Alan Wake is a well-received game by Remedy, who you’re probably already acquainted with thanks to their inimitable Max Payne games. As such, I don’t expect this next bit to make me very popular: Alan Wake is a horrible, horrible mess of a game. I don’t understand what people see in it.
Even the much-lauded story is meh
The story is praised almost universally, yet all I found was a weakly-written suspense novel that cuts off halfway through. The writing has its moments of greatness, sure, but the promise of those moments is quickly squandered away and buried beneath plenty of hilariously stupid plot developments. For example, Alan will find himself in trouble several times throughout the game because he fell down from somewhere and dropped his flashlight, gun, or both. It’s just lazy how often this happens.
While the story in general doesn’t end up being as predictable as it first appears to be, that’s only because the story ends up being so poorly explained that basically everything is left up to the gamer’s imagination. Having a few lingering mysteries at the end of a game can be nice, offering players something to think about long after finishing, but leaving just about everything up in the air is just poor storytelling.
There’s so much wasted potential
What makes this especially depressing is the squandered potential; at the end of the game there was the possibility of a self-sacrifice ending that would have been consistent with the game’s rules while offering a fulfilling ending that ties everything together, but rather than going with that kind of ending, they just made things even more confusing and then ended the game. It was a Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy-esque turn for the bad story-wise. I wish that I could believe that this had nothing to do with DLC (downloadable content), but that really does seem like the only logical reason for avoiding a more coherent ending.
Combat is the worst I’ve ever seen
The story can be summed up as “wasted potential,” but the combat has it beat in terms of sheer badness; everything about combat in Alan Wake is a joke. Rather than being able to just shoot things like in every other game, you have to shine a flashlight at enemies first in order to make them vulnerable. This would be fine if it weren’t a huge part of combat, but it actually takes so long before enemies are vulnerable that you get to the point where you’re doing more flashlight-pointing than actual fighting.
Alan has no melee skills, or really any physical skills whatsoever. He’s just about the most useless main character I’ve ever seen, so being surrounded by enemies is always a bad situation for him to be in. Sadly for him (and by extension, you), enemies frequently appear from behind you and attack from all directions. Of course, you can’t just shoot them—you have to shine your pathetically weak flashlight at them first.
Naturally, other enemies will attack while you do this, so you’re constantly having to dodge thrown axes and charging enemies while using your flashlight. This would probably be fun if maneuvering in combat was simple. It’s not, though. Alan has an element of momentum reminiscent of a runaway train, and this makes it difficult to move around with any accuracy.
And checkpoint saves!
Even better, the game uses checkpoint saves. That means that getting overwhelmed because Alan is impossible to control sends you back to replay sections of the game. It’s awful, and though checkpoints are occasionally frequent, other times you can be sent back pretty far.
Oh, it gets even worse
You have flashbangs, flares, and flare guns at different points in the game, but these are rare enough to where you can’t ever really rely on them. Most of the game revolves around your flashlight and guns, so it only makes sense that these two elements would be made to be incredibly annoying, right?
Your flashlight has two modes: normal, and a stronger light that drains your battery. Using the normal beam doesn’t really affect enemies much (though it charges your current battery for no logical reason), so using the stronger mode is a necessity. Of course, the game can’t just automatically put a new battery in when you run out. Instead, you have to press Q (on the PC) to put a new one in, which feels really awkward in combat. Guns aren’t much better, requiring you to tap R (again, on the PC) in order to continue putting rounds in when reloading. Does this feel more realistic? I couldn’t tell you, because I was too busy being incredibly annoyed by how tedious and awkward it felt while being rushed by enemies. It almost made normal combat feel like a QTE sequence.
It’s at least scary though, right?
Yeah, no. There are some cheaper “scares” where enemies jump out at you, but as for any actual horror, Alan Wake completely and utterly fails to create the kind of disturbing atmosphere it was clearly aiming for. For example, there’s a breathing sound that you can hear behind you as you wander around in the forest. I think this was meant to be scary and ominous, but instead it just comes across as a kind of gross sound that you can’t really turn off. Evil needs an inhaler or something.
I figured the bosses would at least be scary, but again I was sorely disappointed. You’re always stuck fighting possessed construction equipment or evil flocks of birds (I’m not even joking) with normal annoying baddies occasionally being thrown into the mix. Even the parts that could potentially be scary aren’t because of the “manuscript pages” you find littered around. These literally tell you about things that are about to happen, so there’s never any element of surprise.
What about the characters?
I hated everyone except for Alan’s agent and Sheriff Breaker, neither of whom have any real importance to the story until you’re near the very end. Even Alan himself is thoroughly unlikable, which is something that could have been interesting if the rest of the game were great. With everything as bad as it is, however, this makes going through the story exhausting. Honestly, this review took longer than it should have because I was finding excuses to avoid having to play this game. The characters had a lot to do with this.
The graphics are at least good, right?
Kind of. Many characters look eerily plastic and strange, but when you’re in the forests away from people, things definitely look pretty good. The flashlight looks realistic, trees look pretty good (except for some serious pop-in at times), and buildings look good enough. One huge issue, however: the camera is always on Alan’s shoulder. You can decide whether you prefer it over his right or left, but you can’t center Alan in the middle of the screen no matter what. This feels incredibly awkward, and makes maneuvering him all the more difficult.
So the graphics are okay, but the art design is really awful. I swear, you’re in the same generic-looking forest area for 99% of the game. It gets very same-y after awhile, as though they created one atmosphere and decided to stick with it almost exclusively. Very wearying.
What about the music?
It was appropriately tense, but to be honest, I didn’t like any of it with a single exception. Most of the vocal music was that kind of overwrought, faux-emotional garbage that’s mass-produced these days, and all of the background music was completely forgettable. At the end of the second part of the game, however, Poe’s “Haunted” played and I’ll admit to really liking the vibe of the song. I wish there had been more of that, honestly.
Here’s what you should do: