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Alan Wake: Limited Edition (NTSC)
Company:
Microsoft/Remedy
Website: Official Site
Estimated Street Price: $79.99
Review By:
Brian Kvalheim

Remedy, the makers of the ever popular Max Payne game, has finally brought another title to light 7 years later. Gone is the mobs and mafia from New York, and in comes a new location, Bright Falls. The controversy for this game started back at E3 when Remedy debuted it’s new engine showing off an amazing array of weather changes as well as night to dark open world exploration. Originally scaled to be on PC and Xbox 360, some things have changed, while others have remained the same.

This is a story centered on a fiction writer named Alan Wake, who is looking to get away from the day to day routine and take a vacation in the hidden Bright Falls community. Driving his way to rest and relaxation, his wife joins him as he heads into the woods and checks into a small village filled with locals and interesting characters only seen in psychological thrillers. No sooner than your first contact with the locals, your wife goes missing, and Alan Wake starts the hunt for kidnapper. Twists and turns in the plot will lead you through an interesting, sometimes complex, story line. While the game would be hard pressed to be compared to a title like Heavy Rain, you will find that the story is the appeal of this title similar to the direction of Quantum’s Heavy Rain. You are in for a ride of scares, humor and a serious story all wrapped around an environment that has yet to be seen on consoles this generation.

If you have ever seen the series “Twin Peaks”, you will get a similar feeling when you approach this 6 episode game. Each episode plays out like a TV series, with a recap at the beginning of each episode. At the end of each episode, you are presented with a song from the included soundtrack on the Limted Edition version of the game. The music is excellent, though it is available to skip if you prefer not to wait through each ending. Remedy carries the story and series throughout the entire Limted Edition set. From the episodes in the game, the soundtrack, the included hardcover book all the way to the book packaging. This was the best LE edition of game in which I have ever purchased.

You will find that while there is some great story telling cut scenes, Remedy opted to offer more interactive story telling. From an epic battle deep in the forest of Bright Falls, out to a dialog with a local that you walk down the street with as you look around taking in the beautiful atmosphere. Many times you will find yourself electing not to progress to the next checkpoint just so you can listen to the humor of your friend and attorney sidekick. Alan spends quite a bit of time not only interacting with others, but will treat you with his inner thoughts as he scours the environment for clues, such as manuscript pages for a story that he hasn’t written yet. Sometimes these manuscript pages ends up being mini spoilers as they tell Alan what he is about to experience ahead. Remedy did an excellent job connecting storytelling, cut scenes, interactive cut scenes and gameplay.

There is no question that the game has a linear feel to it. Your heads up display (HUD) will show you your enemies, your check point and location. Waving off the creepy paths is possible, but is normally scaled back by water, rock walls, and sometimes invisible fences. Remedy does encourage you to stray however. You will find yourself extending the replay of the game by making sure you find the hidden items. Thermos’, manuscript pages, radios, TVs, weapons and ammo finds will all lead to not only a more immersive game, but add up towards your ever growing achievement score. If you are into taking in the entire story, the manuscript pages are worth every pick up. The pages are read to you, connect the entire story, and you can go back and read them again at any time. Television shows will offer you a glimpse of what is to come, and some prequel information, which seems to be confusing for what is already a complex web of plot changes. Alan Wake is the star and writer of each and every page, radio and TV show. He just didn’t know it.

Bright Falls is a large world of detail seen like in any other game I have experienced. Downtown is an old town in current day, with 50s style buildings and diners, with a police department taken directly from Aunt B’s neighborhood. The lush wood, forests and mountain sides are art in HD. It’s these locations where Alan meets and speaks with all the locals in his attempt to rescue his wife. It’s the town where everyone knows your name, and ever body knows Alan. The characters, while predictable in nature, are well executed in design and voice overs. You will miss out on the thousands of lines of dialog if you don’t stop in the local diner and listen to some of the conversations being held between the locals having breakfast. Have patience however, many times you will find yourself having to stand next to a stranger for upwards of 15 seconds or more until they start to carry on off topic conversations that are worth of a listen.

Character and vehicle animation leave a lot to be desired in this game. Voice over lip-syncing is marred. Cars will stutter as they drive throughout the town, across the bridges, even in cut scenes. Take out those faults, and you are left with the best looking game seen on console to date. Attention to detail was on top of Remedy’s list for environment creation. Much of this attention seems to be found in games like Bioshock and Fallout 3, but more readily so here. From old torn street signs and sale signs in stores, to the tornado’s and swaying trees and brush seen throughout your gameplay was painstaking brought to realism. Much of the game takes place at night, which is where the paranormal invade Bright Falls, and Alan Wake. The light cast from the moon through the trees, brush and windows cast perfect shadows on everything around you. If you are deep in the woods surrounded by what appear to be topless trees, the moon is no longer of use as Alan holds on to his flashlight for dear life. The flashlights, with particles floating in the ray of light, cast real light on his surrounds, even bringing focus on signs you can’t read without it. It’s the flashlight that will help you survive as you progress through each episode. Your enemies don’t like light, so you will be able to enjoy your day time hours chewing the fat with locals. Save the nights for gun slinging, flare throwing attacks, and small puzzle solving action. All this in a non-repetitive environment that is completely original throughout the entire story.

