The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Alan Wake

Alan Wake was one of the titles I had purchased three months ago during the Steam Summer Sale. A psychological horror video game developed by Remedy Entertainment and released for PC in February 2012, the story follows bestselling thriller novelist Alan Wake as he tries to uncover the mystery behind his wife’s disappearance during a vacation in the small fictional town of Bright Falls, Washington, all while experiencing events from the plot in his latest novel, which he cannot remember writing, coming to life. It seems prima facie to be a game that seems well outside the scope of my interests: after all, I have spent much of the summer writing about and playing FPS. However, I had been looking for a psychological horror game to try out since May, when I watched TheRadBrad’s Deadly Premonition series on YouTube during the early days of research. One of my friends remarked that Deadly Premonition felt like the sort of game that one would play during the summer, and after watching several episodes, I found much enjoyment in watching Special Agent Francis York Morgan going about trying to solve a murder mystery in the town of Greenvale. Deadly Premonition is unavaliable for PC, but I had heard it was similar to Alan Wake: both games are inspired by the TV Series Twin Peaks and have many similarities. Thus, I resolved to give Alan Wake a shot should the opportunity ever present itself.

  • Alan Wake was originally a game for Xbox 360 and was released for PC tow years later. The amount of improvements to the graphics are substantial, giving Bright Falls a very realistic feel to it.

  • All the characters featured in Alan Wake are based on real life models: Ilkka Villi and Jonna Järvenpää served as the models for Alan and Alice Wake, respectively.

  • Get a load of that depth-of-field. Part of the fun in Alan Wake is the thrill of running through a dark forest at night with a flashlight and revolver. The Taken present an interesting gameplay mechanic, although the game tends to telegraph their arrival with cutscenes, taking away from the surprise element.

  • Glowing yellow paint give the players clues as to where to go next, or where secret caches of ammunition, flares and batteries are. Alan Wake is highly linear in design, but nonetheless is built to feel like a more open game.

  • A flashback to Wake’s past allows us to (briefly) explore a New York style apartment. The objectives set under more peaceable conditions are typically mundane, usually requiring the player to meet with someone or go somewhere nearby.

  • A sufficiently well-made game should immerse players in the game world. However, nothing beats the real experience, and as such, a Saturday spent in a real mountain town is still more enjoyable than experiencing the same through a screen, even though said screen is outputting the game at 1920 by 1080.

  • That bear’s had a bad day. If I haven’t said so earlier, my favourite “Let’s Play” channel on YouTube is TheRadBrad. I first saw his Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 videos, and he has a talent for making even the more “mediocre” games entertaining through his commentary.

  • Flares are incredibly useful for creating a temporary haven from the darkness: any Taken within the radius have their  darkness depleted, and nearby Taken will get out of melee range to avoid flares, giving players a chance to gain some breathing room.

  • Later on in the game, birds will dive-bomb the player. Guides recommend using the flares to take them out; with its ranged fire, flares aren’t a bad option, although I prefer saving my flare gun rounds for boss fights.

  • All Taken pursuing Wake disappear the moment he reaches a checkpoint.

That opportunity turned out to be the Steam Summer Sale, where I acquired the entire franchise for 3.99 USD (it’s normally 39.99 for both Alan Wake and Alan Wake: American Nightmare). My first impression was that the game was beautiful in terms of design. After the tutorial, I was whisked onto a boat that was making its way towards the dock in Bright Falls. The lighting and environment meant that the immediate surroundings felt as a peaceful mountain town should. Wake’s story is immersive and compelled me to keep moving forward to see what would happen to him: as I progressed further into the story, I wished to know what was causing these mysterious events. This was aided by the presence of manuscript pages scattered throughout the maps; foreshadowing what was to come next, when coupled with Wake’s inner monologues and comments, they add an additional sense of depth into the game. The atmosphere in Alan Wake is solid: the developers have clearly made certain that players feel the same sense of urgency and uncertainty in the darkness, while experiencing a short calm while standing in lit places. I found myself feeling a certain amount of calm upon hearing the “Checkpoint reached” sound every time I reached a light. Immersion is the most crucial factor about a game for me, and Alan Wake is successful in doing so through its use of light and dark motifs in conjunction with a story about a bestselling novelist and his predicament shortly arriving in Bright Falls.

