17 May 2012

Alan Wake PC game review

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.

9 comments:

  1. I'm oddly pleased to find that having not bought this it is in fact as pants as I thought it looked. Always enjoy your game reviews sir.

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  2. To balance things up a positive review will follow. "DeathSpank" review is coming up probably tomorrow. Having a blast playing it since a couple of days :-)

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  3. You should send a bill to the company to ask for your 10 hours of your life back in charges.

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  4. "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)."

    Are you insane? This game was far from boring. I got into the atmosphere and combat immediately and occasionally return for another round of it when I have an itch the other games just can't scratch. And I never thought of it as a short game, either. Thought it was quite lengthy, especially for a linear game.

    "...of the kind where you walk down narrow paths badly disguised as open locations."

    I'm gonna call "Bullshit!" on that one. I can't think of a single location where a sane human being would think it was open for exploration beyond what can actually be explored.

    "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."

    Again, there is no such "premise" in Alan Wake. If you walked off a cliff thinking it wouldn't kill you, that's no one's fault but your own. I will say that I'm GLAD they made this a linear game, though, because an open world would only subtract from the suspense. Generally speaking, the more control you have regarding where to go and when, the less you fear the choice you personally made. After all, you just got your preferred path handed to you on a silver platter. Wrong genre for that sort of thing!

    "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."

    All lies (though I suppose you can get away with the first as it's quite the subjective judgement call). There are numerous collectibles, two of which are helpful in either piecing together the story or providing ammunition. The coffee thermoses, can pyramids, and even the bits of culture you can read along the way aren't directly beneficial, but they are reasons to explore nonetheless. And then there are the manuscripts and hidden chests with ammo. PLENTY to explore considering the genre of the game.

    "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."

    Verbose, but let's see how you elaborate.

    "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."

    For me and other Alan Wake fans, the story didn't "try" to be engrossing; it was! As for the characters: Alan is a bit of a jerk, which is one of the first things that make this story unique. Throughout the game, there is the awareness that Alan brought this upon himself, and his wife. So in addition to battling "the bad guy" on the outside, there is some growth required of the protagonist. He has flaws! Which is refreshing to find in the video game industry, where 99% of the protagonists are pretty much perfect in every way.

    And the other characters are "two dimensional" because you're meant to feel essentially alone even amongst other characters. Again, too many interesting characters and out goes the fear.

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  5. "It's never scary, you never feel helpless and panicked, there is nothing to fear."

    Speak for yourself. I got into the story and especially the atmosphere, and there were plenty of panicky moments!

    "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."

    ...Why? I'm sorry, but I can't help but notice you rambled on for an entire paragraph and didn't explain why this is FLAW. Just because you personally didn't care for the presentation doesn't mean the rest of us have no grounds for finding it VERY WELL-DONE! Unique, professional, just like the meat of the game itself. Your fantasy that they were wishing they could make movies and TV shows aside, you give us no objective reason to dislike this feature, at all.

    "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."

    *buzzer* The six weapons in the game are all very different indeed. The flashbang grenades are obviously different. But then the revolver, shotgun, pump-action shotgun, hunting rifle, and flare gun all deal different amounts of damage, have different ranges, different rates of fire, and even hold different numbers of rounds. And of course the flares are different equipment but not weapons per se so I didn't count them. The SEVEN enemy types are as follows:

    You have your flankers, that move really quickly in getting beside or behind you and usually carry knives. You have ranged attackers who can throw weapons and hit you from afar as well as swing them when they get closer. You have the assault category, which are big dudes who swing slower but deal massive amounts of damage when they hit. All three of these require a different number of shots to take down, BTW. Then you have teleflankers, who move similar to flankers but at superhuman speeds. Assault Taken with chainsaws are seen rarely but move and are taken down at slower paces but almost kill you with one hit. Then there are the birds and poltergeists. And it really is generous that I'm counting the poltergeists as one type of enemy, as they range from a wooden reel to a harvester and the vehicles (I'm counting at least five) all move about differently.

    "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."

    The cinematics are wicked! I can't imagine the game without them; THAT would be boring, IMO. Just running through the woods and getting hit by unseen enemies' projectile weapons. You seem to be forgetting that this is psychological thriller, not a typical horror game. It's not about jump-scares but realizing fears that are (supposed to be, for most of us) already there. That is why you are given warnings in the three forms: manuscript, fog/wind, and cinematic. For those of us - and there are many - who got into the atmosphere, when we saw the fog and heard the wind pick up, we immediately thought, "I gotta get the hell outta here!" The cinematics only served to push us even harder.

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  6. "There is no real explanation why an emergency box would include ammunition. Sometimes you even find entire crates filled with unlimited amounts of ammo."

    Actually, emergency boxes include ammunition on private properties that may encounter hostile wildlife... like, if they're in the middle of the woods? But yeah, I'll give you that; the game gives a bit too much ammo. The only real "need" for it is when you play a second time for the collectibles and such. Then it helps to have enough ammo to hang around areas you're not "supposed to" be hanging around in ;)

    "The combat becomes so boring that you will sometimes just try to outrun your pursuers and walk into the next checkpoint"

    Lol, that's what you're supposed to be doing most of the time, dude. That's why the enemies either seem to or in fact do respawn infinitely in so many locations.

