Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Platform:Xbox 360 exclusive Release Date: May 2010
Alan isn’t exactly the most heroic of names – but for the protagonist of Remedy’s Alan Wake that didn’t seem to be a big problem. Pitched as a ‘psychological action thriller’, with a massive, open world, Alan Wake looked as if if was going to be a maudlin, intense psycho drama – akin to the recently released Heavy Rain.
Yet two minutes into our time with Alan Wake, the game it most reminded us of was Max Payne. Alan might have a dull name, and be suffering from writer’s block, paranoia and nightmares but these are ailments which can most definitely be fixed with a shotgun. This is because there’s little doubt as to the fact that the horrors in Alan’s world are real – or to be precise, corporeal. While other characters in the game might have their doubts about what Alan sees, the terror is real and shootable.
In fact, a more accurate description of Alan Wake would be horror action thriller – several younger journalists at the preview event compared the game to Resident Evil 4 rather than Max Payne, for instance.
So what are the horrors afflicting Alan? He’s a thriller writer suffering from writer’s block, and has come, with his wife Alice, on holiday to the town of Bright Falls in the Pacific Northwest of the US. It’s one of those scrupulously normal small towns that you know is going to be stuffed with perverts, freaks and dangerous lunatics – Twin Peaks, The X-Files and Stephen King’s books are clear reference points.
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Alan arrives, and he and his wife head to their not-at-all-creepy lakeside holiday home, after collecting the keys from the not-at-all-creepy landlady. Of course, by ‘not-at-all’, we mean ‘quite-clearly-Satanic.’
These early sections, which are pitch-perfect renditions of the scenes from the start of a horror movie where the nice young family arrive and everything seems great, give a feel of the open world game Alan Wake perhaps was at some point in its life. You can mooch around a diner, start conversations, play with the jukebox – and when you get to the holiday home, your first job is to wander down to the bottom of the garden and play a quicktime event to get the generator started.
Even better, Remedy sneak in an early shot of adrenaline in the games tutorial, which takes the form of one of Alan’s nightmares – we’re not going to detail it here, but it’s brilliantly realised, a scary chase through a forest that introduces to combat, and the game’s key mechanics.
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This means that the time spent poking around the town and the holiday home doesn’t feel slow – you know it’s the calm before the storm – sure enough, things go wrong. Alan and Alice argue in a striking scene that’s both low key, but will ring very true to anyone who’s tried to help their partner and have it backfire. Alan storms out of the house, and goes for a walk to clear his head – only to hear screams and shouts. He runs back, but she’s gone.
What happens next is somewhat confusing, but Alan is next seen waking up at the wheel of a crashed car. It’s night time, and the road is quiet, and winding through a forest. Off in the distance is a petrol station, its bright lights visible through the mist. You’re in control, and you set off in search of help.