Alan Wake is the definition of a flawed masterpiece. It was released on XBox 360, and like Lord of the Rings, I find myself revisiting it each Christmas season.
If you’re thinking that all the content so far this month has been on the slight side, you would be right. It’s Christmas, there’s all next year to get into the deep and meaningful.
Here are a few reasons why I come back to Alan Wake each year.
Alan Wake has memorable characters.
There is something about the story none of it is original, but again it only makes it more endearing. The basis is somewhere between one of those Danish murder mystery shows and Twin Peaks. All the characters you can still remember years later.
There is the titular Alan Wake who it feels like he is based on someone like Stephen King.
There is substance abuse and the fact that he is kind of a douche. Is Stephen King a douche? I don’t know, probably. Alan Wake, throughout the game, won’t shut the hell up. His voice-over narration is unremitting. He sees a tree “ Oh the big dark tree looks scary, it reminded me of when I was a child, and I visited a park”. He sees a car “cars are like these houses on wheels that move about, forward and back never side to side”. There are even pages of his manuscript that you find. Don’t worry Alan will read it out loud for you.
Then there is the supporting cast.
You have Barry, Alan’s agent. If you thought that Alan was a chatterbox wait until you hear this guy. It’s a skill that they have this character. Barry walks the line of being grating as many of these kinds of characters do across media. In the end, Barry could have been a terrible character, but by the end he becomes endearing.
You have the local chief of police Sarah Breaker. She has her suspicions about Wake regarding the disappearance of his wife.
You have Cynthia Weaver, the lady with the light. She’s based on the woman with the log from Twin Peaks. Here they have her connected with Wake and the history of Bright Falls, the town where the game is set.
These characters may not be amazingly original, but by game standards, they last in the memory. They give enough of a backstory to these characters to make them stand out. Most video game characters are there to help, hinder or fill out the background. It is the attention to detail in Alan Wake that makes them stick in the memory more than other characters.
It must be pointed out that the FBI agent is the only character that gets old fast. Every interaction with Wake has him reference a different authour in every conversation. “That’s enough out of you Bret Easton Ellis”, “Shut up Stephen King” it’s the only bum note in an otherwise symphonic cast.
Part of the appeal could be due to the premise. Alan takes a romantic trip with his wife only for him to come to three days later. He is without his wife and has no memory of the past three days. It’s simple and cliche, but it’s useful.
You want to find out what happens next.
It has moments of genuine creepiness.
Alan Wake combines mystery, thriller and horror. The game oozes atmosphere. The majority of the locales in the game is the forest. There is a bit of variation here and there. For the majority of the game, you’ll be in a dark wood with only a flashlight for company.
There’s a moment so well done even thinking about it as I stand here typing makes my face contort in discomfort. The description will not do justice, but here it goes. You are navigating a series of caves. There is no noise aside from the ambient drips of water that echo throughout. You come to a fork in the road. One path leads up to light, the other down towards darkness. As you approach the way that leads down you here the disembodied voice of your wife whisper, “Alan”.
If there’s a video of that scene, I won’t share the clip. Why won’t I? It would be like telling you the punchline and refusing to give the setup. The context is key. That moment, considering how overblown the game becomes, is an excellent creepy moment.
It looks great even today.
Before I get into the main meat of the article, I have to point out that the game hasn’t aged.
It still looks wonderful.
The makers, Remedy Entertainment, take photos of textures they want in the game. They then import them into the game world. It gives the game a timeless feel. This is because they’re using photographs rather than making it from scratch.
Alan Wake is so flawed that’s part of the charm.
I can’t talk about Alan Wake without talking about how flawed the game is, it is flawed. First of all, for some reason, the levels, of which there are 6, have been split into episodes. Each one starts with a “Previously on Alan Wake” there is full commitment to the whole TV show feel. It would be great if this were some deeply complicated story, but it’s not. Most of these “Previously” are just someone telling Alan to go somewhere.
The game is short. The first half is padded out. To be honest, the first three episodes could be combined into one. They’re all set in the forest, and its story focused. The game is still introducing new mechanics by the third episode. Now, not an expert of game design, but you want to add all that’s important as soon as possible.
In book terms, if you’re still introducing characters by chapter 10, you have too many.
The game doesn’t pick up until the last three chapters. There are some great sections. Like when you have to make your way through the town at night, going to an old farm to find Barry. The second half of the game is terrific. It only makes the first half more frustrating.
When Remedy first started on the game, it was planned to be an open world game. The game ran over budget and over schedule. What that meant was that they had to scrap the open world elements. Remedy still needed the padding so what you’ll have is large open areas you can drive around in, but there’s nothing to do.
The final aspect is that it is the DLC (downloadable content) might be better than the main game itself. It goes into weird and beautiful territories. The main game ends with Alan in a coma, and the DLC is all about delving into Alan’s subconscious. It has some of the best ideas in the game. Alan has to navigate a minefield of words, he is harassed by his books that fly around him like angry crows. There is even one section where you scroll Alan through a hamster wheel of Alan’s life.
The dream-like visuals in the DLC show an abundance of creativity and imagination. It’s lovely to play through.
Alan Wake up
You probably think why am I getting tore into this game if I like it so much?
It’s because of the flaws that I love this game.
If you’re a frequent reader of my writing, first of all, thank you. You may have noticed is that I’ve written a bit on love and the definition of the word.
Love is wanting to keep the flaws in.
If you could have that someone in your life but they did the dishes more often would that be love? Would they be the same person?
My argument would be no. You love that person because they can be a little lazy. They are flawed, just like the rest of us.
You can’t remove the flaw without fundamentally changing the person.
If Alan Wake were a flawless game, I wouldn’t have played it every year. I would not be writing about it, and you would not be reading this.