Reviews// Alan Wake

Posted 10 May 2010 16:30 by
Games: Alan Wake
So, a six-year old game concept finally sees the light of day... for anybody who has forgotten Alone in the Dark Atari's remake from 2008, (“Featuring a gripping story, design inspired by contemporary TV action dramas”) then Alan Wake's episodic schtick is going to come as some sort of 'cultural waypoint' moment. Sadly, for the rest of us, it's not. It's an adequate video game that holds the attention despite some problems.

The main thing about AW is not its quite enjoyable game-play, nor its constant popular cultural reference-as-sleeve-wear. The main thing about AW is this episodic structure.


Quite simply because, as Remedy has almost stated (and as Atari did with its failed experiment), it's a game trying to be a TV show. The thing with TV shows such as the cited Twin Peaks and Lost is that you the consumer are expected to come back again and again, week after week, in order to consume them.

None of that is necessarily a bad thing as long as the gameplay is worth the long tail and the money that you're going to have to spend on it. I've got to admit a little sadness, however, that game makers have had to turn to old-media models in order to extract more cash from a single idea. That said, if Remedy and Microsoft can use the revenues raised from episodes of Alan Wake in order to fund genuinely new game ideas and revenue-raising models, while ensuring that AW is actually a satisfactory title, then I'm all for it.

However, what it does mean is that, in effect, this review is of the pilot show.

As ever, I'm going to sidestep the hype, which there has been a great deal of. In a period of gaming that has seen Heavy Rain and Uncharted(s) attempt to go beyond the clichés and shibboleths of video game narrative, the interactive show that is Alan Wake has also staked its claim on story-telling.

Is this because compelling gameplay is actually more difficult to produce than satisfactory storylines in our media saturated age? Or is it because the current view is that video games, in order to achieve the same kind of stockholder value as old media, must be conservative?

Story, you see, is acceptable. Hanging entertainments off 'narrative arcs' provides a level of respectability that is worth much respect in boardrooms and over the dining tables of the chattering classes. Where games such as Braid and Portal are genuinely loved – if not a little over-worshipped – for their imaginative use of the media in which they exist, they don't make as much money as Uncharted with its standard plot or Heavy Rain with its standard characters. They certainly don't make as much cash as FIFA or PGA Tour Golf with their familiar 'narrative arcs'.

So, is the Alan Wake story worth your hanging around (and paying out) for more episodes? For me, not really.

Each quoted reference to Stephen King smacks to me of 'passing off'; an attempt to attach the qualities of a genuinely original writer to those of a decent set of writers. The Twin Peaks quirkiness of the characters in the Bright Falls doesn't get close to David Lynch's actual genuinely off-centre view of the city dweller's disquiet about of the rural, as seen in Twin Peaks.

The story is solid, yarny stuff: rescue loved one from kidnapper, wrapped in “Is it a dream? Am I in my own novel? Am I driven mad by some emotional trauma? Am I fictional!!?”, with a smattering of 'dark lurking evil in the rural boondocks'. My biggest fear was not of the dark and murderous backwoodsmen who attack at any given moment; my biggest fear was that someone was going to say “But it was all a dream”. So, nothing too taxing. There is confusing dramatic irony; there is plenty of thoroughly modern unreliable narration to steam the consumer along the path of horror, darkness and 'psycho-drama'.

There are also plenty of squeaky violins.

You've also got lots of standard characters slotted in effectively including: clingy wife who might be kidnapped, might be dead, might be neither and might in fact be trying to drive you out of your mind; the untrustworthy but manic Nou Yoik friend; the creepy psychiatrist who bears a striking resemblance to an older Roger Moore; the female sheriff; the mad FBI crew-cut guy. You've even got a manically laughing loon who “works in video games, it's trash of course”.

There's nothing really wrong with the much-vaunted storyline at all. In fact, I can already see it debuting as a TV show at around 10pm on Channel 4 before moving around the schedule to settle gently into 'cult box-set' territory.
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Games: Alan Wake

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Jimmer 11 May 2010 10:56
So, a bit poo then. Roffle.
Tim Smith 11 May 2010 11:01
Jimmer wrote:
So, a bit poo then. Roffle.

Awreet Jimmer, I wouldn't say "a bit poo" ... in fact I didn't. I felt it was:

* old concept.
* done by Atari.
* flawed gameplay.
* ready to cash-in on DLC.
* sturdy story (like the kind of sturdy girls who hang out with the attractive ones... eager, enthusiastic but basically saying whatever their more attractive girlfriends already said).
* worthy.
* about as cutting in the edge as I am in the humour.

How's life?


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Jimmer 11 May 2010 11:48
I'm alright fella. Starting at Bath Spa Uni in September - doing a foundation degree in publishing, then hopefully join the thrid year of the BA in Graphic Communication.

Better than work I guess. Hopefully spend the interim playing Red Dead Redemption - shame the reviews won't be allowed out until release day...

You okay?
Jimmer 11 May 2010 11:50
BTW - my typo "thrid" was just my subtle way of pointing out similar errors in your review, honest.

You want me to sub your next piece for you?

Tim Smith 11 May 2010 13:26
Jimmer wrote:
BTW - my typo "thrid" was just my subtle way of pointing out similar errors in your review, honest.

You want me to sub your next piece for you?


Yes please!
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