Alan Wake is finally just a few weeks away from release, a psychological thriller more than three years in the making. Xbox 360 owners — ourselves included — have been looking forward to getting their hands on Remedy’s new game since first hearing what Max Payne’s creators had up their sleeves. Well, that day has finally come. We got our hands on a final build of Alan Wake. What follows isn’t a review; it’s merely a taste of what awaits Xbox 360 gamers when they fire up Alan Wake for the first time and walk, stumble and scare themselves silly through Episode 1.
In the first couple of hours — which is all we can discuss here — Alan Wake is a purposefully paced thriller in the vein of Silent Hill or Resident Evil. But before you start worrying about walking through the shadows doing nothing, rest assured that the gunplay elements have much more action than Silent Hill although not quite as much as the latter’s newest entry. Yet the action scenes aren’t just straightforward ammo fests. Instead, they balance the frantic feeling of multiple enemies coming at you from every direction with a strategic need to shine a little light on their situation. Literally.
Episode 1 of the game blurs the lines between what’s real in the town of Bright Falls and what takes place in what seems to be a nightmare. Or is it real? As players fight the surprisingly fast zombie-like residents of the Washington town, it’s never quite clear whether Alan Wake is actually experiencing everything or whether he’s battling something more along the lines of personal demons. Regardless, it’s easier to defeat the onslaught of possessed residents if Alan shines his flashlight on them first to release their inner darkness, then barrels down on them with his trusty revolver or shotgun.
The light/dark balance is also carried into Alan Wake’s health, as creatures never venture into the light (hello, safe haven!) and bright lights have the magical ability to regenerate Alan’s health bar. In lesser psychological thrillers, health bars are often irrelevant; in Alan Wake, the possessed people of Bright Falls are both fast and powerful, so just a few hits can take the struggling writer down to his knees. Light is thus incredibly important to the game, both from a gameplay perspective and to its plot.
Light’s also vital from a visual perspective, as the use of shadows and dynamic lighting really helps set the mood and tension. In fact, I can honestly say that even just working through the game’s first episode, I jumped and startled more than I have in any game since Condemned: Criminal Origins. When Remedy and Microsoft bill Alan Wake as a psychological thriller, they’re not kidding. Play this game with all the lights turned off and the speakers turned off, and you’re in for a scare.
All we’re able to talk about in this preview is episode one, and the narrative is so well paced and woven that I can’t go into any more detail without spoiling the experience and breaking the embargo. But if the first few hours of Alan Wake is any indication of the rest of the game’s intrigue and quality, then the past three years will have been worth the wait. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head back into the shadowy forests of Bright Falls to scare myself silly and shine a little light on the situation. Finally, we have another thriller — and awesome narrative — on our hands that consumes your thoughts even when you’re not playing.
We recommend clicking on the following link to pre-order Alan Wake from Amazon.com.
— Jonas Allen