PLATFORM: Xbox 360

PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios

Six years in the making, the creators of Max Payne finally bring their action/horror title to light.
Alan Wake is a famous author who’s saddled with a crippling case of writer’s block. Two years ago he killed off his most famous character and since then he just hasn’t been able to think up a new story. To take a break from driving himself nuts back home in NYC he takes off with his wife to the idyllic Pacific Northwest small town of Bright Falls.

The very first night he’s there his wife goes missing, something in the darkness grabbing her and taking her off. Wake regains consciousness a week later with no idea of what’s happened, and finds out that the place they were staying at doesn’t even exist. What’s more, he starts finding pages of a manuscript that he apparently wrote over the last week, pages that tell the story of current and future events.

Wake grabs a flashlight and a pistol and sets off into the darkness to find his wife.

It’s sad that Alan Wake‘s being billed as a “psychological action thriller”, because it’s not very scary. As an action game it fares far better, but the repetitive combat and incredibly linear path drags the experience down.

Alan Wake was originally envisioned as a sandbox game, one that would let you drive around and explore an open world, and it’s hard not to wonder if that would have been a better take. Here Alan spends most of his time hiking through the woods and along mountains, truly beautiful environments that soon because boring and rote because there’s simply nothing to do in them. Alan always has a narrow path to follow from light source to light source in order to find his way to the end. Once in a while he has to hit a switch or solve an disappointingly simple puzzle to proceed, and then it’s back on to more endless walking and combat. 

CHUDTIP-  Watch your back. Enemies can easily sneak up on you without warning.

Light is absolutely everything in this game. Your enemies have been consumed by darkness (dubbed “Taken”), and the only way to weaken them up for bullets is to shine a light on them and burn the darkness off. You can focus your flashlight with the left trigger which makes it more powerful at the expense of battery life. The first few times you’re attacked by the taken are pretty scary, till you figure out how easy it is to evade them, get their “shields” off and put them down with a few rounds. When you get attacked (it happens frequently) the game slows down to a familiar Max Payne-ish bulletime that soon gets old. (Another Max Payne fan favorite [ahem], the dream sequence, returns here.)
The game is actually amazingly entertaining for the first few hours as you emerse yourself into the story and come to grips with the controls and combat, but it completely loses it when absolutely nothing new happens. For example- there are only three types of enemies in the entire game. Three. Possessed townsfolk, possessed birds, and possessed objects. That’s it. You’ll fight all three types in the first hour of gameplay and never really have a challenge. Sure, there are different types of (stereotypical countryfolk) Taken that you’ll face, like miners and woodsmen. Some are big and carry chainsaws and some move quickly, but they’re all the same. Once in a while one will pop out at you at the wrong time and give you a jump, but they’re not scary when you end up blasting literally hundreds of them away. 

CHUDTIP-  A quick boost from your flashlight will keep the birds off of you. Just listen for clues to where they’ll attack from next.

Same with the birds. It’s awesome the first time you fight them and you think about all the other forest animals that could be terrifying you… and nothing happens. At one point you even pass a BEWARE OF BEARS sign, and oh did my heart go aflutter with the possibilities! And then… nothing. There are no surprises, no shocking reveals. Once you’ve learned how to deal with the basic enemies you’re set for the rest of the game.

CHUDTIP-  If some object attacks you, just hide behind cover and shine your light at it till it disappears. It’s never any more intense than that. Easy peasy lemon squeesy.

It’s a shame, because the combat really is incredibly satisfying. You don’t have a tremendous variety of weapons (pistol, shotgun, rifle, and flaregun) but the flashlight mechanic really adds to the experience. You can upgrade the flashlight to a heavier maglight and then a lantern, both of which simply have more battery life, and also pick up some items like flares and flashbang grenades to help you. Every episode you’re stripped of them, which seems more like a reason to make you have a “run from the darkness” sequence than anything else.

There are also a few sequences set in the daylight, which are more for story progression than anything else, and driving sequences which are just as unfortunately linear as the rest of the game.


It sure is a great looking game. The environments are truly breathtaking, and you’ll want to just stop and check out the sights. When you get to a high point it seems like you can see for miles without anything breaking up. Of course the lighting in the game is absolutely astounding as well, although it’s a bit strange that they don’t put you in complete darkness too often. Although the game takes place over multiple days there’s always a full moon in the sky and plenty of light on the ground… when there are no clouds over the moon it or mist hovering, of course.

CHUDTIP-  You can charge up your headlights to hurt the Taken, then run them over. Do that to 15 for an easy achievement.

The soundtrack is equally impressive, and the licensed tracks are as well. There are quite a few tracks that you should recognize, all included for clever reasons. Listen to the lyrics!

The game will take you around 10-12 hours to finish all six episodes. There are plans for future downloadable episodes that will basically make for Alan Wake 2.

The only reason you’d want to go back to the game is to get all the achievements, but those are all of the horrible collection sort that most gamers have grown sick of. Some manuscript pages you can only collect if you play in the hardest Nightmare difficulty, so there’s a little more story to find if you don’t mind hunting every inch of the land. Much like the Max Payne series there are also TV shows to watch (a fun and cheesy live action Twilight Zone riff), radio shows to listen to, and also coffee mugs to collect. The radios and tvs make sense since they tie into the story around him, but what’s he doing with all this surely cold coffee? Who knows. 


So it’s a horror game that isn’t particularly scary, an action title that’s
repetitive and without challenge. What has it got?

Well, the story is certainly
interesting, although it’s still strange to see it broken up into
“episodes” that all end on a cliffhanger and begin with a recap of
events. The characters are likable despite some occasionally stilted
voiceacting and a script that sounds like it was written in
another language. The game definitely evokes the feel of a Stephen King
novel, of a writer facing an unstoppable force of darkness and fearing
for his own sanity throughout.

CHUDTIP-  Left 4 Dead 2 gamers will find a lot of familiar territory here. At one point you’d almost expect the Midnight Riders to show up. Can you say concert?

It’s fun to read all the
manuscripts that you can find scattered throughout the world, as they
usually give a different perspective of someone’s actions and thoughts, and the action is fun enough to keep you hoping for something new, something that sadly never comes.

Re-reading this review I feel like I’ve been a bit hard on the game- there’s certainly fun to be had here, and you won’t regret a playthrough. But the repetition and odd lack of any sort of buildup knocks Alan Wake down from a potentially great game to a merely decent one.

7.5 out of 10

(Join the ongoing A. Wake discussion on our messageboards.)