After playing Alan Wake a handful of people tweeted, IM’d, and wrote on my Facebook wall that “this game is so Kat.” You know what, it is. Why is that, though? Why did I play this game from start to finish, including the DLC, almost immediately? There are a variety of elements I hold dear in my gaming experience, and Alan Wake had nearly all of them.
First, it was set in a fictional small town, complete with background story, quirky characters, and a mysterious history. Many towns have come before it, but it had it’s own flavor unique to Bright Falls. Deerfest, the annual hunters festival is one of them. A night-owl radio host that just likes to reach out to people, a sheriff that doesn’t take lip from anyone, and a town legend that “might as well be Big-Foot.”
Setting is important to me, whether it’s based on a real town, or an invented one. Things need to fit, and Bright Falls is a place I’d love to run away to when my writers block gets to be too much. The other element I love in the non-game-element-category comes from the characters. The fan of the famous writer, the elderly former rock stars, and the shrink who specializes in art-related breakdowns.
Each of these elements are important to me when forming a game, bringing the writer to front and center. The main character, who is a writer, is dealing with a loss of intellectual drive - he hasn’t written anything in nearly two years. Sure, he’s an established best-seller, but he just doesn’t seem to have it in him anymore.
That’s where the art-related shrink comes in. He’s in Bright Falls to relax with his wife, Alice. She has, behind his back, set him up with this shrink. Alex takes this personally and storms out. Too bad for him he’s left his wife at the whim of a cursed cabin on a cursed lake with a specific darkness to it.
Having an engaging story in a horror setting is especially important. I hit certain points in the story and just couldn’t stop playing. The “what happens next!?” syndrome had me dreaming about Alan Wake, and wanting to figure out what was the actual cause of all of this insanity. Added DLC with an a heightened “WTF” factor is also really intriguing to me, leaving me wanting so much more!
While sure, the story is all well and good, what about the gameplay? You start off the game in a nightmare with these people shrouded in darkness. Your light is the key to breaking down their barriers and destroying them. You use your light combined with your pistol, shotgun, or hunting rifle to take down hordes of these people “Taken” by the darkness.
This tactic, having enemies all but invincible until you penetrate their shield of darkness makes the creepy game all the more terrifying. Sure, they’re not flesh-eating zombies, but they have weapons, and can take down Alan Wake in a few hits.
In order to keep away from these devastating blows Alan Wake gives players something not often seen in Survival Horror games. The ability to dodge. This is really interesting to me because, Hello, who would stand there to get smacked in the face by some guy holding a hammer? Not me. Time a dodge just right and you can recover and retaliate on a foe immediately. Time it wrong and you’ll still be nailed by a thrown knife, shovel, or whatever else the enemy hits with.
Health regeneration is also new to the Survival Horror world - stand in the light to regenerate health, or just avoid being hit for long enough. Sounds almost cheap, but you’d be surprised how quickly that health bar diminishes. This allows for more focus on gameplay, and hunting for the extra goodies around the land.
Collecting coffee thermoses is a bit silly, except (or maybe especially) when you get the Twin Peaks inspired Achievement “One Damn Fine Cup of Coffee.” Collecting pages from the manuscript that Alan Wake has supposedly written, but doesn’t remember writing, is where it’s really at. You get a lot of insight into individual characters, what has happened, and what is going to happen by reading these. Some are hidden in plain sight, while others are off the beaten path.
Exploring the woods at night sounds easy enough, but I’ll tell ya - it’s pretty freaky. At almost any time the Taken can show up, ready to beat the crap out of you (and yell some very not-nice things at the same time). The environment can even come to life and attack Alan when you least expect it.
The experience that I got from Alan Wake can’t be duplicated, and fits my gameplay style and story preference style all at once. I’m glad someone made a game with a horror TV show in it, and inspired me to write and game with everything I’ve got from that point forward.