Thursday, October 7, 2010

Video Game Assessment: Alan Wake (2010)

I knew this game would be trouble from the moment I first held the box in my hand. As an X-Box 360 exclusive title, it should have been fantastic. It should have been amazing enough to hold its own on the gamers' console. It should have been epic.

I talk of shoulds, but I mean it. This game had been in my mind for so long. Reviewers praised it up and down and called it one of the best horror video games of our generation, if not one of the best games of all time. This game had been in development for years and years. I think it was close to seven or eight years when all was said and done. I practically got my X-Box 360 for Alan Wake and Mass Effect, and couldn't have cared less if all the other video games didn't exist at all. So, I wanted to love this game. I really did. Maybe my expectations were too high... or maybe this game is a pile of crap tied with a happy ribbon to give it edge. I'm going to tell you what I think. (It's the latter... just so you know.)

Alan Wake is
A Psychological Action Thriller
whatever that means. Seriously, what is that supposed to mean? Is it supposed to mean that it's an indefinite piece of this genre? I've never heard of another game being in the
Psychological Action Thriller
genre. So, I'm not sure what to believe. Do I call this game a thriller? Well, it does have some genuinely thrilling moments, but they are few and far between. I found the best scares to come at the very end of the game or in certain patches throughout the game. But they are few and far between like trying to find gems on the surface of the sun. Yes, there might be something shining in your eyes and you could certainly call that shiny thing a gem, but all you're going to do is go blind eventually if you keep staring. Look, I'm not saying that there are no thrilling moments in this, I'm just saying except for Alan Wake's wife first disappearing, it's all so ordinary. It doesn't try anything new or awesome. It's a story that I feel I've read a better times with all the Stephen King books I've read, except that any Stephen King book or story or just about anything is better than this garbage disguised as fillet mignon. As for the action part, well, you do get a gun, sometimes... when the game is feeling generous, which it often doesn't seem to. I hate the action parts of this game. It all feels the same. The game also doesn't think much of my intelligence... always zooming in on the enemies like it thinks I won't be able to see them over my absolute terror of a dark forest! And a river! Oh no! What could be worse than running water? I mean, did the developers think that the players of this game would get easily distracted and not be able to distinguish the enemies of this game from trees or something? Because it seems that every time an enemy shows up on screen, the camera just has to ZOOM in on the thing... I mean, come on! I'm not an idiot! I can tell the things I need to kill from inanimate objects. As for the psychological part, I think this is a blatant lie. Seriously, if you think this has a psychological story, go watch Jacob's Ladder, 1408, Psycho, Session 9, The Changeling, Carnival of Souls, and many, many others, or go play any Silent Hill game, Deadly Premonition, or even The Suffering games if you have nothing better to do with your time. They all have psychological aspects to them, whereas this game has amnesia... it has an author writing his own story. Oh, how cute. How many times has Stephen King and every other author done that? Hell, I can think of two Stephen King stories right off the top of my head, seriously without thinking at all, that have the whole author creating his story kind of storyline and both are so much better than this piece of utter dog crap. (The stories in question are Duma Key and "The Word Processor of the Gods".)

Now that I've bashed the label of this video game, let me get into the video game itself. The gameplay isn't bad. Actually it kind of has a fun quality to it. You shine a light at an enemy, it takes down their darkness shield and then you shoot that enemy a few times. BANG! BANG! Then the enemy dissolves and that's it. It's fun. Sometimes you can shoot the enemies with flare guns or hit them with a flash bang. It's seriously so fun that it must be some kind of visceral reaction. When I think about this game, the only reason I feel that I finished it is that the gameplay was just so much fun. Even the dodging mechanic feels like it's hardcore and awesome.

The character suck and I won't waste my time describing the vapid creatures. I don't know if any of them actually have any real characterizations or if they all have jumbles of characteristics thrown out there as descriptors even when it goes against what actually makes sense.

I also have to make a mention of the scenery, just because it is gorgeous when it can be seen. It's so dark in the game that most of the time it is quite difficult to figure out what's going on, but when you can see what's what, the scenery is quite beautiful, and I do like that. The forests feel like forests and the town feels like a town. It all seems to work pretty nicely.

