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25 minutes with Alan Wake

The forest is nearly pitch black, but strangely illuminated painted rocks point to hidden boxes filled with limited ammo and storage sheds (with minimal batteries, handguns, hunting shotguns, and flare guns) that punctuate the otherwise empty paths. While wandering around the forest and fighting enemies, you'll be holding a flashlight and a gun. They aren't taped together but you can use both simultaneously, and Remedy made sure the mechanic aims both together whether simply walking or engaged in combat.

The dark paths are a recipe for instant fear. The creepy, subtle sound effects, and the lack of action, reeks of constant threat. Still, Alan Wake plays it cool with its pacing, pulling its punches with restraint. Every few minutes, a smoky figure appears ahead of you but disappears into the darkness, and after about five to 10 minutes of tense build up, you'll enter a timber yard and confront possessed workmen.

That’s it? Possessed workmen? Yes, it seems that your first real task is to fight local union workers. Fortunately, it's more complicated and fun than that, we swear. First, they appear in numbers of three or more. Defeating them requires use of the flashlight, which peels away a shield of dark energy. Once they’re vulnerable, it’s all about well-aimed gun shots. Guns are slow to reload and you're almost always low on ammo, rendering you nearly helpless against the (evil and possessed) union workers. But Remedy has created a slick dodge/sprint mechanic to counter. When enemies aren't nearby, the left shoulder button enables a sprint. When in danger of an enemy's swinging axe, the same button enables Wake to duck under their swings in slow motion, giving him time to reload or spin around to shoot. A final confrontation awaits you, and will require all of your newly learned skills. Spoiler alert: it’s more possessed workmen.

Alan Wake may have been in development for five years and from what we’ve seen so far, the title’s craft, skill, and originality comes shining through. It's exciting to realize that after only 25 minutes of playing, Alan Wake entertained us with its mystery genre story, perplexed us with its HP Lovecraft notion of surreal evil, and satisfied us with its tight controls and fun flashlight mechanics.

Feb 17, 2010