perjantai 8. heinäkuuta 2011

REVIEW - Alan Wake (2010)

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror
RELEASED: May 2010
DEVELOPER(S): Remedy Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Microsoft Game Studios

After shipping their final breakthrough title Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne in 2003, Remedy Entertainment published a series of concepts they were going for next. Among those concepts was the enigmatic title "Alan Wake". The earliest screenshots of the game emerged in 2004, and they portrayed a common-looking, middle-aged man standing alone at a gas station in what seemed to be a ghost town, with a somewhat sad, but aggressive look on his face. To elaborate on the meaning of the screenshots and the backstory of Alan Wake, Remedy painted a picture of a psychological thriller/survival horror game deeply influenced by classic horror literature by Stephen King and the cinematic works of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, and set in a small, realistic, down to Earth town that could be anywhere in the world. Fans of horror and thrillers eagerly followed Remedy's every step as they were making Alan Wake reality - the idea of the game was too good to ever become true. The game was stuck in development hell for six whole years, for several reasons: such as Remedy's indecision on the core gameplay and the platform(s) Alan Wake would be developed for. May 14th, 2010, marked the day of AWake. It was released exclusively on the Xbox 360, and it will most likely remain exclusive to that platform because of mixed reception and disappointing sales. With so much hype behind it, not to mention six years in development, Alan Wake was bound to disappoint... some people. Me? I'm enjoying the hell out of this Finnish piece of art - 'cause that's what Alan Wake prominently is, instead of a simple video game. Hail Finland, hail Remedy Entertainment.

A flashlight, a gun and a man on the edge

Matthew Porretta : Alan Wake
Lloyd Floyd : The Hitchhiker / Tor Anderson / Walt Snyder / Night Springs Narrator
Geoffrey Cantor : Clay Steward / Alvyn Derleth / Mr. Jones
James McCaffrey : Thomas Zane / Alex Casey
Brett Madden : Alice Wake
R.J. Allison : Pat Maine / Night Springs Reporter #2
Fred Berman : Barry Wheeler
Benita Robledo : Rose Marigold
Jeff Gurner : Rusty / Deputy / Night Springs Cop
Cliff Carpenter : Odin Anderson

Alan Wake is a very talented and successful author, but for the last couple of years, he's been suffering from the worst possible case of writer's block, and strange nightmares in which the characters and events of his novels come true. Alan and his wife Alice take a vacation in the small logging town of Bright Falls to get away from all the big city noise and pressure. In reality, Alice lures Alan to Bright Falls to get her husband's creative juices flowing, which does not sit well with the burnt out writer. Alice disappears following a fight between the couple, and Alan witnesses his worst nightmares coming true all around him as he is desperately trying to find his wife.

First, I must tell you of an enlightening thought I had after completing two episodes in the story of Alan Wake. When it was originally announced that Alan Wake would be released exclusively on the Xbox 360, me and all my friends, even those that were Xbox owners themselves (!), threw a lot of shit at Remedy. Every single one of my friends knew that if there was any game I'm simply dying to play, it's Alan Wake. You see, Twin Peaks, hell, all of David Lynch's work, is going to follow me into the grave and it is definitely a huge influence for Alan Wake. I'm going to tell you a lot about the story, excluding spoilers, later, but the point is that in my mind, David Lynch is a god and to experience a video game this heavily influenced by his works - even moreso than the psychological aspects of Silent Hill - is an event after which I would gladly drop dead. Well, not really, but you probably get the idea by now. Alan Wake is an original story, it's not a carbon copy of Twin Peaks or any other of its main influences, it just pays a lot of cool homage to them, homage which I cannot afford to miss. I can't help but think that hogging exclusive rights to Alan Wake was Microsoft's payback for Quantic Dream's decision to make Heavy Rain exclusive to the PlayStation 3, as NOT according to the original plan. PlayStation 3 owners got their mystery thriller in February, Xbox owners got theirs in May. We got the French game, they got guaranteed Finnish quality - but despite being French, Heavy Rain is still an excellent game. Alan Wake is also an excellent game. When you think about it this way, you'll find the equation surprisingly fair.

