When Alan Wake was announced at the E3 conference a couple of years ago, there was a sense of excitement towards a new title entering a genre that had been dominated by Resident Evil and Silent Hill for about a decade now. The real test for Remedy (the same developers who were behind the Max Payne titles) and Microsoft would be whether Alan Wake could compete in such an established genre. For this, Microsoft invited both myself and hat aficionado Jeremy to get a hands-on preview of the game. And yes, the game is FINALLY done and ready to be released in late May.
The first impressions of the game are good. The opening cinematic shows of the large sweeping vistas that'll become the counterpoint for this story. Then there's Alan Wake, an acclaimed novelist with a bad case of writer's block, on holiday trying to escape it all. Alan's holiday quickly turns into a nightmare when he starts having a very vivid dream. Haunted by an axe wielding poltergeist, Alan must quickly learn how to overcome these spirits. From there the story picks up quickly, thrusting Alan forward as things continue to get worse with the disappearance of his wife.
Poltergeists aren't a new concept to the survival-horror genre. In fact, they're probably as old as the genre itself, though it's the way this game has Alan combat these beings that really sets this game apart. The balance between light and dark plays a pivotal role in Alan's survival. The right use of various light sources could mean the difference between life and death. All of the beings Alan gets to fight in this game are vulnerable to light, a good light source can be utilised to actually heal Alan and not only that, keep the poltergeists away. Things like, torches, flares and flash-grenades play an important role in defeating these beings.
The combat revolves around keeping the light source pointed at a spirit until they become vulnerable to firearms. This element introduces a sense of strategy when dealing with multiple spirits, as your torch only has a finite amount of battery, plus flares and flash-grenades don't come in huge supply. The system of aiming and shooting is very forgiving, which is great considering ammunition isn't in huge supply. It becomes important to conserve your bullets and often it becomes a task of only shooting these beings as many times as necessary, as anything extra is only going to make it harder to complete the level down the line.
Though it's not just the open, dark, desolate scenery that creates the atmosphere, it's the eerie way in which the story unfolds. Alan will continue to venture through the various wilderness environments, coming across novel pages nailed to trees, left on the ground and hidden away in various corners of the map, though these pages play more of a role than just being a simple collectible. These pages play a pivotal role in explaining the story, as they are pages to a book Alan has no recollection in writing. Spookier still, the story amongst these pages is seemingly played out in a very similar way to what Alan is experiencing. Combined with flashbacks and visions that Alan experiences, the first part of this game poses more questions than it answers, and sets itself up for an amazing (and spooky) story.
The use of lighting, the graphics and the lack of a soundtrack add to the desolation and at points of Alan Wake, the game has really been made in a way so that the surroundings really do compliment situation. This serves to contribute to a game which so far has done a brilliant job of setting the scene up for what is shaping up to be an enthralling and unique story. And so far, the game plays pretty well too.