Xbox 360 Review

Alan Wake

It's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark

Alan Wake has been a long time coming, and has perhaps become overly enlarged in our view due to the wait. Despite high expectation though it delivers an experience that stays with you long after you have put the controller down.

But it's not the haunting darkness, zombified villagers or premonitions of the impending future that leave the deepest mark. It's the gameplay. This is a game that does a lot of things right, but knows throughout what must be utmost.

There is the simple light and dark mechanic. Before you can shoot any would be assailants you have to burn away the dark shroud that covers them. It's a little like Halo's ingenious two layer energy and armour shield. And like Halo it adds a joyous layer of complexity to what would otherwise be a derivative shooting mechanic.

Some of the most effective weapons in the game are light-based. Even a torch becomes a spectacular attack as sparks fly as you burn away the darkness. Street lights become safe havens, halogen lamps machine gun-like and flares more like missiles.

The first time you free a local from the dark force that controls them it feels a little odd to then shoot them, but such is the satisfaction of the dispatch you are soon looking for the next victim. Sadistic maybe, but this is all, pretty much, self defence. Either way it was the fun of all this shooting that stayed in my mind between games and drew me back for another session.

Around this central strength is built a story that, although a little hammy, feels like it comes from a genuinely interesting idea. As you progress the game reveals pages of a novel your character can't remember writing, but is in his name. These pages echo the future and provide not only plot exposition, but a good heads up for what's coming next. If nothing else, it is a neat way of telling a story.

Progressing through the chapters as they are revealed slowly brings bigger threats. But just as challenging are some of the puzzle elements. These are pretty everyday fetch and press quests, but with the dark threat all around - and a lack of good light - the tension turns them into something much more difficult. Calm logical thought is at a premium.

This is a game that will stay with you visually, too. It takes the iconic slow plodding zombie but manages to create a much more human threat than Resident Evil ever did. This is largely due to a graphical engine that offers both impressive draw distance as well as excellent lighting. It also helps that Alan Wake started life as an open world game, although now more constrained you still have the sense that you are working through a real environment - which of course you are.

But then, just as I was just getting to relish my evening sessions with Alan Wake, it all comes to an end. This is a game you can complete in around twelve hours - or probably shorter if, unlike me, you are actually really good at games.

I instinctively reached to start the game again, but then realised that although that would be fun, all the mystery and haunting premonitions of those manuscript pages would now not have quite the same impact.

I did go on to play through a second time though. And actually, even knowing the beginning from the end, my subsequent play was very different from the first. This wasn't just because the game flexes its difficulty to suite your ability, but from noticing all the little touches and details that had gone into making the experience as plausible as possible.

Alan Wake is a good game. But as well as a recommendation, I'd suggest you take your time with the first play through, because it's a game you can also only really experience once properly. You will most likely play it more than once - but that first time is the real charm of the thing.

Dark and light, impressive writing and an intricately planned experience make Alan Wake much better than I thought it might have been. I'm itching for another chapter, or at least some downloadable content - it won't be too long I'm sure.

Paul Govan also writes game reviews for Game People.

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