Alan Wake starts with a dream. Which is appropriate, because it felt like I was dreaming when I sat down to play it. Remedy's psychological thriller has been in development for six years, so you could forgive me for pinching myself to see whether its 21st May release was a figment of my imagination.
As a thriller author who's had some incredible writer's block for the last two years, Alan's at odds with his own confidence and self-capability. The nightmare that he endures on the ferry to Bright Falls encapsulates this – in it, he accidentally runs a hitchhiker over during a car trip.
Playing through the rest of the dream, I get to grips with the basic functions of control. In Alan Wake
, there are two different modes of play, taking place in the daytime and night time. Here, it's night time and a resurrected hitchhiker follows me, axe in hand. He wants to chop me to pieces for mowing him down like that.
It's go time. Specifically, 'go' in the opposite direction. Scared witless, Wake can do nothing but try and escape his hunter through wilderness and rickety bridges. The Left Bumper allows Alan to run, while later the hitchhiker suddenly appears in front of you, launching attacks. I learnt to use the Right Bumper to dodge the assault, and noticed a cinematic camera change with a well-timed press of the button.
I soon realise that the hitchhiker character is a creation of Wake himself – the dream follows a story that he once worked on, but never finished. This particular point is important, as it ends up being a core element of the rest of the story. Right now though, it was a case of survival, with the lone madman calling for reinforcements from the darkness – known as the Taken, these guys aim to make Alan succumb to confusion and despair.
Alan can't have that. So he has weapons at his disposal. During the dream sequence, I find a pistol and a flare gun, but later in the game dual-handed weapons like shotguns can be discovered. As much as darkness is your enemy, so too is light your greatest weapon. In fact, various 'safe houses' that regenerate lost health come in the form of high-powered street lamps that deter all nearby enemies from approaching you.
Wake is also armed with a torch, of which the light must be focused on a Taken creature to expel the darkness within it. After they go all light and sparkly, it's time to unload that gun! The flare gun is particularly impressive – one well-aimed shot into a group of Taken will destroy them completely with a burst of red flame.
Playing the game is very enjoyable in this night time state, as the action drives you to reach the episode's conclusion. Using an over-the-shoulder viewpoint that reminds me a lot of Resident Evil 4
, you aim your torch (and gun) with the Left Trigger and shoot enraged madmen with the Right Trigger. So, yes, sort of like Resident Evil 4
. But hey, I'm hardly complaining, because the graphical style, storyline and general approach of Alan Wake
really makes the game its own.
For a start, if you hadn't noticed already, this game plays out like a fusion of several different mediums. The plot and action almost feel like you're acting out an interactive novel, while the way each level is split into specific 'episodes', complete with “Previously on Alan Wake...” voice-overs, offers a TV series feel.
Then, you have the development of the game itself – a combination of in-house engine creation and outsourced motion capture and orchestral music – which Remedy say is more akin to a Hollywood movie. Playing Alan Wake
feels equal parts game, movie, TV show and novel. And it's very immersive.