Alan wake was hyped to the heavens a couple of years back as the next awesome thing made by the same team who made Max Payne 1 and 2 (which are awesome games). It had good graphics, was supposed to contain an open ended world for exploration and include an exciting thriller storyline revolving around a writer. Then it was delayed, then it was released on consoles only, and then wwo years later it finally made it to PC. If anyone still actively waited for this release I don’t know how you feel. I myself forgot all about this game until I stumbled over it last week and thought “well, I’ll see what it’s all about”.
It’s a mind numbingly boring game of which I have never seen the like. I was actually about to just throw it out of the window after a couple of hours – but then forced myself to finish it after having read how short it actually was (roughly 10 hours).
So what is Alan Wake about? Well it’s an extremely linear game, of the kind where you walk down narrow paths badly disguised as open locations. The first two chapters in particular suffer badly from this. It does get a bit better in the 4 last chapter but it is still a complete and utter failure from the developers to make this railway gaming experience interesting. Other games, in fact most games, are built around the same premise. Players walk down narrow paths under the illusion of exploring an open world. The path the player walks in Alan Wake however is an empty stretch of boredom. There is nothing interesting going on outside (or even on) the path. There is nothing to explore and there is no point of straying from the path either.
The story is perhaps the main flaw here, it’s a pretentious overcomplicated cut-scene heavy mess that tries to be interesting but in the end it isn’t fooling anyone. It’s a simple mystery about Alan Wake somehow living in one of his horror novels, everything he has written comes to life. The problem is that the story tries very hard to be engrossing but tries to keep you on constantly surprised by providing a fractures and heavily disjointed storyline with pointless flashbacks at a few occasions. The main character comes off as a real douchebag, while every single “character” surrounding him are two dimensional and badly written stereotypes that you don’t care about.
The game wants to be a horror/thriller, does not live up to either survival horror nor thriller game requirements. It's never scary, you never feel helpless and panicked, there is nothing to fear. You are force fed this “I want to be a movie/TV-show” shtick every 5 minutes either by in game cut scenes interrupting your linear uneventful walking in a straight line from point A to point B or with CGI cutscenes – then at the end of each “chapter” the game takes a break and fantasizes further about being a TV show by playing credits music and then starting up the next episode with a “Previously on Alan Wake” montage of what you have done not even 20 seconds ago. This has to be one the stupid and forced implementations of TV show and movie elements into a game.
It sucks because this is the same team that made Max Payne 1 and 2, games that were a film noir inspired gritty B movie drama kind of affair that was both ironic about itself with comic book cut scene sequences, incredibly overwritten metaphors spoken out in inner monologues by the main character. All this worked wonderfully well in Max Payne however. It was serious when it needed to be, overly dramatic at the right place, it had a great sense of humor and it was self aware in a way that complimented the story well. Max Payne actually had a well written story that didn't need a gimmicky "Lost" inspired storytelling device to keep you interested and involved while trying to imply that confusing = quality writing.
Alan Wake tries to do something similar to Max Payne, only that the main story is boring and uninteresting as hell, the main character is a dull dick, the side characters are forgettable and the whole “meta” references to Stephen King novels and stuff just come off as extremely annoying and stupid.
I have yet to talk about the gameplay, because of course I would not care if the story sucked if the gameplay was fun. After all, how much brains does games like Doom 3, Call of Duty and other shooters have? They are all about the gameplay.
The gameplay here has interesting ideas but is even weaker than the story, and contributes to the boring and tedious feeling. As the game takes place in Alan Wake’s horror novel the story is that some dark evil force is possessing people and turns them into some kind of shadow hillbilly types from Deliverance. Alan can only destroy them by first breaking their dark aura by using his flashlight against them – upon which conventional weapons can finish them off in a sparkly fashion that leaves no blood or body behind. After having played 5 minutes worth of combat you have played the entire game. It is all about, “Shine at possessed dude, break his dark aura, destroy him with a gun”. There are something like 5 weapons and 4 enemy types in the game – not adding any excitement or variation. Furthermore the game treats you like a kid and warns you about the impeding danger by first adding a dark blur and then slow motion in game cut scenes of bad guys jumping out from behind cover and towards you.
There is something completely messed up about this whole combat as well. Because you need both light and regular guns the game feels forces to pretty much litter itself every 20 yards with emergency boxes filled with flashlight batteries, flares, pistol and shotgun ammo. There is no real explanation why an emergency box would include ammunition. Sometimes you even find entire crates filled with unlimited amounts of ammo. This design choice also spoils the upcoming danger you will encounter, because every single time you run across ammunition you know that there will be lots of enemies. The combat becomes so boring that you will sometimes just try to outrun your pursuers and walk into the next checkpoint of which there are dozen in each level seemingly spaces at 1 minutes walking distance from each other.
The final nail in the coffin is what many (including the developers) misinterpret as a “innovative storytelling element” but which I call “spoilers”. You see, Alan Wake keeps finding pages from his lost manuscript all over the place (you can’t avoid not to find them since you walk down a narrow patch remember?). The pages tell you exactly what’s going to happen in either a minute or later during the chapter. I stopped reading these after the first chapter since it was clearly they were ruining the game even further. I kept collecting them though because I thought that they may come in handy or something as the game keeps track of how many pages of each chapter you have found and how many are lost. But no, there is no payoff to this chore. If you have nothing better to do, you can also waste your time on collecting coffee thermoses, these too do not involve any achievement or purpose whatsoever.
There are more flaws, which could be overlooked if the rest of the game was good.
First of all you have a motion blur which can’t be turned off in the options. Somehow a couple of game companies has gotten into their heads that adding motion blur adds realism. What they do not realize is if you turn around fast in a regular game the screen and your perception blurs the motion naturally. Adding additional motion blur just make my eyes hurt. Fortunately a gamer had come up with a homebrewn quick-fix to this issue and I was able to circumvent the motion blur from looking around while keeping the intended blur from the “dark malignant force” and possessed townspeople.
Second problem is the perspective in conjunction with the controls which are clearly intended for a gamepad. It’s funny when the most dangerous situations in the game arise not from its enemies, but from when you have to walk across a fallen tree or some other narrow surface because the character can’t walk slowly and has this really confused 3rd person perspective where you pretty much walk diagonally in order to move forward..
Third problem is the on rails gameplay, where you pretty much move between cutscenes. There are portions in this game, where you either follow a character from one cut scene to another, or drive a vehicle (down a narrow path) from one cut scene to the next. It’s completely pointless. This is not a game, but an attempt at writing a (bad) TV series with the utmost minimal amount of actual gameplay involved.
Is there ANYTHING good about this game then?
Well, most of the graphics are good, or rather the environments are good. The face animations are stiff and unnatural though. But there are some atmospheric effects and the locations are looking good in general.
There is also a Max Payne themed Easter Egg in chapter two where you find a few manuscript pages that are clearly about Max Payne written in the same cheesy and at the same noir gritty style. Another nod to Max Payne is that some music is performed by “Poets of the Fall” which were featured in Max Payne 2.
And finally, the battling of shadows reminded me of the old PC game “Heart of Darkness” which was totally awesome in terms of graphics, gameplay and level design and even included a relatively good story for a side scrolling platform game.
While Dead Island still reigns as the worst game I have ever played, Alan Wake has claimed the title of being the most boring game I have ever played. This is also the first time I was happy that a game was short.If it was 20-40 hours of gameplay I would never have finished it.
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