Synyster Graves

Alan Wake

by on Aug.21, 2011, under Xbox 360

Having grown up watching horror films from a very young age, the personal affinity I possess for horror media is inevitable. Having picked up the box for Alan Wake this is more described as a psychological thriller than a typical survival horror on the Xbox 360. While that description creates more connotations of Usual Suspects than Silent Hill, I was intrigued by the concept and gave it a go. Alan Wake is a third person game set in the rural town of Bright Falls, the typical setting of any horror film. You play the protagonist, who is a writer looking for inspiration during a period of writers block and arrives in Bright Falls with his wife Alice.


In typical survivor horror fashion there are weapons and supplies strewn all over the levels and the feeling of being followed or watched is very apparent. You also find pieces of manuscript lying around the place as you try to piece together the grisly plot which is unfolding in front of your eyes and I can quite safely say without giving too much away, that this is quite possibly one of the best storylines ever conceived in a video game. The reason that Silent Hill for me is the paragon of Survival horror is due to its amazing ability to tell a well written story through tension, atmosphere and virtual paranoia. Alan Wake encompasses all of these things too and you are persistently left on the edge of your seat wondering what the hell is going to happen next. Packed with more twists than a 1960’s dance troupe, Alan Wake instills the sense of suspense and intrigue from start to finish. I am not going to divulge any part of this story as it’s better to find out yourself what is going on, all I can say is that its very good.

The characters are brilliantly cast and incredibly immersive giving you, the player, a sense of empathy with them like in a good thriller movie. The dialogue is fantastic and the clear inspiration from pop culture ranging from Stephen King to Shutter Island is to the game’s credit. This coupled with the soundtrack from Finnish band Poets of The Fall, the music and noises combine perfectly to create an almost cinematic experience, which is different from other titles in the same genre.

Alan Wake: like Stephen King, but with the stamina of a pensioner

But, and I know you were sensing a “but”, it is plagued by several fatal flaws which leave it just short of the mark to properly be battling with at the top of the Survival horror pyramid with Silent Hill, Fatal Frame and Resident Evil. I think perhaps my biggest gripe with the game, and this is a very big one, is quite frankly how unbelievably pathetic Alan Wake is as a character. Any more than 5 steps holding the run function will cause Alan to almost collapse gasping for breath and move slower than if you were walking. Alan has the stamina of a 80 year old man who smokes about 60 cigarettes a day despite having chronic emphysema and living in an iron lung. Yes it’s that bad. Game developers still have not grasped the fundamental concept of the biological production adrenaline in potentially life threatening situations and when under attack, Alan’s feeble attempts to escape are insurmountably hindered by his almost fatal lack of endurance. I have tried to descibe how awful his movement and pace are but I don’t think I could truly depict how disappointing it is as a gamer to see a protagonist in a survival horror be so weak. Yes I understand that it’s designed to create tension, but it is very cheap from a game developer to make the player so unbelivably pathetic to create the suspense, rather than work on the ambience. Yes this game has tons of atmosphere so making Alan amble with practically no lungs for me is a devastatingly awful decision.

*cough* I Know What You Did Last Summer *cough*

Another huge misgiving of this game is the general bias of the enemies you encounter. Frequently you will come across hordes of shadowy enemies (called “The Taken”, nothing to do with Liam Neeson) and they will surround you in wolf pack fashion. This is great that you have almost a brief feeling of panic as you feel the net closing in, but what is utterly awful is the fact that as the scene pans out to see where they are looming from, you cannot move. You, the player, are locked in a sense of stasis as the enemies gain a strategic advance on your position yet you yourself cannot remedy this situation but getting away at all. By the time you have control back you pretty much have abotu two enemies on you already, ready to introduce your face to blunt farming equipment.

"I'm blinded!!!"

What makes this actually worse is that the control for the “dodge” is so whimsical, it’s not even funny. Not only do the enemies always seem to have an advantage during their advance, but they also seem to have the attacking prowess of Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden. They can pretty much materialise in front of you and before you know it, you’re dead. The broken dodge function only really makes you lean into the hits and attempting to escape is completely futile. Remember how in the original Silent Hill you could turn off you light and run away to conserve ammo and not take a royal pasting? Well this doesn’t let you even attempt that as attempting to run WILL result in a game over. Survival horrors for me are about surviving, and sometimes than means retreating and evading the enemy, whereas Alan Wake will force you into a fight every single time. Each enemy has a “forcefield” of the Dark Presence protecting them and you will have to remove this by shining light on them to remove it before you can hurt them back, causing you to consume batteries faster than a fat chav girl devours a Big Mac, and only then can you start to defeat them.

Stockpiling is integral to any decent survival horror game as you just survive where possible using only the weaker weapons like 2×4 planks and pistols, saving your better weapons like shotguns and huting rifles until the later levels. Well Alan Wake will shove two fingers up at you because every single chapter end, or change of location will result in you losing all your weapons. You have managed to have got an industrial powered lantern, pump action shotgun, flaregun and flashbang grenades and would be totally equipped, only for a cutscene to happen and you go back to having a crap torch and a rubbish pistol. This is totally nonsensical as you don’t realise the finite amount of time you have to enjoy your stronger weapons before you get sent back to square one inventory wise.

Reach for the sky!

So in summation, Alan Wake has been marketed as a Psychological Thriller rather than a Survival Horror game to attempt to justify creating an atmosphere by essentially stitching up the player perpetually throughout the tenure of your playing experience. It is riddled with inconsistent controls and biased combat in a vain attempt to create ambience and suspense. However the storyline and cinematics is simply brilliant. The story itself is more than enough, combined with the very good graphics to create a chilling yet intriguing game and on the basis it is enough for me to say that this is a good game overall. Despite the atrocious controls I was on the edge of my seat throughout and I couldn’t put it down as I wanted to know what happened next. My heart was pounding from start to finish and on that basis I would say it is a good game, if somewhat frustrating throughout. For all you survival horror fans out there I would recommend this game but try to clear your mind from other survival horror games as Alan’s movement will only cause mass annoyance. Take the game as is comes, and you will have an enjoyable experience.

:, , , , ,

Leave a Reply