Alan Wake super review

  • Deep mystery story with multiple layers and meanings
  • A memorable - and lovable - cast of characters
  • Flashlight beams have never looked so good
  • Enemies and environments too repetitive to be scary
  • Obvious, obtrusive product placement
  • The confusing lack of closure

A meta mystery

At this point in the review, you might be a little confused about Alan Wake's actual plot. That's okay. Explaining the story in any clearer detail would not only require many confusing and difficult paragraphs on our part, it would ruin the experience and enjoyment on your part. The less you know, the less you expect, the better.

What we can say is that this game will make you think. Yes, about the mysteries of Bright Falls and Alice Wake's disappearance, but also – as the line between Alan's reality and Alan's fiction grows increasingly blurry –  about much bigger ideas, like the power of creation, the nature of free will, the meaning of sacrifice and even (seriously) the existence of a God or the Devil. The game also takes a cue from BioShock and Batman: Arkham Asylum, manipulating the player through scattered pages from a manuscript Alan doesn't remember writing. These collectibles don't break the fourth wall, but they do play with your perception of time, describing scenes that are minutes away from happening and thus setting you up for a creepy sense of déjà vu.

Despite all the layers within layers, however, Alan Wake's story is so easy to digest that we could easily imagine it being adapted for film or television. Maybe it's the strong writing, the well-directed cutscenes, the convincing acting or the Hollywood-ready soundtrack. Or, more likely, it's the clever structuring, which splits the game into six episodes, complete with cliffhanger endings and "Previously on Alan Wake" introductions. Ironically, while this same approach felt forced in 2008's licensed Lost adaptation, it works perfectly here.

Let there be light

Another contributor to Alan Wake's cinematic vibe are the graphics. You won't necessarily be blown away by the texture detail of the world or the facial animation of the characters, but you will be in constant awe of something that's arguably more important to the survival horror genre – the game's lighting effects.

They're captivating… and alive. Street lamps cast warm pools of light, beckoning you in the suffocating night, only to flicker and die as soon as you reach them. Red highway flares explode like supernovas, offering you a too-brief flash of the dangers that surround you. Alan's flashlight beam is almost a character in itself: projecting shadows that stretch and twist dynamically on the walls or floor, diffusing realistically as it cuts through blankets of fog and blinding other characters, forcing them to cover their eyes whenever you shine it into their eyes.

Light isn't just for show in Alan Wake, either. Your primary nemesis in the game is literally darkness – referred to as the Dark Presence – and light is the sole weapon that can "kill" it. When a human hunter is possessed, for example, you must use your flashlight to dispel the darkness off his body before your gun's bullets can hurt him. If you're ambushed on all sides, a flare can instantly remove every enemy's darkness at once, while a flashbang grenade can destroy them in showers of sparks. Without these tools, your only option is to continuously dodge attacks… or run like hell.

The monotony of monsters

Sounds scary, right? At first, yeah. Most of the monsters in Alan Wake are local townspeople who have been "taken" by the Dark Presence, and although this basically makes them zombies, their design is definitely original. Each is smothered in shadows, less human than a human-shaped black hole. And you hear the Taken before you see them, speaking in slithering, static hisses that sound as if they've been downgraded through ancient, broken audio equipment until all personality and individuality has been erased.

Once you've faced a dozen or so in the first level, however, you know what to expect and fear quickly changes to bored frustration. Run a hundred feet, fight a handful of Taken. Run a hundred feet further, fight some more Taken. Explore that abandoned building and… Surprise ambush! Oh, nevermind, it's just another group of Taken that look and act exactly like the last 20 or 30 groups of Taken.

Plus, don't expect much escalation or variation. Eventually, a few Taken upgrade their weapons from axes to chainsaws, and some learn how to teleport, but you can still dispatch these with the same flashlight-then-gun techniques.

As for other types of enemies, well… Do flocks of angry birds frighten you?

And as for bosses… Are you terrified by the thought of a poltergeist bulldozer? A satanic refrigerator? How about a homicidal pipe or barrel?

If not, you'll soon learn to dread the nighttime combat segments of Alan Wake. Not because they're terrifying, but because they're kind of boring.

More Info

Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Microsoft
Developed by: Remedy
ESRB Rating:
PEGI Rating:
Charlie Barratt

I enjoy sunshine, the company of kittens and turning frowns upside down. I am also a fan of sarcasm. Let's be friends!

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • thelegendaryX - November 20, 2013 5:26 a.m.

    Amazing game. Immersive atmosphere, intriguing story, addictive gameplay.
  • Alucard918 - May 19, 2012 9:55 a.m.

    Although the enemies are repetitive and aren't very scary the story is amazing and if you play on nightmare difficulty it is really intense and seams less repetitive.
  • danny-stuivenberg - May 9, 2012 9:53 p.m.