Hey, dear hitchhiker. I didn't mean to hit you
with my car. Honest.
Alan Wake's strongest sales point is its story. The story of the game won it awards, and for a damn good reason. Granted, some parts of the game are boring to the average player. The eager player that is completely into the plot does not mind, at least not on the first playthrough, since (s)he's most likely putting the pieces of the plot together while playing. Alan Wake is a simple game to play, and the action sequences don't really require perfect concentration - the plot's development does. One of the game's most debated qualities is that it tells you exactly what to do, all the time, as if the developers were holding your hand and guiding you through it. Your objective is always displayed on your HUD, regardless whether or not your only objective is to simply turn around and flick the light switch. You don't really have to think what to do in the game - the only elements that demand your full attention are combat and the story. Luckily you can explore. The freedom to explore is the one and most important remnant from the days when Alan Wake was developed as a sandbox game. The collectables thankfully somewhat raise the bar of replay value, which Alan Wake otherwise does not possess by a whole lot.

When I first heard that the game is influenced by some of my favourite shows and movies of all time, I believed it, but I simply couldn't predict how much so. Bright Falls IS Twin Peaks. It's as close to Twin Peaks (or Lumberton in Blue Velvet) as you can possibly get. The Oh Deer Diner is almost an exact replica of the Double R Diner in Twin Peaks. How about the supporting characters, then? Cynthia Weaver is a dead ringer of the Log Lady, only she carries a lantern around instead of a log. The waitress Rose looks a lot like Shelly. The entity that occasionally guides Alan is just like the Giant, all the way to his enigmatic figures of speech. There are characters that simply do not belong, or act in perfect contrast to their looks - the cast of supporting characters in all of Lynch's work are full of them. Agent Nightingale (who's probably named after a song in Twin Peaks) is like an extremely aggressive, drunk version of Albert Rosenfield, the receptionist at the Sheriff's office is just like Lucy, and there are many cinematic moments and bits of dialogue that shoot bullets aimed straight between Peakers' eyes. Stephen King's work has just as much weight on Alan Wake as David Lynch's, if not even more. "Stephen King" are the first two words in this game! The protagonist is a writer with some sort of a personal dilemma, just like Thad Beaumont (The Dark Half), Paul Sheldon (Misery), Mort Rainey (Secret Window, Secret Garden) or Jack Torrance (The Shining), inanimate objects such as vehicles come to life, a dark presence controls seemingly ordinary people and gives them the primitive urge to kill... even some specific works are referenced, such as The Shining and the short story The Hitchhiker, which was adapted to film in the episodic Creepshow II in 1987. There's a lot of them, I assure you. Not many moments in Alan Wake pass by that die-hard followers of the genre wouldn't snicker in absolute, almost insane joy. But, just as David Lynch's work at the very least, Alan Wake is far from pure horror, or even a pure thriller. It also has its share of drama, as well as some more or less black comedy. It's a very balanced, masterfully paced piece of work.

Just like Twin Peaks had Invitation to Love - a show within a show - Alan Wake has Night Springs, an extremely deranged, cheesy version of cult shows like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Each episode has different characters and whole different plots. You can check out the three- to four-minute episodes of the show any time there's a TV in your vicinity. The show sucks with some big lips, but needless to say, it's an extremely cool addition to the game. There's also a local radio station that broadcasts a late night show with an elderly host, taking calls and playing music; some of these broadcasts are directly linked to the events of the plot. Alan can also listen to some choice cuts from the police radio, and there are TV's that turn on by themselves and broadcast stuff that disturbs Alan greatly on a personal level.

