I'll start this out with good news and bad news. First the bad news: The version of Alan Wake that I managed to get my hands on at Microsoft's press event late last night was essentially a modified version of the demo shown at the company's Monday press conference -- which means that I'd already seen the environments and situations presented. The good news, however, is that the demo is just a precursor to a longer demonstration that Remedy will start showing behind closed doors today once the Electronic Entertainment Expo officially starts.
Now if you missed the conference stage demo (which you can view by clicking that link up there), here's a quick snapshot of what Alan Wake is all about: You are Alan Wake (surprise!), a novelist who hasn't written anything meaningful in a few years. To help you with your severe writer's block, your wife Alice has suggested taking a trip to the postcard-friendly town of Bright Falls -- perhaps to use as a setting for your next masterpiece. Of course, the game is a suspense-laden ode to the supernatural, so it doesn't take long before your woman completely disappears and you're on a hunt to find her. The twist? Your "psychological thriller" manuscript that you don't even remember writing is slowly coming into reality as your follow Alice's trail. Creepy stuff!
One of the immediate bright spots in this very dark adventure is how the narrative is told. Even in its abridged 10-minute format, Alan's narration of the story as it unfolds is highly dramatic and well acted -- and the fact that he's reading his own story for the first time is an interesting take on a familiar "find the missing person" formula. Also of note is the TV-style presentation. Though Remedy wouldn't confirm an episodic structure per se, the team did provide a rather sumo-heavy inference to it. From what we can tell, each chapter starts with a "Lost-"style recap of the events leading up to your current dilemma, and from there you play the chapter through to its conclusion.
The segment I played was the now-familiar stage that follows Alan as he searches for an acquaintance named Rusty who may know where additional pages of your manuscript are. Finding more pages will help Alan understand his story better, and understanding the story better means that you're one step closer to Alice. Of course, you never really see Rusty directly -- you just follow his screams through a series of pitch-black locations.
The game itself plays in similarly to most modern-day action games and shooters. The right trigger fires your weapon of choice (which can be cycled through via the directional pad) and the right bumper activates road flares that you can use as a source of light. You see, light plays a very important role in Alan Wake, as it's the only thing that dissolves the dark shields around inanimate objects and people that have been taken over by the "dark force." While most dark shields fade with time, it's not quick enough to keep you in the clear by just waiting around -- you have to be smart and ready to shine the light at your enemies at a moment's notice; the trick being that your flares are special pick-ups and your always-armed flashlight has a battery that drains away pretty quickly.
What I enjoyed most about Alan Wake as I moved from cabin to cabin in the eerie mountain village of Bright Falls, was how effectively Remedy has implemented strong action-oriented gameplay without sacrificing atmosphere. Alan is the only normal person in a very paranormal place, and he's not the type that can just run and gun his way through the horde of evil things surrounding him. Running away is probably the smartest strategy in the game and combining that cowardice (or as I like to call it, tactical withdrawal) with a clever use of your flashlight and gun combo is every bit as entertaining as previously 'roided up horror titles like Resident Evil 5.
Besides the use of light, Alan has other tools at his disposal. Weapons like pistols, shotguns and flare guns blast your unshielded enemy with great sound effects, and the ability to dodge (with left bumper) puts your reflexes to the test. Of course, using the environment to protect yourself is a key tactic as well (finding street lamps to shun your foes away, turning generators on to create an impromptu shield for yourself or using trees or other big obstacles to block incoming projectiles is just the start. Interestingly, my experience with Alan Wake was somewhat less intense than the demo shown on Microsoft's stage, as the number of enemies was toned down quite a bit, so I never saw the army of Dark enemies that we saw today. Remedy says this was intentional, because they wanted us to a get a feel for how the game works in conjunction with its atmosphere without overwhelming us with too much too early.
Most of everything else we know about Alan Wake can be seen in the oft-mentioned MS stage demo that I've already talked about several times over (and I encourage you to check it out). Based on everything I've seen so far, though, Alan Wake is already one of the most interesting, and one of my most anticipated, upcoming games over the next year. Here's to hoping it lives up to its potential.
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