    Although it might be confusing, Alan Wake has a great ending.
  • BertTheTurtle - August 4, 2011 12:45 a.m.

    I know this is really late, but I wanted to defend this game since it is my favorite. Personally, I like this game more than the games I have that scored a 10. The story is one of the best I've experienced. The animations are smooth, the camera is amazing, the lighting is astounding, the pacing is perfect, the voice acting, the level design, the controls, the atmosphere, the setting, the attention to detail, the character development is all wonderfully done, and the soundtrack is one of the best I've ever heard. Also, I found this game to be one of the scarier ones I've played, and the DLC is outstanding. Personally, this is the best game I've played so far.
  • thelegendaryX - March 29, 2014 7:25 p.m.

    I agree! I can only think of three flaws. I FEEL it gives you too much ammo in many areas, the facial animations are pretty bad, and the driving physics are awful. But these are very minor issues (especially the last two). All in all, I enjoyed this game immensely. From gameplay to atmosphere to story. Really awesome, easily in my top 10.
  • MrQuatloo - January 18, 2011 2:20 a.m.

    Man, I love that game. It has made me fear the dark all over again.and the Cthulu reference was hilarious.
  • DrKiss - June 4, 2010 6:56 a.m.

    If I shine a light at my imaginary friends will they become real?... Then try to kill me
  • FVHound - June 2, 2010 10:37 a.m.

    Graphically it was the ugliest Game I had ever seen. The voices tended to not fit the movement of their mouth, which was minimal anyway, And just the terrible textures... I've played 2 hours, it's worth playing for the story, and perhaps wanting to know the characters, the gameplay is interesting, but repetetive.
  • thelegendaryX - March 29, 2014 7:26 p.m.

    I think the graphics in this game are amazing, all except the facial animations. Really beautiful game, IMO.
  • SausageLozenge - May 19, 2010 7:37 p.m.

    I find forests repetitive too.
  • RebornKusabi - May 17, 2010 9:57 p.m.

    Two things: Firstly, You're right, the enemies in Silent Hill: Homecoming didn't make ANY sense... however that is not the case for the earlier games, especially the first three games. Silent Hill 1's enemies were all completely based on the fears of Alessa Gillespie, some even from books that she read as a child. Silent Hill 2's enemies were all based on James Sunderland's personal ****ed-up thoughts... with the exception of two enemies (one is a human boss and another which was based off another characters father and what he did to her). Silent Hill 3's enemies are based off of both Heather and Alessa's memories, again some of the enemies being based off of literary monsters. Silent Hill 4's enemies are based off of Walter's fears and memories (as well as those dumb-ass and annoying as Hell Ghost Victim enemies) and Silent Hill: Origins enemies are based off of Travis's memories as well as Alessa's (again...) fears that she had as a child. Just a minor pet peeve of mine, but I hate when people (NOT YOU... you're awesome lol) bitch about the series' enemies when they really have no idea what the **** they're talking about. All you said was that the enemies were "weird for weirds sake" which is a completely fair criticism of the series' enemies in my book. Lastly, the first half of your review had me intrigued instantly (plus I'm a big fan of the Max Payne series and hearing they were involved was interesting)... too bad all of the [valid] complaints you had kind of turned me off of the game. I'll rent it first thought because the Survival Horror genre is really REALLY in the need of some new and relatively original games lol
  • JD_Method - May 10, 2010 12:15 p.m.

    Why do people talk about this like eight is a bad score? It's not. Eight is a great score.
  • LIKEUCARE - May 7, 2010 8:24 p.m.

    I was greatly interested in this game from announcement till the day it was confirmed as a XBOX 360 exclusive. Sucks bad, but its reality... and well, I refuse to buy a console solely for one appealing game for me! However, if the alleged rumors are right and there is a 360 slim on the way, then I might get one, ONLY IF its well rated and better built than current craptacular 360 that fails every months or so... Till then, I'll be more than busy with RDR, thank you very much!
  • blairjacobs - May 7, 2010 3:12 p.m.

    remedy makes quality games although the repetitiveness of wake mentioned in this review is kinda off putting... il stil pick this one up though... after red dead...
  • oryandymackie - May 6, 2010 4:39 p.m.

    I'm not ready to deal with this yet. I'm off to play Saints Row 2.
  • Mechamorbo - May 6, 2010 3:32 p.m.

    I was hoping for blown away reviews, but since I'm primarily interested in the story anyway, I'll still be picking it up
  • The_Tingler - May 6, 2010 6:24 a.m.

    If it was on PC I'd still get it... oh well.
  • Tochy - May 6, 2010 3:14 a.m.

    fail reCAPTCHA:marimba expression lol
  • Rob0727 - May 6, 2010 2:12 a.m.

    cant wait great review charlie but i think i might like it a bit more then u but still great