Cup of coffee. Black as midnight on a
moonless night. Also, a piece of that sensational
cherry pie.
The last thing I'd like to profess my love for right now is the game's setting, Bright Falls, which could just as easily be an extremely small industrial town in Finland, as it could be the piece of mosquito shit in the state of Washington as it is made out to be (just like Twin Peaks, I might add!). The whole damn atmosphere, the forested environment, the woodwork, the architecture, even fashion, are so close to home, it's a perfect departure from any game I've ever seen. Finns will get the most out of this game, that's no surprise to begin with, though. Although Alan Wake retains some similarity to Max Payne as far as gameplay goes, the general atmosphere of the game makes me feel like the two games were done by completely different groups of people.

I was supposed to go over the rated qualities already? Well, all right; I could've talked about the story and its hundreds of horror/thriller allusions all day, but I would eventually end up spoiling the whole game. The graphics are not exactly awesome by the standards of 2010, especially the facial modelling occasionally looks really weird close up. The characters make some extremely weird faces! Also, I could ask the question: "what lip sync?" There are real video clips in this game and even they don't have proper lip sync! However, the cinematic tricks and twilight effects look fabulous, the game is all-around stylish, and like I already said, I just love the homey, clearly Finnish environment. This game gave me another good reason to be a patriot to the bone. I love my country.

The voice cast is a straight line of unknowns... who do an excellent job. Alan Wake is with all certainty the best-acted game in its primary genre. There are brief, faux moments, but there's so much dialogue in this game that a two-minute slump hurts no-one but the pickiest bastards alive. The original score was written by Petri "Lowland" Alanko, the keyboardist of a Finnish pop/rock/dance band named Hausmylly. The band is known for their catchy melodies and good drive, but it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack to Alan Wake is all about a haunting, semi-ambient atmosphere instead - which shows a side of Alanko never witnessed before.

You know why most survival horror games don't
have a lot of characters? Because if there were,
most of them would blame you for everything.
Great music; but with all due respect to Alanko, the licensed part of the soundtrack does the ultimate trick. As if Remedy's worship of one David Lynch wasn't obvious enough, there's Roy Orbison's outstanding classic "In Dreams". Not only is Roy Orbison one of Lynch's greatest musical heroes, this song became a huge hit for the second time in 1986, after being prominently included on the soundtrack of Lynch's breakthrough movie Blue Velvet. Also, "In Dreams" in the game is the 1986 version. Poets of the Fall, one of Finland's greatest bands at the moment, started their career by contributing to the soundtrack of Max Payne 2 with "Late Goodbye", a song based on a poem written by the writer of Max Payne and Alan Wake, Sami Järvi (a.k.a. Sam Lake). That one song gained such a huge following that the band ended up recording an album, and the rest is history. This incredible band "paid back their debt" to Remedy by contributing with two completely new, exclusive songs under the moniker Old Gods of Asgard, as well as the absolutely marvellous single "War", which was not written for the game but made its first appearance in it. It fits the game like a glove. It's all rounded out by Poe, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and David Bowie. It works. It all definitely works.

The game's theme is, simply put: darkness vs. light. It's not like in Kingdom Hearts where darkness rules everything. If a burglar robs your house, it's because of the darkness in people's hearts. If a car runs over an elderly woman, it's because of the darkness in people's hearts. If a game starring Bubsy the Bobcat gets a Game of the Year award, it's because of the darkness in people's hearts. No, Alan Wake is not about that, the darkness is a very concrete element that has a source and a cause I'm not willing to blurt out. Light is your saviour. Unlike in Silent Hill 2, where you needed light to see, but also got the unwanted attention of enemies by using light, in Alan Wake light is your only safe haven - it's where you cannot be touched by evil. Street lights and light generators work as checkpoints, and they also regenerate your health. Even the smallest bit of light can be essential to your success. Long-burning flares pretty much guarantee it.

