Alan Wake is a very tough game to review. The major draw for this game is the storyline, which stands head and shoulders above most other 360 games. The influences of Stephen King and David Lynch are felt all throughout the game, in particular, the closing music of Episode 1 which is straight out of David Lynch's Blue Velvet, starring the late, great Dennis Hopper. Ultimately, as with the work of David Lynch, everyone will walk away with a different experience from Alan Wake.
The theme of light and dark is taken quite literally when it comes time to actually play the game. Using a flashlight, you have to remove protective layers of darkness before opening fire with a trusty sidearm. I for one, never got bored of this, not once environmental hazards such as loose power lines and red exploding barrels were introduced. The cast of enemies is very, very small and the constant need to shine light first, shoot second could get old for some people very, very quickly.
When you are not shining light on the denizens of darkness you are engaging in some very light puzzle solving. This is basic "hit a switch" puzzling and only serves to break up the gunplay. Vehicle sections also break up the action but they work nicely into the plot and when they do pop up, are a welcome diversion.
A major problem with the puzzle solving, running and gunning gameplay however is that at all times you are reminded Alan Wake is a video game. The ever present HUD always shows you where to go and as a result, the tension level is not as high as it could be had the game been HUDless. The option to turn it off does not exist.
It is painfully obvious that the majority of the graphical horsepower went to the lighting effects. The lighting is amazing, easily the best I have ever seen. The character models on the other hand would not be out of place in a PS2 game. Do yourself a favor, and when characters are talking, try not to look at their mouths.
They did manage to make Alan's wife appear to be wearing painted on jeans, so that is a plus.
Clunky is a nice way to put it. The game demands tight control while playing on Nightmare difficulty but it will fight you. Alan turns slowly and the aiming can be very awkward, both with your flashlight and a gun. Alan is not a space marine, he is a writer, but moving *that* slow is just annoying.
Sound and Music
Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick is the soundtrack for this game amazing. Every chapter ends just as television episode would, with a closing song that accurately captures the mood. The song choice at the end of Chapter 1 is what hooked me, but it was one sequence during Chapter 4 that had the best dichotomy of music to in game action that I have witnessed in years. In fact, that moment gets its very own call out.
Every game, no matter what genre or platform, has The Moment. That One Thing which happens and makes you sit up and go "DAMN!" Final Fantasy 7, with the murder of Aeris, is perhaps the easiest example to recognize. Alan Wake, towards the end of Chapter 4 as you're approaching an old, decrepit stage in the middle of a field....it has one of those moments. Gameplay and music meld and make you feel like you are an unstoppable force of destruction.
Some of the collectibles in this game, such as the manuscript pages, tv shows and radio shows reveal bits about the world of Alan Wake and are worth your time to collect. TV shows, especially those that are showing "Night Springs", think The Twilight Zone, are really cool. A guide is recommended if you want all the achievements, and a second play through is mandatory, but if you skip the story completely it is a quick game.
Gameplay is fun and different but not for everyone as it can get old quick if the plot does not grab you around the neck like Andre the Giant. Music is amazing and an example of the right way to work it into a game. The abundance of collectibles can be daunting for achievement seekers but the real issue comes from the horrible character models and clunky controls.
The very best part of the game can not be mentioned, as that is the plot. If you are looking for something different, Alan Wake is an unique experience. It may just last you a weekend, but like a good book, you will go cover to cover.