    "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?)."

    Of course, that's a lie. At least half of them are not on the main path at all. But let's see what you got.

    "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."

    If you mean to say there is no Xbox Achievement regarding the thermoses, that's dead wrong. But no, there's no purpose beyond simply having them collected... hence why they are called 'collectibles'. I already mentioned the manuscripts, but I'll leave it at this: Dread. That's the idea. Dread and suspense. They want you to know what's ahead so you can build it up in your mind as the ordeal it usually is. But it's actually explained in the game as well. Remember Thomas Zane. Well he flat-out tells you that he's the one leaving them in just the right places as a way of warning you what's ahead.

    But yeah, since they bothered you so much, you did the right thing not reading them. (Surprised it took you that long to realize their purpose, though, considering the very first one predicts the oncoming danger more closely to the danger than any other manuscript in the game.)

    Motion blur is a matter of preference (again), not an actual flaw. If they meant for the game to do that, and it did, that was simply a success on their part you personally didn't like.

    "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.."

    Use the flashlight to show where Alan's pointed. You know, it only makes sense that if you're walking across a raging river on just a log, you're going to want to point the flashlight on the log...

    "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."

    Trying to think of an example of this. But considering your credibility at this point, I really don't know why I'm bothering to.

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    Replies
    1. This game suffers from technical, storytelling and gameplay problems that I can't ignore. If you thought Alan Wake was the best game you have ever played, good for you. I found it pretty poor and bland on almost all levels and am far from impressed. It did have great promise but the final product didn’t live up to the hype or any of those promises. As you will see when you check the other reviews on my blog – I always write an honest review of my opinion. If I like the game then I like it, if I don’t then I don’t. What other people think never really comes into the equation.

      You may not take me seriously for my opinion about this game, just the same as I can't fully take you seriously if you insist that this game is not about walking down a very narrow corridor in one level after the other and from one cut scene to the next. Pressing emergency buttons as they show up as instructions on screen in typical lazy console game fashion. Your explanation of how the weapons work differently because of damage dealt and rate of fire misses the point of my critique completely. The combat is repetitive, predictable and almost always goes down the same way whatever weapon you use or whatever enemies you face. Combat rarely if ever forces you to make innovative survival horror decisions to overcome your enemies – instead it just treats it as a regular action game.

      There are many games that succeed better at what Alan Wake was trying to do in terms of providing challenging gameplay, suspense, fear and story combined into one. Perhaps not on consoles, but I’m primarily a PC gamer.

      I respect your rebuttal which is the longest in my blog history of comments – clearly indicating your passion for this game. But I don’t agree with much of the explanations you give.

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    2. "This game suffers from technical, storytelling and gameplay problems that I can't ignore."

      The word "problems"; that's what I have problems with :) Not appealing to you in particular does not mean the game had problems.

      "As you will see when you check the other reviews on my blog – I always write an honest review of my opinion. If I like the game then I like it, if I don’t then I don’t. What other people think never really comes into the equation."

      All fine and good. I don't doubt you dislike the game, immensely. But I did have doubts regarding specific statements by you in trying to explain WHY you dislike it, as I already pointed out in the replies above.

      "You may not take me seriously for my opinion about this game, just the same as I can't fully take you seriously if you insist that this game is not about walking down a very narrow corridor in one level after the other and from one cut scene to the next."

      The only thing I can't take seriously is the language you're using to make your opinion more agreeable. "walking" alone is suspect. You leave out all the running, dodging, driving, etc. Maybe it's not intentional on your part, maybe it's an unconscious process. But even without harping on the use of this one word, you're leaving out the action that is in fact in the game. This much really seems intentional.

      "Pressing emergency buttons as they show up as instructions on screen in typical lazy console game fashion."

      You're talking about the mechanism for opening doors, hitting the jukebox, freeing yourself from bear traps, yes? If so, I actually agree with you on that. Especially with the bear traps, I think it should've been a bit more complex.

      "Your explanation of how the weapons work differently because of damage dealt and rate of fire misses the point of my critique completely."

      No, that tidbit was to argue against your claim that there was a lack of variety. I wasn't sure if you meant the enemies and weapons, or just the enemies. So I covered both, just in case.

      "The combat is repetitive, predictable and almost always goes down the same way whatever weapon you use or whatever enemies you face."

      You mean to complain that you always have to use light, or what? Well this aside, I honestly didn't find it any more repetitive or predictable than a lot of other shooters out there. They may have (slightly) more types of guns and more types of enemies, but you usually end up facing enemies that look alike and go down alike throughout most of the game.

      "Combat rarely if ever forces you to make innovative survival horror decisions to overcome your enemies – instead it just treats it as a regular action game."

      I think I know what you mean. Not many "What do I do?" moments, yes? I can agree with this too, although I still contend "How do I get away?" moments suffice for a series' first installment. The DLCs feature a bit more creative combat and survival tactics, though. Chances are, the sequel will build upon this.

      Any specific explanations you disagree with beyond these, I'm (obviously) willing to discuss them :)

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