Alan Wake PC review
A true Remedy for PC owners or another console port nightmare?
Alan Wake has been around on the Xbox for about 2 years now. To those poor unfortunates waiting with baited breath for the PC version who were shattered by the news of its cancellation (and perhaps went out to purchase an Xbox instead, as I did), the world seemed like a better place when late last year we received the moral boosting news of a PC version at last! I for one wanted to see why it was canned in the first place. Was it bad programming, money/time issues or questionable sales techniques by Microsoft? You decide.
Alan Wake is based in the idyllic mountain lakeside town of Bright Falls. Whilst on vacation there to get away from the hustle and bustle of fame, the well known author has a hard time explaining to the authorities why his wife has suddenly disappeared, and a more difficult one trying to understand the strange things that have begun to happen to him since his arrival. It’s all very Twilight Zone, but it’s told in such a tight, well managed manner that you feel like you are in a TV version of a book, controlling the main character.
Almost everyone you meet in Bright Falls and the surrounding rural areas are incredibly well fleshed out and a joy to listen to, if only to get a slice of their daily lives; be it juicy gossip or the excitement they feel for the approaching annual Deerfest parade. There are so many extraneous mutterings, radio broadcasts and even TV shows to watch and listen to that I found myself stopping (and being a bit nosey) just to soak up a bit of the ambience before they totter off to bed.
“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
When the sun goes down the shadows don’t just lengthen; they flicker ominously and race across the screen in a coiling mist as a warning to danger close at hand, helped in turn by the superbly eerie sound effects and music. To protect yourself you will need a torch and a hand gun to start with. Your early adversaries are unfortunate local inhabitants who’ve been taken over by a dark power, and can only be killed with a weapon once you use your torch (or other light sources available throughout the game; all of varying strengths) to burn away the shield of darkness that surrounds them.
Shotguns and hunting rifles can be found as you progress but the selection is small, as is the amount of ammunition available. What makes the combat special is the amount of thought you have to put into it at times. Your foe can attack from any side and have varying speeds, strengths and throwing weapons, whereas you are not exactly an Iron Man race candidate and struggle to run for any great distance. You can dodge attacks if you time it right, but it is best to mix a bit of running, dodging, shooting and stunning with concentrated bursts of light from your torch (which drains the batteries more rapidly) allowing you to make your way to a protective area of light where your health will increase. Add to this some rather large possessed objects and vehicles trying to turn you into a bloody smear in the shadows, and the set pieces can get manic.
Light plays a huge part in the mechanics of the game, and a lot of time has obviously been spent getting all of the lighting effects just right; from simple torchlight to the more explosive (and damaging) flare gun, or the moonlight creating a ghostly aura across a forest clearing. Dark shadow-strewn areas have never looked so natural and otherworldly at the same time, and help create a wonderfully believable world.
A bird in the hand is worth a flock in torchlight.
During the day things look just as beautiful, with sunlight sparkling across lakes and streaming through gently shifting boughs. The power of the modern PC has been well used to improve many of the post effects and texture, although some textures remain rather blurry and the running water of forest creeks is visually dated. Generally, the animation and sound is of a very high standard as they were in the original game, and the ambient noise does as good a job as Alan’s monologue (where he quite literally speaks his mind to fill in gaps in the story).
I was a tad sceptical about the control scheme and wondered if it would cross over well to a keyboard and mouse but my fears were allayed after just a few minutes of play. The speed and accuracy afforded in this version are a boon and whilst a controller can be used if you wish, I cannot see why it would be necessary when the controls have been so finely polished. Try fighting a flock of possessed birds with the controller, then try the mouse and keyboard and you will see what I mean. The only time I wished for a controller was when driving but even this dissipated after a few minutes.
Alan Wake has been a long time coming to the PC but the wait has been worth it for those not fortunate enough to have played it on the Xbox. Add to this the fact that it comes with both The Signal and The Writer add-on packs and you have a wealth of entertainment that oozes character through every pore, even when being stereotypical, and shows that a deeply woven tale can be told and still contain an engaging game at its core.