The different "episodes" within the game get old quickly, and I found myself not even caring. I hated the forest sections so much despite the fun gameplay that I just wanted to get to exposition even though I hated every one of the characters. It just feels like the developers tried to do too much. The game feels way too short for a game in development for seven or eight years, whichever it was. It feels like it has some interesting concept, but never takes any of them to another level. It just leaves them swaying in the breeze. The last level or two in particular have amazing ideas that aren't in the rest of the game... and I don't know why. If some of those things had shown up throughout the game I think I would have actually enjoyed the game. Of particular interest to me was the tornado of darkness coming after Alan Wake and tearing down everything in its path, and the floating words level that represents the writer's head. I thought that was imaginative and fun and I wished all the levels could have had somethings like that, not just unimaginative forest sections over and over again, despite how fun the gameplay is. I'd rather have
A Psychological Action Thriller
with thrills, action, and something psychological... and I feel that all I received for my money was something trying very hard to be what it is saying it is, but falling very short of that mark.

I have another complain too: Why the hell is this game rated T? Every horror game I've ever seen is rated M because they should be. Horror is a genre for adults (despite the fact that I've always loved horror even as a small child), not for teenagers or younger. I feel that when a game starts pandering to the lowest common denominator, it suffers for it. I have a feeling that rating it T was all about the number of sales and look what happened there. The game didn't sell well despite amazing reviews praising everything on it and everything else. I contend the game didn't sell well because not only did it suck, it also wasn't scary, and that's a glaringly big mistake for something in the genre of "Thriller". Now, I'm sorry... but "Thriller"? Why? What's wrong with calling a horror game a horror game? What's wrong with making it scarier and more realistic and taking more time with it to make a better product instead of dicking around, slapping a T rating on it for sales, and teasing us with good concepts, but not enough substance?

This is one of the biggest disappointments in my life, up there with the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy being terrible, KotOR III never being made, and my first girlfriend breaking up with me for another guy. So, yeah, understand me when I say that this game is as disappointing as what George "Money-Bags" Lucas did to Star Wars... no, even worse, because at least I enjoyed Star Wars Episode I when I was ten when it came out, whereas this is just a pile of offal, too terrible to ever called good and too disappointing to ever be enjoyed.

I will say as a side bit, that I did indeed get to play a game that was as good as I thought this game would be. It came out not too long before this one and was easily the best game (or very close to the best) I've played all year. Deadly Premonition, which I do have a review for, is everything that this game is not. It's good where this is bad, and better where this game is good. Its story and characters are fantastic and even though both are kind of based off of Twin Peaks a bit, Deadly Premonition does a lot better with the idea and makes it awesome. I'm not going to say much more about that game, but it is awesome, read my review on it if you don't believe me. I love that game and if you have to make the choice, spend less money and play Deadly Premonition. The gameplay might be slightly worse, but everything else is better, even all the way to the excellent soundtrack. Seriously, go listen to the soundtrack of that game online somewhere, it's utterly fantastic.

Anyway, my point is that there are better games out there than Alan Wake, so don't waste your time, energy, or money on this turd when you can find gems for less money that are much more enjoyable and better in almost every way.


  1. I also bought an xbox360 because of this game. And it sucked. Luckily, we have Deadly Premonition, which is the game that Alan Wake should have been.
    A masterpiece, along with Silent Hill 2 and Nier.
    Lamp lady? pfff. I prefer the Pot lady! Funny, the pot lady's name is Sigourney and the lamp lady's name is Weaver...

    1. Yeah, this game sucked pretty hard. I found the critical reviews abhorrent to me. How could so many people like this game that is so inferior to, for instance, Deadly Premonition... and also Heavy Rain? I remember liking the visuals but getting so annoyed with the paper thin story, the rated T, lowest form horror/thriller crap, and the repetitive and lazily done gameplay. This is still easily the most disappointing game I've ever had the displeasure of playing.