Alan Wake is split into six episodes - not in any plain old way, instead it takes the form of a TV mystery. Each episode counts to the plot but has subplots of its own, ends with a cliffhanger and a different theme song. Each new episode begins with a cinematic recap of the previous one, complete with the narrative "Previously on Alan Wake". The beginning of each episode renders Alan helpless by taking away his equipment, so you have absolutely no reason to keep saving the better ammo and explosives for a rainy day. This is one of the biggest departures Alan Wake takes from the action genre, especially the field of survival horror. If you have the smallest bit of an explorer in you, you'll probably never run out of ammo, explosives and batteries completely.

Had enough of walking.
Ammo and explosives are quite standard, but batteries? Yes, Alan's most important piece of equipment is his flashlight. With this simple tool, you must "burn" the darkness off your enemies before shooting your gun at them, as the darkness shields them from all attacks. There are a few different flashlights, of which a heavy-duty lantern is quite essential against the more powerful forms of "the Taken" you'll encounter on your surreal journey. Just as your health without the help of the street lights, the batteries regenerate automatically, but you must change them to stand a chance against large numbers of Takens. Don't worry, there are batteries behind every corner, and if you're a skilled escape artist and dodger, you don't have to boost the light that much in the beginning of the game. Just pointing your flashlight at enemies does damage to their shields, and it doesn't consume batteries.

The Dark Presence does not only affect human beings, it can also possess objects and animals. Birds are common enemies (hail Hitchcock!). They attack you in large swarms and can do a lot of damage, but if you can spot the direction they're flying in from in time, all you need to do to win the pecking contest is point your flashlight at the swarm. You don't need to cap it off with bullets, the birds are so weak they simply burn in your light. The objects can be absolutely anything in the environment, from doors to tyres to barrels, to large, earthmoving vehicles. Light is enough to destroy them as well...

...But to stop a human heart from beating, you need a gun. Alan Wake is a rare game in the sense that there are no melee attacks or weapons at all - which is logical, since you want to avoid to get in physical touch with the darkness. The revolver you pretty much carry from the beginning is an excellent weapon. It doesn't do as much damage as other weapons, but it has a fast firing rate and a large capacity. There are two different shotguns; the pump-action shotgun is your best friend. It does good damage, it has a decent firing rate and a much larger capacity than its standard counterpart. The hunting rifle's some serious shite when it comes to standard weapons. The flare gun is AWESOME... but also very rare, for obvious reasons. You don't need any additional light to be able to use the flare gun on Takens, and when you shoot one flare at a small group of Takens, you'll nail all of the bastards at once in a cool, cinematic fashion. The most common of the two explosives is a handheld flare, used in mining operations. You can either put it on the ground to keep Takens away from a certain area, or walk with the burning flare in hand for some personal space. If you're more of an action man, the flashbang grenades are sure to make your day. You throw one of these babies, and watch the burning bodies fly.

Alfred, you were a bad influence.
Driving a car instead of walking is completely optional, but sometimes, very essential when there's a long, dark road ahead of you; that usually means you'll bump into a lot of Takens, and it would be easier to catch them in the headlights and run 'em over. The driving controls are - once again - not perfect. I seriously don't know what's the problem with driving sequences in games that were published by Microsoft. Well, at least you don't have to shoot at any enemies while driving, or dodge holes in the ground - the cars are simply there to make your progress faster and easier.

The time is ripe to go over the inevitable ugly spots of Alan Wake. It pains me, because I enjoyed the game so much, but I also pretty much know why the game has not garnered in as much praise as was expected, and seriously, it's not a very replayable game. Let's start with the mystery itself. Heavy Rain had a fine mystery, but its solution left me cold. However, there were so many different ways for the mystery to evolve; although the "grand" revelation stayed the same, the game was always a different experience. There are no choices to make in Alan Wake, the ending's always the same and it's simply not as good as the mystery - the chase is better than the catch, once again! Now, if you're saying the ending to Alan Wake was lame, I'll have to disagree. I liked it, but it was definitely a disappointment. So many great mysteries have gone to waste because of endings that are not up to par with the beginnings.