Alan has experience with fending off the dark and dangerous as he is shortly awarded with a weapon as the game starts you off with a in game tutorial. The infected (similar to zombies) take over at night, and come at Alan with whatever garden tool or axe they can find. Armed with flares, shotguns, pistols and flash bangs, Alan takes the infected out of their comfort zone. Keep an eye out for birds looking to prey, or John Deere tractors that magically start up and look to mow you over. If the enemy see’s enough light, Alan can easily take them down with a few shots to the head, or more to the body. Don’t expect one shot kills however. Fighting animations are fluid, and “dodging” is movie epic. Your arsenal can be brought up on the screen using a HUD element similar to that in Ghost Recon. Don’t get to comfortable with your artillery though, as each episode starts you over from scratch, requiring you to build up your battery, weapon and ammo inventory. Much of this inventory can be found at well placed, easy to find light posts, which end up being check points and health regenerators. You don’t have unlimited storage space on your person, so be prepared to be disappointed as you are told your inventory is full. If you find yourself getting ready to bleed dry, sprint to the nearest light source (street lamp, house, generator). The enemy will disappear as you freshen up for another stab at the darkness.

The story offers up multiple difficulty levels to choose from at the start. I have chosen to go with normal difficulty. Once completed, you will unlock the most difficult option, nightmare mode. This mode, while being the toughest play though, also opens up more manuscript pages which are required to obtain additional achievements. If you elect to start with a more difficult setting, Remedy designed the game to be forgiving, lowering the difficulty if it finds you struggling. Taking the game easy will allow you to enjoy the fiction telling as you absorb the environment. Explosions from gas tanks will damage you less as you become more frustrated, regeneration becomes faster, and enemies lessen so that you can play the game instead of do the game. One of the more difficult areas of the game when it comes to combat is the A.I.’s ability to come from behind. The transparent infected don’t have foot prints or sound from their shoes, so you will find yourself attacked from behind more often than not. If you prepare yourself for this, it makes the game that much more enjoyable, and yet it still remains a fear that is always in the back of your mind.

I still am a bit perplexed at some of the shortcomings in this game after all these years. Some are trivial, while others not so much. Your thermos collection is an interesting minigame, that has no relation to the game. Random thermos’ found in the woods, kitchens, and barns throughout the game. If you collect a thermos then die, that thermos remains in your inventory. However once you respawn back into the game, those thermos will sometimes appear back in their original locations allowing you to pick them up again (even though they don’t add to your inventory again). Manuscript pages are only picked up and found once. The facial animations and lip-syncing issue needs to be fixed. Remedy plans to address this in the first free DLC episode, Signal, which is coming in July.

Driving vehicles in this games also seems out of place and is poorly implemented. They drive like vehicles from Grand Theft Auto back in the Playstation 2 days, and they are used to run over “the infected” which have no body mass. Using the vehicle also encourages you to miss some of the beautiful landscape as you need to meet a timed deadline to reach a location. For a story driven game like this, it almost seemed like a last minute inclusion.

Final Comments

Alan Wake has a few reasons’ preventing this from being a perfect game for the Xbox 360. Remedy, nor us the gamers, are perfect. Remedy did make the perfect title for the Xbox that we haven’t seen this generation. It’s a niche title, with thousands of hours of heart and soul poured into 7gb of optical disk space. A fun, fearful, well thought out complex story that has mass appeal, that will bring you 15+ hours of entertainment for $60 ($80 for limited edition). While you don’t get attached to any particular character, you are connected to the game, and you want more at the end. Not so much so that you feel short changed however. Remedy’s wetting of your appetite is complimented by future episodes being released over Xbox Live, with the first episode being free to those who purchased the game new. If you own an Xbox 360, and you love a really good single player game with a great story, look no further than Alan Wake.

Specs & Package
Overall Score 90%
Version Reviewed Alan Wake: Limited Edition (NTSC)
Release Date Out Now
In The Box?

1 Alan Wake (NTSC) DVD-ROM, 1 Alan Wake Hardcover Book, 1 Alan Wake CD Sound Track, 1 Alan Wake Extra Content DVD, 1 Book Bound Case, 1 Set Of Instructions, One Card for a free DLC episode

The Good Points Original Story
Graphics
Control
The Bad Points Character Animations
Character Lip-syncing
Replay Value
HD Resolutions 720p native
1080i
1080p


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