Alan Wake retro review: Twin Peaks meets Stephen King

Alan Wake

As most of us have probably heard by now, the narrative-driven horror shooter known as Alan Wake has been removed from all sales platforms following the expiry of various music licences.

Fortunately, in light of this news the developers, Remedy Entertainment (Quantum Break, Max Payne), gave the game a ninety percent discount for a limited time, allowing users one last chance to grab the game before its indefinite withdrawal.

If you’re reading this and did not jump at that opportunity, I unfortunately have to inform you that the chance has passed. If you visit the Alan Wake Steam page right now, you will notice the lack of any purchase buttons.

But fret not! As a homage to one of my all-time favourite gaming titles, I decided to once again return to Remedy’s sinister world and review it with new eyes.

The Review

It was strange stepping back into the world of Alan Wake. It feels like just yesterday that I was mesmerised by its intricate storytelling, breathtaking level design and quality graphics. Now, seven years later, I can say with the utmost pleasure that, for the most part, these feelings remain intact.

In Alan Wake you take on the role of a world-famous horror author who has been struggling to write since the release of his last book. Unbeknown to him, in an attempt to rekindle his creativity away from the prying eyes of the press, his wife Alice arranges for them to stay in the small and secluded harbour town of Bright Falls.

But this tranquil breakaway quickly turns into a literal nightmare with the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of Alice, sending Alan on a dangerous quest to find her as he unearths a sinister paranormal conspiracy. From doubting your own existence to questioning the fabric of reality, Alan Wake will throw more twists at you than a Shyamalan movie.

At first, Bright Falls seems like the safest place in the world, the kind of place where everybody knows everybody, a fact that the game effectively reinforces through its duration. The town’s small yet vibrant cast of inhabitants are all distinctive in their own right but all share that stereotypically hospitable small town demeanour. Whether it be through praise or gossip, you will regularly hear the townsfolk mention each other in conversations, adding much life to the overall narrative experience.

Alan Wake

Beyond the locals, Bright Falls and the surrounding area make for a stunning setting. Throughout the day you will be able to witness some of the most breathtaking scenery implemented in a game. Large expanses of evergreen forests are divided by wide, serene lakes, with Bright Falls snugly nestled in the middle. The rendering of light and water in these scenes are remarkable, especially considering the game’s release date.

But for all its tranquil small town charm, there is something undeniably ominous about Bright Falls and its community. This is a horror game, after all. At first it feels like a mere hunch, an unsettling feeling stirring in the pit of your stomach.

Once night falls though, that hunch quickly proves itself to be valid. The peaceful landscape becomes a sea of mist and darkness that physically distorts the world around you, twisting it into unnerving, obscure shapes. It quickly becomes evident that Bright Falls is haunted by some intangible malevolent presence.

Lurking in these strange shadows are “The Taken”, residents of Bright Falls possessed by the ethereal evil. They will be your main adversaries throughout the game. Usually armed with a variety of harmful objects such as machetes or spades (which they’re quite fond of throwing if you try to keep your distance), they tend to suddenly swarm you or trap you in carefully laid ambushes, each encounter as nerve wrecking as the next.

The battle between light and dark is a key theme for Alan Wake, as you’ll find out

To take on these Alan-hating bastards you will have to go through a two-phase plan. First you will have to eliminate the protective shadows covering your enemies. In most cases, you’ll do this by using your shining your trusty flashlight on them, resonating the age old of theme of light vs. dark (a theme that will often be echoed throughout the game).

The light will slowly eat away these shadows, meaning that you will have to implement some serious strategic back-stepping while hoping there is no-one creeping around behind you. Fortunately,

Bright Falls (although seldom) provides you with a few more powerful light-inducing weapons such as the devastating flare gun or the wide-reaching flash bang.

Once you have finally stripped them of these protective shadows, you may proceed with shooting them in the face, using various weapons such as revolvers or hunting rifles that you’ll collect throughout town.

Alan Wake

But the evil presence’s reach extends further than the residents. In fact, any object you see can become possessed with the wicked intent of destroying you. One boss fight will see you taking on a possessed bulldozer while simultaneously weaving and dodging between a small army of Taken.

Moments like these will leave you utterly helpless and overwhelmed, and is something that this game thrives on.

Luckily, not all the inhabitants of Bright Falls are out to get you. Throughout the game, you will be aided by various charismatic characters such Cynthia Weaver a.k.a. the town’s local oddball who is constantly checking if all the light bulbs in town are in working order. Or Pat Maine, the local radio host who seems to care about everybody but basically just talks about himself. Beyond adding colour to the overly dark story, these small encounters will serve as welcome deviations, ensuring that the experience doesn’t become too repetitive.

Of all the people I encountered though, none were more welcome than Barry Wheeler, Alan’s hilarious loudmouth big city agent. Whenever things were getting too tense or serious, Barry was always there to level the experience out.

Whether it was watching him and Alan getting laughably drunk or him covering himself in Christmas lights (because obviously a flashlight wasn’t enough), he brings a much needed comedic edge. He also serves as a great way to show Alan’s humans side, who is otherwise mostly occupied with saving his probably-dead-by-now girlfriend from the clutches of pure evil.

Closing Thoughts

Alan Wake

Alan Wake is a remarkable and enticing exploration of psychological horror and it one of the most unique shooters you’ll experience to this very day. Admittedly, there are times the gameplay can feel a bit repetitive but the developers have done a great job of offering various detours to keep things fresh.

For some, the aged graphics might be an annoyance, especially when it comes to character models. But personally, I found most of the game to be beautifully built, with the edge-of- your-seat narrative masterfully hiding any minor hindrances.

It’s a shame that Alan Wake might never return to the marketplace. But if that is the case, it will only add to its already enigmatic legend.

Score: 9 out of 10

Correction: We inadvertently published this story under the incorrect author’s name. This has been amended.

Wiehahn Diederichs


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