  • There are sections of the game where the player has no access to even the revolver, making it imperative to either find one, or else make their way to the safety in the light.

  • Much of the game is set during darkness, and even during the day time, the clock changes quickly so one does not have very much time to enjoy daylight. However, the scenery is beautiful, and so, I found myself looking at the scenery during the day cycles. There are random armchairs scattered around the game.

  • This is no mine: it’s a tomb. I think messing around too long in here trying to find the exit cost me the achievement of getting to the Mirror Peak lookout in under thirty minutes.

  • Different types of flashlights become available later on in the game, giving the player the capacity to boost their flashlight for longer. The flashlights have unlimited power in normal mode, and boosting drains their power. While the batteries slowly recharge, players should collect batteries and refill their power during combat to avoid getting overwhelmed.

  • There are several sections of the game where players have access to a vehicle. Their headlamps can destroy Taken when boosted, although it is also possible to remove their darkness and ram them. During the fight in the rail yard by the coal mine, I was able to make use of a park ranger’s jeep to fight off an entire army of Taken, saving me a great deal of ammunition.

  • I’ve seen this before in Left 4 Dead 2, but that doesn’t stop fighting off an onslaught of enemies to tock music awesome. With lights, fireworks, a vast supply of flash bang grenades, flares and Barry’s encouragement, this part of the game was most enjoyable.

  • I love bookstores in general, but the ones in small towns have a very cosy feel to them. Don’t get me wrong: I love hanging out in bookstores like Chapters, but the small ones have a nostalgic, old-time feel to them: this part of the game reminds me of the short vacation I took in Cranbrook back during 2012.

  • There’s a hydroelectric power station in Canmore on a hiking trail on the western side of the river, although it is nowhere near the size of this one.

  • The revolver is the weakest weapon in the game but ammunition is the most common for it. There is a standard double-barrel shotgun and a Mossberg 500-series shotgun: the former has more firepower but only holds two rounds, while the latter has less firepower but has a larger capacity. The hunting rifle, holding five rounds, is the single most powerful firearm available in the game.

  • I found Barry’s use of Christmas lights to be highly entertaining: near the end of the game, Barry and Sheriff Breaker will fight through hordes of Taken to reach “The Well-Lit Room”. I won’t disclose any more on the plot, so the screenshots will end here.

From a gameplay perspective, Alan Wake handles a little more stiffly compared to most third person games. This could be expected, since in most games, I’m playing as a supersoldier or high-fantasy adventurer. The use of camera angles is at times restrictive, forcing control from the player to indicate a large number of enemies incoming. Aside from breaking the immersion, this takes away from the horror aspect, since I now know I’m in for a fight. Stiff movement and limitations with the camera aren’t enough to detract from this game: aside from having a solid story, the combat experience is decidedly unique. The enemies, the “Taken”, are shadows of humans, animals and objects controlled by sinister forces. Wreathed in a layer of dark energy, they cannot be harmed until exposure to light blows away this shield. Players use the flashlight beam to direct where they are shooting. The range of firearms in Alan Wake is limited to a revolver, shotguns and hunting rifles, although light-based weapons like flares and flash-bang grenades are also accessible. This combat system is refreshing to use, forcing players to prioritise their targets to avoid being meleed to death. The notion of using light as a weapon is something absent from other horror games, but is used in its fully glory here and marks a welcome change from all the shooters I’ve played so far. For its compelling story, chilling atmosphere and entertaining combat system, Alan Wake is indeed a summer game, ideal for those nights where one might wish to be part of a horror story, rather than merely taking one in.

2 responses to “Alan Wake

  1. medievalotaku October 22, 2013 at 09:23

    That sounds like a very impressive horror game. It seems similar to Silent Hill, but less creepy and much brighter.

    Like

    • infinitezenith November 2, 2015 at 09:29

      Über-late response: I’d forgotten I’d even played this. What I best remember about Alan wake was the interesting combat system using light, and the beautiful scenery. It definitely was fun, and since I picked up the special package, I also got Alan Wake: American Nightmare. I’ll have to find some time to play through that…

      Liked by 1 person

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