkpoints and places to restore your health.
Townspeople aren't the only ones you have to deal with, either. Birds attack as well, flying into formation and dive-bombing you. Later on, the darkness possesses random objects and hurls them at you too. It keeps you on edge, because you don't know what will attack you next.
Luckily, Alan proves to be capable of protecting himself. You can "focus" your flashlight by holding the left trigger, which slowly erodes the forcefield of your enemies, and drains your batteries as well. You also have a small, but formidable selection of firearms from pistols to shotguns and rifles, and the especially handy flashbang grenades, which are enough to take out groups of weaker enemies outright. Alan also has a useful dodge move which can get you out of a jam.
All in all, the gameplay itself is very servicable, if a little underwhelming. But it's the story and atmosphere that you're here for, and Alan Wake delivers.
The developers really nailed the small mountain town aesthetic here, as you trek through forests, saw mills, and factories, not to mention Bright Falls, which is a shockingly realized place. The level design gives the illusion of free-roaming, and truth be told, there's a lot of room to move around. Venturing off the beaten path typically yields rewards like hidden notebook pages (collectibles that expand your understanding of the title character as well as the world) and TV's, which let you watch episodes of a Twilight Zone-inspired show called Night Springs.
Alan Wake is a much bigger game than it appears to be at first glance, because of all these cool things to find. And you feel like you can go to any place you can see. It's one of the best game worlds I've ever seen.
And the story doesn't disappoint IF you're into a lot of weirdness and interpretation. It's definitely in, as I said in the title, that Twilight Zone/Twin Peaks wheelhouse. You'll be left wondering if what's happening is as you see it, or whether it's even happening at all. Fans of Lost might be interested, too. Without spoiling it, the tale told here is quite a trip. Each chapter of the game plays out like a TV show, complete with ending credits and next time/previously on bits. So it's kind of like playing a TV series.
And it's a good looking TV series, too. The graphics are pretty enough, and move at a consistent frame rate, but the aesthetics on display really help the game shine. The areas in the game feel like real places rather than stoic video game levels. And the sound design is solid, with some great music capping each of Alan Wake's six episodes. Otherwise, sounds like gunshots are nice and loud, and the voice acting is solid.
Alan Wake was eventually released on PC, and it routinely goes on sale on Steam and the like, so you can pick it up for cheap (sometimes really cheap). It's typically bundled with the two chapters of DLC as well as the standalone sequel, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, and it's well worth the $4 I've seen it go for. Check it out if you haven't. If, like me, you're a fan of offbeat TV shows and movies, Alan Wake is totally worth a look.
Thanks for reading! Comments, questions, and future Game of The Week suggestions are more than welcome!
Next week, we look at a James Bond game. NOT the one I bet you're thinking of.