Through a mostly unpleasant coincidence, Alan Wake’s mystery began several years ago. In what tends to become a habit for Remedy, the first game of a future franchise remained in production limbo for several years, discussions sometimes referring to it as a vaporware. The ambiguous situation was followed by another uninspired decision, offering the game as a Microsoft exclusive for their console, with the PC port turning into another mystery.
After almost two years that have been as unsure as the ones prior to the initial launch, the game has finally seen the redeeming light of desktop screens. The producers have already declared that their investment for this port has been recovered, but the important question for us is – has the wait been worth it?
Previously on Alan Wake
Together with Alice, his wife, Alan Wake is heading for the sunny isolated resort named Bright Falls, in the hope – mostly his – of relaxing and maybe – as Alice and his agent, Barry, want – to finally get over the writer’s block that has been plaguing him for the last couple of years and regain his inspiration.
But their holiday takes a supernatural turn when Alice is kidnapped and Alan wakes up after a week, being involved in a car accident and informed that, actually, their cabin hasn’t existed for about 30 or 40 years.
The main problem here is that the game’s accent on heavy narrative stylization (and implicitly on the story) gets off to a bad start. The narrative context demands that the initial reason for helping Alan is the kidnapped wife. Of course he cares about her, but me? Too little to not at all.
As a central figure that needs to give a start to the adventure, Alice is surprisingly poorly developed. The very short time that you get to spend with her and the poor characterization are not enough to create the attachment needed to make you run after her for about 10 hours.
If Alice is brushed aside so quickly and dry, it’s natural to expect that Alan will take a very detailed central place in the narrative. But this doesn’t happen either, in any case not quickly enough. The fact that Alan, while being a writer, seems boringly thin as a character in the first hours of play and is grumpy most of the time – but with no swift irony or sarcasm – aren’t helping and only distance him further from the attachment required by a central character.
I’ve thought a lot if this attitude towards Alan Wake is correct and my first direct comparison was with Max Payne, with which the present game has a lot to share, both structurally and stylistically.
Both are presented to us almost immediately accompanied by a tragedy, much bigger in the case of Max. Both of them have to solve a mystery related first and foremost to persons they love, as fictitious characters, because we did not have enough occasions to truly meet them. But in the case of Max, his personality – so attractively constructed by the sometimes extraordinarily ironic replies – and the tragic situation in which we find him, have a much greater contribution to our emotional implication compared to Alan and his kidnapped wife.
And this is a trend that the game sadly extends over many other characters. One of them, an FBI agent with serious auto-control problems, is carried through the story for a time with a lot of fuss, only to be suddenly discarded, probably until the next iteration of the series.
In a horror story, the victim keeps asking “Why?”. But there can be no explanation, and there shouldn’t be one
In the beginning, when the Wake husbands are approaching Bright Falls on their ferry, looking at the resort, it seems that the game has prepared for us a more open and detailed world. From the beginning I wanted to know more about Bright Falls and its inhabitants, I wanted more time for exploration and getting used to a place that looks to be ideal for relaxation, but the game unfortunately slams a wall in your face after practically inviting you to explore your new surroundings.
The arrival takes place in a cut scene, after which you get to control Alan in the local diner. After getting the key to your lodge, another cut scene follows, then another short sequence in which you have to mildly boringly walk Alan between two-three “objectives” and then another cut scene. And this structure is repeated ad nauseam for the daytime gameplay sequences, especially in the first half of the game, which takes up approximately four-five hours.
A discussion about the efficiency of cinematic sequences versus gameplay in the narrative presentation can very easily take place here, but in regard to the daytime gameplay moments, it really looks like Alan Wake would have been way better as a movie. Not only that most of them are completely devoid of interaction, but many are also useless in regard to the story, because they only serve as pauses between the shooting sections.