Friday, May 14, 2010
The plot thickens with 'Alan Wake'
Developed by Remedy Entertainment Ltd.
Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Available: May 18th
Platforms: Xbox 360
Name the movie this famous quote came from:
"Carol Anne - listen to me. Do NOT go into the light. Stop where you are. Turn away from it. Don't even look at it."
Under normal circumstances, if I see the light, I'd avoid it like bubonic. However, in the psychological thriller, 'Alan Wake,' just like Jedi know, you need to embrace the light to defeat a dark, evil foe. May the Force by with you, padawan.
Developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360, 'Alan Wake' drops players into the shoes of best-selling writer who is experiencing some serious writer's block. He decides to take some time off and spend with his wife, Alice, in the Pacific Northwest.
That's when everything in his world turns upside down. Now, the famous author's wife is missing, he wakes up at the scene of an accident with his car hanging off of a cliff and shadowy beings trying to end him. No, these aren't your run-of-the-mill homeless types. No, these beings are smart, relentless and attack in force. They hide in the darkness, waiting for the chance to slow your character from learning the truth about his wife's disappearance and other events that unfold during the game.
'Alan Wake' plays a lot like an Alfred Hitchcock television miniseries - after finishing a level, the scene fades and some awesome, I mean awesome soundtrack music plays. You have the option of skipping it but trust me, it's some of the best music I've listened to in a game.
The game focuses on Wake tracking down his wife and piecing together pages of a manuscript he finds throughout the game (and he doesn't remember writing). On top of that, he has to fight his way through a mountainous sandbox-style environment, battling the Dark Presence, 'The Taken,' shadowy beings who are used by the Dark Presence to stop Wake dead in his tracks and pesky ravens, reminiscent of the Hitchcock thriller, 'The Birds.'
When you are attacked, you have a few options. You are equipped with a flashlight and can find a flare gun, shotgun and a revolver. You can also find batteries, flares, flashbang grenades and ammo throughout the game. Be forewarned - it's not a shooter and it's best to shoot a few, but run if you have several enemies converging on you. You have finite ammo and can't blast away like you are Rambo. That said, you can duck and dodge like a prizefighter to get away from enemies. And remember - the light is your friend. When you see a light post, run to it as fast as possible. The Taken hate light and will avoid it (unless they get too close and get disintegrated by it. For you, however, it is how you get your health back quickly. Without the light, you'll get better, but it takes a while. And unlike 'Left4Dead' series, you can't pop pills or take health. It has to come back on its own.
After the episode ends and the next one starts (there are six episodes total), there's a brief recap on what's happening to the characters. As stated, it will remind you of an old Alfred Hitchcock flick, especially with all of the foreshadowing. When 'The Taken' or the birds converge on you, everything zooms out and slows. It's a very cool effect - and gives you mere moments to react. Before you are attacked, though, you'll notice a few birds that fly past you. When you see that, get ready for the Taken to bring the pain.
The graphics are very polished - though the pop-in from the cutscenes, which actually tell the story while an area is loading, can be annoying. The televisions look cheesy, but the broadcast are real actors and look good. The first time you avoid a Taken's swipe with a quick move, you'll grin in sheer delight.
The music is awesome. I am not sure if there's a soundtrack available, but the tunes rock. The forest is alive too - the mad chirping from attacking birds, the garbled speech of the Taken is amazing.
Controls for 'Wake' are ok. There are a few hiccups, especially when you battle several foes in the middle of the forest. Sometimes, the camera will hang up behind a tree or two and you'll see your health go down quickly. It's presented in third-person, so it can be frustrating. Thankfully, it doesn't happen often.
The action starts slow but rarely lets up. You will feel like you are in the middle of a horror film. I even jumped when one of the Taken walked out of a building as I entered it. No joke, it made my heart skip a beat.
The Mogadishu Mile dash across the dam is the stuff of legends.
The game will keep you engaged, and you'll get halfway through it and probably want to replay it to get all of the clues. Even the radios and TVs offer a deeper understanding of what's going on in the game. However, what makes this game a keeper are, by far, the plot twists. You'll think you have it figured out, and the writers at Remedy will throw you a curveball. Though it is linear most times - you have many ways to go down a path, but all of them lead to the next objective - it is still a well-planned, scripted ride that has been marinating for years in development and came out well done.
Now, the negatives. Aside from the trippy camera angles, you will be bombarded with advertisements for Ford/Lincoln/Mercury, Verizon (can you SEE ME NOW?) Thermos, Energizer and even Microsoft's SYNC AND ... yes, an Xbox 360! In the mental retreat, in one of the patient's rooms, there's an Xbox 360 with a copy of the game 'Night Springs.'
Makes me wonder if MS thinks Xbox 360 owners should be in a mental ward. Hmmm ...
The verdict: 3.25 (out of 4) This game wasn't even on my radar when I got an early review copy. I played it for a few hours and was like 'whoa, this is deep.' The story is awesome - the gameplay is fun and the enemy AI is smart and relentess. The killer soundtrack (no pun intended) is one of the best I've ever heard in a video game (Mass Effect and Super Mario Brothers, as well as Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Halo best it, though). The ads in the game can be annoying but help you in your quest. And the suspense is included free of charge.