Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review: Alan Wake PC

Let's just get this out of the way first.  I am a complete coward when it comes to horror games.  I enjoy them for their stories, gameplay and settings but I jump very easily while playing them.  I remember one point in the demo for F.E.A.R where I just sat in the corner of a brightly lit room because I was scared Alma would pop out again and scare the crap out of me.  Despite my initial fears though I eventually get over them and enjoy the games on several levels.  I had the same initial problem with Dead space, specifically the invulnerable necromorph that chases you around the levels, but eventually you get used to these monsters and it becomes more like a game with you strategizing and managing your resources.

Alan wake is full of great enviroment shots like these
Alan wake is something a little different from what i was initially expecting.  Developed by Remedy entertainment the studio that brought Max Payne & Max Payne 2, Alan wake was originally released on the Xbox after a long development time.  The story focuses on the titular Alan wake as he and his wife travel the picturesque mountain town of Bright falls for a vacation.  Alan is a famous writer who has hit a creative block that he cannot seem to shift and hopes the vacation will help him find his muse once more.  But being this is a sleepy mountain town in a horror game we know everything is not as it seems.  Alan and his wife Alice stay at a rented cabin before something dark happens, resulting in Alan losing a week of his life, his wife is missing and also discovering pages from a book he has never written.

Being a survival horror game Alan wake features monsters in the form of the taken, people who were once residents of Bright falls now turned into deadly soldiers of the malevolent force that has abducted Alans wife.  The taken are protected by shields of darkness which make them immune to conventional weapons and the only way for the player to damage them is burn away their shield.  To do this you are given a torch (flashlight if you're american) which when pointed at the taken will burn away their shield, eventually allowing you to kill them.  You can also hold down your aim button to focus the light on a target staggering them and burning away the shield must quicker but at the risk of flattening the battery.  Fortunately you can acquire more ammo in the from of batteries at different points in every level.  This is the main premise of the combat in every level, although there are other enemies, but not in as large a number.  The taken will use melee attacks and close quickly, sometimes throwing objects at Alan, forcing players to keep mobile while they fight or risk being overwhelmed quickly.  Light in any form damages the taken and particularly bright light will kill them outright such as street lamps, car headlights and spotlights.  You can acquire a few more portable means of instantly killing taken in the form of flare guns which act as rocket launchers and flashbang grenades.

When Yogi gets angry he fucks park rangers up
The fighting with light mechanic is quite unique and really forces you to stay mobile and always be aware of your enviroment while you fight.  Its quite a change from the resident evil style shoot slow moving target until it falls down premise, although more variety in enemies would have been welcome.  After a while the taken become less scary and more an annoyance as you traverse the enviroments.  They can also be incredibly cheap at times, with taken spawning literally behind you getting in a few hits before you can even react.  This doesn't happen often but when it does it feels very cheap.

There are a few weapons to collect throughout the levels ranging from your trusty revolver to a shotgun and hunting rifle.  The flashlights you acquire increase in power and effectiveness as you play which is probably the only weapon to increase in power.  There are two varieties of shotgun available, but overall your weapon selection is fairly limited.  I found myself playing a majority of the game using the revolver simply because ammo was plentiful and it could be reloaded pretty quickly.  The other weapons are useful but they also suffer longer reload times and far less ammunition.  I found myself holding back on using these for a boss or large wave of taken which never came.

Flare guns are probably the most powerful weapon in game
For the collector out there Alan wake has got you covered.  There are several items to find in each level ranging from coffee thermos' which are a nod to twin peaks and the huge amount of coffee drunk in the show.  Manuscript pages from Alan's unwritten book give hints to what you will face later or flesh out the backstory.  Radio's will allow you tune into the local late night talk show further adding to the games backstory and current events.  Finally there are television episodes of Night springs a parody of cult classic horror show the twilight zone.  Each level has several thermos flasks, manuscripts and at least one radio and tv show.  Some manuscript pages can only be found on the hardest difficulty setting though so if you want to collect all of the manuscript pages and find out everything that is happening in the game.

Graphically Alan wake is quite nice although on the PC version I played the age of the engine shows in places.  The enviroments are stunningly detailed with lots of minute details spread around buildings, interiors and even the forested outdoors you spend most of the game in.  The entire town feels like a real place a living entity crafted by remedy.  I might seem like I am overstating the level design but really they are all memorable, much like Max payne 3.  Characters are detailed but animate awkwardly sometimes.  Again I think this is the engine showing its age a little here, but its nothing terrible, the game still oozes atmosphere and suspense while also throwing in some great shadow and lighting effects.  The one main benefit of the PC version of Alan wake is the improved resolution and textures along with pretty decent system specs allowing you to play the game with everything on maximum settings.  I never once had a framerate issue and my PC is nothing particularly new.

Alan wake also features several pieces of music from bands to bookend each episode to further establish the idea that the game is like a television mini series.  These tracks all fit well with the theme of each episode and can be listened to again in game from the menu.  Voicework is very high quality with some humourous dialogue delivered with great timing by the actors.  The enviroment has a character of its own with sounds to keep you alert at all times for an ambush from the taken.

As you can see here the light is burning the shadows away
So in the end I would recommend Alan wake to anyone who is a fan of survival horror.  Its well paced, well written and has some memorable gameplay moments and with a spinoff sequel of sorts along with another title on the horizon we can expect to see more Alan wake in the future.  For those who may be on the fence with this one, I would still say buy it.  The game is good and its not actually anywhere near as scary as other horror titles out there.  Playing on easy will ensure you get through the game with very few if any deaths and if you do die the games checkpoint system is very generous.  My only gripes really are the cheap tactics of the AI spawns which sometimes leads to attacks from off screen so you can't dodge them fairly.  Other than that the game is all round very well made and entertaining.

SCORE: 8.2/10 - I would have given it a 8.5 but the cheap AI frustrated me at times with cheap deaths.


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