Survival horror fans haven’t had much to terrorise them of late. Aside from the masterful, pant-fillingly horrible Dead Space 2, I can’t think of a single title from the past year that’s made me do the John Wayne walk of shame to the bedroom, in search of fresh boxers.
Until Alan Wake, that is.
Xbox owners have been crowing about this game for almost two years now, and now finally PC gamers get a chance to enter Bright Falls, the sinister setting for this psychological thriller. Alan Wake is the game’s protagonist, a stubborn and short-tempered horror author suffering from writer’s block. At the start of the game he arrives at Bright Falls with his wife Alice, ready to start a relaxing vacation together. No prizes for guessing how long it is before a massive mound of dung hits the imaginary fan.
Right from the off, it’s obvious something’s amiss. Bright Falls constantly gives off a serious Twin Peaks vibe, from obsessive waitress Rose who owns a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Alan Wake, to the obviously evil old crone who rents her creaky old lake house to the couple. The characters are generally well crafted, and the plot keeps you interested with creepy little twists and turns.
We’ll keep spoilers to a minimum, but the suspense builds into a gut-clawing tension as you wait for everything to go hideously wrong. The holiday soon turns into a nightmare, and Alan finds himself alone in the woods, hunted by people who’ve been taken over by a shadowy force. Alan Wake’s gimmick is that you can’t just blast away at your foes – instead, you have to drive the darkness from them first. At first you have to rely on a shonky old flashlight, but soon you’ll have flares and other weapons to help you out. There are also short driving segments to break up the on-foot action. Those headlights will come in handy.
Aim torch, shoot, repeat
A common criticism aimed at Alan Wake is the lack of variety of its enemies. It’s a fair one, since almost every gribbly in the game is a shadowy man clutching some kind of weapon. Burning the darkness out of a cluster of baddies before you can despatch them can also get annoying, especially if you’re out of flares. We lost count of how many times we were unfairly surrounded and butchered simply because we’d missed a stash of supplies hidden just a little further back.
Still, the atmosphere is near perfect, always threatening even in the most normal and boring of locations. Obvious Silent Hill influences, from foggy forest scenes to sinister bathrooms, don’t detract from the beautifully grimy graphics and eerie sounds. The soundtrack deserves a special shout-out, especially for including the excellent ‘lime in the coconut’ song from Reservoir Dogs.
A rather unique suspense builder is the scattering of manuscript pages throughout the game’s levels, which appear to reveal upcoming events. These pages act as a window into the future, which you might imagine would spoil any upcoming surprises. Not so. In fact, they worked to stir us up even further, especially one memorable excerpt that ended with, ‘that’s when I heard the chainsaw’.
Previously on Alan Wake
Alan Wake also adopts an interesting episodic structure, coming off like a late-night schlocky TV show. Each of the six episodes begins with a ‘previously on Alan Wake’ segment, and ends with a gripping cliffhanger that drives you straight on to the next episode. It’s a unique idea and, along with the scattered manuscript pages, has you wondering exactly which parts of Mr Wake’s life are real or imaginary. Each episode lasts roughly two hours, so you won’t fly through the game in a single night.
Most importantly, Alan Wake nails the little details that bring the world to life. Switch on a radio and you’ll hear the all-night DJ nattering to locals you’ve actually interacted with. Turn on a TV and chances are you’ll catch a two-minute episode of Night Springs, a blatant Twilight Zone homage/rip-off. We found ourselves stopping and enjoying these little distractions – always a welcome relief from the terror awaiting us outside.
Alan Wake keeps you regular
And yes, the game can be terrifying. Play it in the dark with headphones, and you’ll be frequenting your local M&S to stock up on fresh undergarments. We’ve finished enough survival horrors to anticipate surprise gribbly attacks, but Alan Wake’s beasties move with startling speed, so you’ll often be surprised by an axe to the face when you least expect it.
While Alan Wake borrows heavily from certain games, books and shows, it’s still a blast to play and will satiate any survival horror fans until the next big thing comes along.
Alan Wake PC System Requirements
Alan Wake for PC doesn’t have processor-mashing system requirements, as the game is a port of a two-year-old Xbox title anyway. We found it ran fine on a Core 2 Duo PC with a mid-range nVidia graphics card, and we recommend you rock a rig with at least 4GB of RAM to keep things smooth.