Out of the woods, back into the woods
Alan Wake's greatest flaw, though, is the exhausting sameness of its level environments. While the major landmarks of Bright Falls – places like the diner, the trailer park, the mental hospital and the Wakes' haunted cabin – are fascinating to explore and filled with fun characters, the wilderness in between is dull, dark, dreary and even more repetitive than the previously criticized enemies.
Above: Honestly one of the more unique areas in the game
Endless miles of forest paths are punctuated only by the occasional abandoned shack, empty lookout tower and closed facility yard. Beyond the combat, you won't be asked to do much besides unlock doors, turn on generators, ride elevators or run up and down hills. And you won't discover anything particularly surprising or unexpectedly creepy in these sections… just a lot of trees and a lot of Taken. Sometimes the game provides you with a car, but always briefly and always with a very linear path to drive.
Unfortunately, these slogs through monotonous enemies and environments do make up the majority of Alan Wake. Fortunately, the combat and controls are satisfying enough to keep you involved, and the mystery of the story is easily enough to keep you interested. Even when you come across buildings and clearings you could swear you'd visited before, you'll keep pushing forward, desperate to reach the next important location with the next important plot development.
This game brought to you by…
Final gripe: Alan Wake contains a distracting amount of product placement. Energizer brand batteries for your flashlight, we understand, but massive Energizer billboards in a tiny rural town? And an Achievement tied to watching a Verizon commercial on an in-game television? Sorry, Microsoft… we know this game took a long time to develop and you probably want to guarantee some kind of return on investment, but c'mon. This crosses a line.
Is it better than…
Silent Hill: Homecoming? Yes. Alan Wake is survival horror and, as such, is clearly influenced by the Silent Hill games. It's about a man searching a hellish town for his lost wife, for chrissakes. But the formula feels fresher here than in recent Silent Hill entries, and with Hollywood-ready characters and story sequences, more appealing to Western audiences. Plus, the enemies at least make sense and aren't just weird for weird's sake.
Dead Space? No. Isaac Clarke wasn't nearly as compelling a character as Alan Wake – hell, he wasn't even as compelling as his space suit – but at least he had interesting shit to see and do. Dead Space's environments are masterpieces of atmosphere and its enemies are disturbingly diverse. Alan Wake does have a far better story, however.
Max Payne? Maybe. The answer depends on what you're looking for in a game. You'll notice plenty of similarities between Alan Wake and Max Payne, Remedy's previous series – for example, slow-motion dodging has replaced slow-motion bullet time – but one is action and one is horror. In our opinion, the actual gameplay in Max Payne is superior, while the overall impact of Alan Wake will stay with you longer.
Just for you, Metacritic!
Like slipping in and out of a nightmare, Alan Wake is a mixed experience. You'll adore the game's well-written characters and grow obsessed with the deeply intellectual story, but thanks to repetitive action and uninspired levels, reaching the end and solving the mystery can sometimes prove a bit tedious.
May 4, 2010