The little replay value that Alan Wake has comes from the many collectable items, that count for in-game stats, and of course, Achievements. Although it is cool to go out and explore to find coffee thermoses, piles of empty beer cans, hidden supply chests and all that, the game's action is set in such wide, confusing environments with such lots of random encounters with annoying Takens, that at some point, you just want to follow the game's linear tube and go for the end; screw the collectables. I took on this attitude in the second-to-last chapter and I still found 86 of the 100 thermoses without any sort of instructions. They're very easy to find. To find the missing collectables is not really enough for me to go at Alan Wake again, at least not immediately, and neither is the plot. For example, Silent Hill 2 went UP-SIDE-DOWN in the end - not only were there several different endings, but the truth behind the events put a whole new ring to the plot of the whole game. Alan Wake is surprisingly predictable. It has some very crazy twists, but the possibility of the plot turning out the way it does was with me nearly all the time. I didn't have anything near of the uncontrollable urge to start the game over with full knowledge of the plot, quite like I had after completing Silent Hill 2 for the first time.

The controls might strike you as somewhat clumsy since there are no invisible walls, which means you can suddenly stumble over any edge of a cliff, or even a makeshift wooden bridge you're crossing, to your death, at any time, if you happen to just nudge the analog stick into the wrong direction. Dodging enemies coming in from the front is quite easy, but not those coming at you from the back. Usually, the game warns you of them with a brief screen effect, for which I'm extremely grateful, but sometimes it just forgets to do so. The manual reloading needs some work, as well as performing successive dodge manouvers. Otherwise, the controls are top-class. Shooting's comfortable, and I love the unique idea of using the beam of the flashlight as your crosshair.

Mrs. Walters, I caught that streaker of yours.
The story of Alan Wake lives on beyond that one, too decisive time thanks to its wide array of Achievements that are mostly related to accomplishments in combat and progress in the storyline. Every single collectable - the radio and TV shows, the coffee thermoses, the chests, the manuscript pages that are directly related to the plot etc. have one or two Achievements linked to them. Alan Wake is an easy and linear game, so it takes some serious patience and true love for the entirety of the story to nail all of the Achievements. Just having one of these traits does not help - I love the story, but I do not have the patience to clash through the game again. As much as I loved every part of it, I know that some of those parts are bound to bore me out of my socks on the second run, partly because I already know the solution to the mystery; on the first playthrough, I didn't have the time to concentrate on looming boredom as I was piecing the story together in my mind all the time.

Alan Wake definitely fulfilled my high expectations as an experience, but I can see it's not fit for all casual players, especially those who are not really into mysteries, they're more into the game because of curiosity brought on by its long, well-promoted development, and it definitely lacks a huge deal of the lifespan that is standard to a modern video game. Like I said, it's the experience that counts - even if your interest in the game does not hold for a second playthrough, you've simply got to experience Alan Wake once. It's beautiful, and definitely original.

SOUND : 9.6


GameRankings: 83.65%

Finnish screenwriter/actor Ilkka Villi did the facial modelling for Alan. He also plays Alan in the video clips, as well as all promotional material for the game, including the logo and the music video for Poets of the Fall's "War".

Finnish actress and model Jonna Järvenpää did the facial modelling for Alice.

Writer Sam Lake and Poets of the Fall make cameo appearances in one of the TV shows. Sam is asked to "do the face again", after which he gives us the trademark look of Max Payne. Sam did the facial modelling for Max in the first game.

Alice was originally supposed to be Alan's girlfriend instead of his wife. The change was announced at the E3 conference in 2009. When asked why the change was made, the developers answered "The game has already been in development for five years. Alan and Alice have had plenty of time to tie the knot."

Agent Robert Nightingale was originally supposed to be a playable character to offer a different perspective in the style of Resident Evil.

The titles of Alan's novels are based on chapter names in Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.

"Night Springs" is namely the opposite of "Bright Falls". According to Sheriff Breaker, the residents of Bright Falls firmly believe that Night Springs was based on Bright Falls.

A Death Rally poster can be seen in the game. Death Rally was Remedy Entertainment's first game.

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