Stephen King once wrote that nightmares exist outside of logic, and there's little fun to be had in explanations. They're antithetical to the poetry of fear. In horror stories, the victim keeps asking "why?". But there can be no explanation, and there shouldn't be one. The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest, and it's what we'll remember in the end.
My name is Alan Wake, and I'm a writer...
This quote begins your journey into the nightmare of Alan Wake. A survival horror game made by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360.
The game puts you into the shoes of Alan Wake. A famous writer who has been hit with a serious case of writer's block. He and his wife go to a mountain town called Bright Falls for a vacation so he can get his mind straight. However, thing go very strange after reaching the cabin they're staying in. Wake finds himself in a car accident with no memory of how he got there. Not only that, a week has passed since he arrived in Bright Falls, and he has no memory of it either. Wake also starts finding pages of a horror story manuscript called "Departure" that he may or may not have wrote during the week he can't remember, and everything that is written in it is now coming true.
The game has a Stephen King feel to it. And to be honest, he is mentioned several times throughout the game (even though he has no hand in it's creation). The game's eerie atmosphere draws you in during the night. And during the day, you can't even tell what evil awaits you in the dark. As the game follows Alan Wake, you start to question what's going on at points in the game. Is the horror he experiences during the night a simple nightmare? A paranoid delusion of his? Or is it all to real? The story makes you want to continue on to see what will happen next. To even further the story are radio broadcasts that you can find throughout the game.
...And then there is the pages of the manuscript itself. They are sometimes along your path, and at others hidden in dark corners or off the beaten path. Each one giving you insight into what other characters may be up to, or were thinking, clues as to what happened to Wake, or hints as to what may await you later on.
You can also find some TVs in the game that can be turned on to a show called "Night Springs" (this game's version of the Twilight Zone), or they may turn on their own to show a clip of Wake (which make little sense until you start uncovering the truth of what's going on). All of these TV clips are shot with live actors, and gives more to the eerie nature of the game.
Of course, you're not just wandering around mist filled woods looking for lost pages. There are the "Taken". Shadowed covered people taken over by a mysterious force. And they can show up when you least expect it. They can't be hurt easily. But you do have a weapon against them. Light.
During most of the game, you have a flashlight in hand to help you find the way through the darkness. However, it also functions as your weapon against the Taken. Shine your light on them to weaken them. After you weaken them, you can destroy them with conventional weapons. You can also use flares to keep them away for a few moments. You also have flashbang grenades and a flare gun than can kill them outright.
Weapon selection is limited, but to be expected. You'll only find shotguns, rifles, and revolvers in Bright Falls. The limited selection of weapons and the fact you can only have three weapons at a time make it more tense in it's favor. Especially since ammo is not always going to be available (or weapons for that matter).
Fallen always will be after you, wielding hatchets, axes, and even chainsaws. Even possessed crows and blobs of darkness will attack you. In fact, the evil that hunts Wake can even possess items and machinery to attack you, making you always wonder when the next attack will come.
The controls of the game do well enough. Firing your weapon is responsive, and so is throwing items. You move around in the game fairly good, but feels a little slippery. However, aiming your weapon has a flaw. When you aim, you're focusing the light from your flashlight, which, although makes the light more powerful, drains your battery. You can lightly press the aim button to just aim, but in the heat of battle, you're usually pressing down on the button as if your life depends on it.
At the end of the game, the ending feels... unfinished. Even though everything is resolved, you still feel something is missing. But, the credits state that the story is not over, and the game supports downloadable content, meaning that more chapters may be around the corner.
The game only lasts around 8 to 10 hours. But, if you're looking for a good survival horror game, and think the Resident Evil series has become too action based, I would recommend checking this game out.
Overall score: +B