Game: Alan Wake PC
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox 360, Windows PC (Reviewed on Windows PC)
Alan Wake was released exclusively for the Xbox 360 back in 2010. That’s almost two years ago now and we’re only just getting a PC version of the game. I’ll refrain from using the word “port” too, this version of Alan Wake is anything but a simple port. Everything in the game has been thought through in terms of a PC game, not a PC version of an Xbox 360 game. With this version of the game players are getting everything they could have gotten two years ago only with updated graphics, a 3D mode and both pieces of the game’s DLC bundled in as standard.
It has been two years though, a lot longer than most would have anticipated. Has it been worth the wait or should the PC version of Alan Wake have stayed asleep?
STORY: It’s difficult to talk about the story in Alan Wake without potentially stepping into “spoiler territory”. Alan Wake is a writer who’s been under a lot of stress of late, he’s a best-selling author and his publishers are expecting another book from him soon. The audience is waiting for some more from him, as are his publishers, but Alan just can’t get past his writer’s block. In order to try and help things he decides to go on a little holiday with his wife Alice, to the seemingly quiet mountain village of Bright Falls. The Wake’s haven’t even put their suitcases down when things start to go a little strange, Alan starts to question his own sanity, the player doesn’t know what to believe and the story starts to wind itself into a coil; a coil that you know it going to spring loose at any given moment.
I really don’t want to talk about the story any more than that, if you’re a player who can really get into the meat of their story, and don’t play games based on how many bad guys you can shoot in the face, then Alan Wake is going to appeal to you. The story is on par with some classic movies and books of the genre, from writers such as Stephen King. In fact, some of the allusions to King’s work is hugely obvious. With this PC version of the game you not only get that amazing main story, but also the two pieces of DLC that came out after the game was released, The Signal and The Writer, what could be better than that? Even more bang for your buck.
GRAPHICS: Alan Wake was always one of the most stylish games on the Xbox 360, the use of light and darkness was essential to the story and Remedy Entertainment managed to pull it off almost perfectly. It seemed to get to a point within the story where the player was literally scared to go into the darkness, we’ve seen what’s in there now, we’re quite fine here in this light thank you very much. One of the only downsides to the graphics was with the facial animations, especially when the camera was focused tightly on one of the characters. It’s prime example of the uncanny valley but things always looked a little bit off, even if they were technically correct and well made.
For the PC version Remedy Entertainment have kicked things up a notch and created what they’re calling “the definitive version” of the Alan Wake experience. All of the textures and models that they felt weren’t quite done right the first time around have been fixed and everything looks as good as that console version did and then a little better on top. As well as that, if you’ve got a PC and monitor capable of it, this new version of Alan Wake can be played in 3D; as if the story alone didn’t get you immersed into the story enough!
SOUND: Similarly to horror/thriller films, Alan Wake plays a lot with the sound in order to create tension with the player. You may be walking through an area of the world that you thought was relatively safe only to hear a rustling in the trees to your left. It could have been the wind, it is pretty windy in the forests around Bright Falls, but there’s always that voice in the back of your mind that’s whispering “what if it wasn’t just the wind though?”.
The guys over at Remedy Entertainment have obviously watched a lot of films of this genre and know how to make players sit on the edge of their seats, and stay there through the duration of the game. The ambient sounds are excellent in Alan Wake but where everything is sold to the player is through the voice acting, which is top notch. Every emotion that the game wants you to feel is helped through the use of sound, you’ll find yourself caring about Alan, about Alice, even about some of the more crazy characters such as Barry. All of this is done through the use of voice acting and it’s pulled off to near perfection.
GAMEPLAY: If you’ve ever played Alan Wake before, or even seen a video of someone playing it, then you’ll know that the game revolves around the idea of light and dark. The knowledge that you piece together from the very first part of the game is that the enemies that are trying to do you harm are harmed themselves by the presence of light, in any of its forms. At a very basic level this means that you’re pretty much as safe during the daytime, but head out at night and you’re on your own. The idea of light overcoming the ever encroaching darkness is one that’s played out throughout the game and it’s something that anybody who’s ever watched a horror film knows only too well. All the things that go bump in the night come out at night.
Alan doesn’t just have to wait for the sun to come up in order to defend himself against the darkness, he has his ever trusty flashlight to shine in their eyes too. Shine it in their eyes for long enough and you’ll see them erupt with a small flash of light. This is the indication that the enemy is now vulnerable and can be shot. You’ll have to be careful with how many bullets you’re empting into those lumbering ex-residents of Bright Falls, there isn’t exactly an abundance of ammunition to be found. A lot of the game you’ll find yourself devising tactics to lure the enemies into the light, attempting impressive, long distance head-shots or just straight up sprinting to the next checkpoint; sometimes it’s your only choice. This use of tactics is essential to surviving in Alan Wake, so you better learn it fast.
The episodic style of the game is something that Alan Wake is famous for and is something that people tend to either love or hate. At the end of each section of the game there’ll be a small cut-scene followed by the game’s logo and some music playing. This is the indication that a chapter has ended so you can sit back, make a cup of tea and enjoy the song (which is usually vaguely relevant to the events in the chapter you’ve just played) before hitting a button and carrying on with the next chapter.
The only part of the gameplay in Alan Wake that really doesn’t work are the platforming aspects. Platforming is something that has never worked particularly well when using a mouse and keyboard (which I know you don’t have to play it with but people weren’t waiting two years so they could play it with an Xbox controller) and thankfully you don’t have to do it too often here, but the times when you are required to do a little bit of tactical jumping will be wrought with frustration. It’s a shame too because the gunplay and general movement work so well on the mouse and keyboard that I found myself wanting to switch to a controller just for those platforming sections. Changing controllers would break the immersion of a game that otherwise tries so hard to keep your focus so most people won’t be able to bring themselves to do it, content with just getting through the frustrating parts to get to the excellent gameplay that the rest of the game contains. A hugely obvious blemish on an otherwise sparkling example of video game immersion.
LONGEVITY: Unfortunately, as with most games that rely on their story, especially the ones that rely heavily on the twists in their story, there isn’t much reason to play through Alan Wake more than once. Not anytime soon anyway. As with a good film, or a good book, you may want to return to the game in the future because you enjoyed the story so much, but there’s just nothing to draw players back in quickly. Having said that though, the main game, along with the two pieces of DLC, will last you a good while, probably culminating at about the 12 to 15 hour mark. Not too shabby at all.
If you’re a player with the collector mentality then there are plenty of manuscript pages to be found, these add additional elements to the story line, and are really quite interesting in themselves. Some of these are only found on the Nightmare Mode (the hardest difficulty) so if you’re the kind of player that likes collecting that sort of thing then at least there’s that. Most of us will just revisit it a few years down the light, when the twists and turns within the story or just vague memories.
VERDICT: As Remedy Entertainment have already said, this PC version of the game is the definitive version of Alan Wake. If you’ve been putting off playing the game for whatever reason then you should do yourself a favour and buy this version of the game. Everything looks as good as it did on the Xbox 360 – and in a lot of cases even better – but adding the fact that it can be played in 3D is never a bad thing. If you’re a fan of stories within games, or even just a fan of Stephen King, then you should have already bought this game, if not you should go download it right now.