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Alan Wake Thoughts

posted Jun 5, 2013, 6:40 PM by Skyler Kistler   [ updated Jun 5, 2013, 6:48 PM ]
Those of you who have me on Facebook or Twitter know I've been talking about Alan Wake way too much. Just to put the cherry on top, I'll post about it to the blog too :D
For those of you who don't know, Alan Wake is a psychological thriller game about a writer who's vacationing with his wife when she is mysteriously kidnapped by dark forces. The game's unique combat involves shining a flashlight on enemies and wearing their shadowy shield down before you can harm them with bullets.

First off, the game's presentation is spot on. The game is in an episodic format, with the cliche "Previously: on Alan Wake" narrative at the start of each episode. The more subtle parts of the story, such as what's going on outside of Alan's immediate vicinity and the thoughts of other characters, are told through writing. The writings are found on pages scattered throughout the levels, sometimes inserted just before a major event happens to conjure suspense. Moreover, some pieces are expressed through hidden radio shows, TV shows, and songs. With all of this wrapped within game play, it combines literally every entertainment medium (except for theater, interestingly) in order to tell the story. This in itself makes the plot very enjoyable, and I wish more games could do this so masterfully.

Second, the atmosphere of the game is one of, if not the single most remarkable experiences I have ever encountered, in any form of entertainment, EVER!! Whether it's the peaceful view of the camera flying through mountains with the sun setting, or being out in the middle of the forest with the screen being distorted and bent by darkness to make you think you see something rustling nearby, the world never ceases to invoke the intended emotional reaction of the state of events. What I found really interesting is that when you're being attacked you don't get excited to see enemies. You quiver in fear and fight for your life, you feel Alan's desperation and anxiety rather than just continuing to eat popcorn in front of your TV. You know that if you fail your wife will be gone forever. It's not like when you're watching a TV show you can take comfort and excitement in an action sequence because you know that the main character can't die this early on.

Third, by far the part of the game that will have the most lasting impression on those who play, is the plot itself. Sam Lake (@SamLakeRMD) and the co-authors of Alan Wake have crafted a masterpiece of symbolism and delusion. The meaning behind it, at least from what I've gathered, is directed at artists, or anyone who likes to create things. At the same time, however, I feel that anyone can get something out the story and experience a truly enjoyable adventure. The way it can touch your mind so gently and then a second later make you feel as if you've been hit by a tsunami of fear of confusion is truly remarkable. Horror fans will love it quickly, but even people like me who are too afraid of their own shadow to watch horror films can defeat the symbols psychologically in a way that make it playable and enjoyable. Wanting more story but being afraid of the next bend in the path is a lovely masochistic relationship that never got old for me.

It's not using horror in the plot for the sake of scare, it's using horror to express meaning in the story in a way that can only be done with fear. 
That alone is enough to get you through, knowing that it isn't trying to just get you to jump but to tell you something meaningful and lasting.

If I have to name cons, the facial animations are kind of humorous and the ending may leave too many questions for the casual player to enjoy.

So that's my overly long essay on why I think Alan Wake is absolutely awesome. Hopefully you're one of the many who got it on sale this past week through the Humble Bundle or Steam, but if not then it's definitely worth the full price. 

Back to game design,

P.S. I bought a flashlight because of this game