I got my hands on a copy of Alan Wake by chance. Since Remedy didn't bother to offer a demo, I was curious to see if my impressions based mostly on videos would be correct. I was hoping it would prove me wrong. It didn't. Alan Wake is pretty much what I expected it to be - an enjoyable, but rather run-of-the-mill experience that does nothing bad, but it also does nothing remarkable.
The only truly standout thing about Alan Wake is its setting and theme - and even that isn't as fleshed out as it could've been. The game revolves around Alan Wake, a best-selling writer who goes to a picturesque town of Bright Falls somewhere in the Pacific Northwest with his wife. Wake suffers from writer's block and his wife hopes a vacation would do him well. After the couple gets situated in their cabin, strange things start happening, Wake's wife disappears and he sets off to figure out what's going on.
The script seems content on liberally taking cues from David Lynch and Stephen King, but never really does either one justice. Apart from the very likeable radio show host, none of the characters stand out. I couldn't bring myself to relate or empathize with Wake at all, sometimes he comes off as a total prick. His "best friend" and agent Barry also comes into the story a bit later on - a walking, talking cliche if I ever saw one. There's also the supposed antagonist in the form of FBI agent Nightingale who is one of the poorest, non-sensical characters in recent times. As one-dimensional as it gets, Nightingale has zero motivation and credibility, he's just there for the sake of being there. Some awful facial animations don't help the poor characterization in any way.
The episodic storytelling falls completely flat. Upon finishing a level, the game will show a TV-esque recap of what happened in that particular "episode" (read: level). This would be much more effective if the recap would be shown upon actually resuming the game. I don't need a recap of what happened 5 minutes ago, I need a recap of what happened yesterday.
The setting is wonderfully eerie and atmospheric. Some of the effects (lighting, wind) are incredible. Curiously, there's no rain which is a damn shame as it would heighten the atmosphere even further.
The most interesting thing about the gameplay is the light/dark mechanic - both in combat and environmental situations. The concept is simple (light=safety, dark=danger), but the mechanics are compelling and well-realized. A flashlight is as instrumental as a gun to make it out alive. Between standard weapons such as pistols, shotguns and rifles as well as light sources such as torches, flares and flashbangs, the game provides enough in the way of combat experimentation. However, the game stumbles in the design department. It doesn't offer much variety in situations or environment. This is especially evident in the last level in which the game liberally recycles every enemy and situation you've seen in the first five levels. Also, developers, listen up - spawning enemies behind the player's back = stupid.
Alan Wake is a game that misses its potential by a considerable margin yet manages to be enjoyable for the most part.