There's a lot more good than bad. You certainly haven't played anything like Alan Wake before.
Alan Wake is, at its core, a survival horror game. Like lots of survival horror protagonists, you aren't much of a fighter or an athlete. Enemies appear in small numbers that can do a lot of damage pretty quickly. To defeat them, you have a limited supply of ammunition that you have to conserve by making quick decisions on how to survive each encounter. Between encounters, you forage for ammunition and flashlight batteries, as well as collectibles, in addition to solving the occasional puzzle or pushing a button now and then. The game also has many long non-combat sequences that function essentially as interactive cut scenes. The combat occurs at night, and more story-related stuff happens during the day.
You quickly learn that the light is your ally, and the darkness is your enemy – literally. Enemies all spawn covered in darkness, which they wear like armor. Before you can shoot them, you have to shine your flashlight on them for a few seconds to "burn off" the darkness. About 2/3 of Alan Wake's gameplay is ultimately this two-step "shine flashlight, shoot enemy" mechanic. For the most part, it is a clever, innovative one that is implemented very well. Regardless of what you are doing, the night time sequences always have a sense of dread and danger. It is this sense of vulnerability that separates the good or mediocre horror games from the truly great ones (like System Shock 2, Dead Space, and this one). Like all great games of its genre, Alan Wake thrives on challenge, because without it, the feeling like you can get killed at any time isn't there.
Unfortunately, also like many games of this genre, some of the difficulty in Alan Wake is due to klunky controls and contrivances. Alan Wake probably runs slower than Gabe Newell and has approximately the same amount of stamina. He is about as agile as a grandma in a wheelchair – his only evasive maneuver is a wussy "dodge" move where he kind of just bends over and stumbles to the side. It is this combination that makes it almost impossible to do anything but immediately fight anything that you encounter, when sometimes you'd rather run to a less exposed position. Enemies can close in on you really fast, and your only real defense is to either hit them with the light before they reach you, or perform a dodge. Combat is slow-paced, and sometimes enemies spawn behind you and smack you upside the head while you are trying to kill another one. Despite these little problems though, Alan
Wake rarely becomes irritating, thanks in large part to generous save points, and just enough supplies to survive every encounter as long as you play smart and aim carefully.
This game was first announced almost seven years ago. For a game that old, you might expect it to look badly outdated, but that is not the case with Alan Wake. This game still looks technically on par for the PC, and its scenery is incredible. The game alternates between night and day in the sleepy, Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls. The daytime, especially, is visually stunning. It is absolutely breathtaking. Forget what you have read about how gorgeous Skyrim is. This game's depictions of colorful, sunny, forested hills in autumn blows that game out of the water, along with just about everything else. During the daytime sequences, you can't help but stop sometimes and admire the view. During the day, the game feels warm and safe.
At night, it's an entirely different story. The game still looks impressive, but instead of beautiful, it's scary and intimidating. The presentation is a big part of why combat works so well, since it relies on visual cues as much as narration and tooltips to communicate what's going on. Dangerous areas like deep woods are often cloaked in a thick fog. When danger is getting closer, the fog gets thicker while the wind starts to hiss. Enemies emerge cloaked in blurry shadows – it sticks to them almost like tar. They charge at you angrily, but then recoil in pain when you shine your flashlight into their face. Little sources of light highlight goodies like ammo and batteries, and your next objective. When you kill an enemy, he doesn't just fall to the ground – he bursts with a bright flash like he's made out of magnesium.
I can't overemphasize how fantastic the presentation is, and how central it is to the game. In addition to all sorts of visual cues, Alan Wake relies very heavily upon the audio too. The standard audio features like voice acting and weapon sounds are good. Where this game really shines is how it uses audio during combat. When you shine your flashlight on an enemy, some high-pitched music kicks in and gets louder until the darkness explodes off of him with a bang. In this way, the music brilliantly performs the function of a health bar. There are all kinds of little audio hints in the game that tell you when you are in danger and when you are safe, like a brief little beat that plays when you reach a checkpoint. Alan Wake is probably the most brilliant game that I have ever played when it comes to communicating information with its presentation. Every other developer who wants to do the same should take notes.
In addition to some unique gameplay, Alan Wake shows off Remedy's creative talents as well. The game features a complicated, unconventional narrative with some very good writing. The plot is engaging and highly unpredictable. Alan Wake and his wife, Alice, arrive in Bright Falls, and then all sorts of weird stuff happens. The characters are interesting and the game's numerous dream-like qualities keep you in a perpetual state of disorientation. Comic relief is frequent and effective (Alan Wake is actually one of the funniest games that I have played in years). The story is good, but it's unfortunate that the game goes through some long periods (sometimes up to an hour) without story advancement. There is a lot of downtime in the game, where you are just exploring or walking to your next objective. This isn't poor design, as much as it is necessary for the story to work like it does.
Pacing, or the lack thereof, is ultimately Alan Wake's biggest flaw. The game mechanics work pretty well, but it is difficult to stretch them out into a full length feature game. There are only so many ways that you can shine lights on enemies and then shoot them. To its credit, this game attempts to throw in as much variety as possible. There are a couple of driving sequences. There is a scene where you escape from the cops. There are some scenes where you fight swarms of angry birds. There is the occasional "defend this spot for 2 minutes while your sidekick is busy" sequence. There is even a "boss battle" against a possessed bulldozer. Despite these attempts though, the game still gets boring sometimes. In an attempt to add some more gameplay, Remedy also loaded the game with more collectibles than a typical platformer. Some of them have value, like manuscript pages that help fill in the story. Others, like coffee thermoses, are nothing but worthless achievement point bait. One of the more entertaining collectibles in the game isn't an item, but a series of TV shows that you can find called "Night Springs". "Night Springs" is a hilarious parody of The Twilight Zone, which was probably another source of inspiration for this game.
Alan Wake is the type of game that can be very polarizing. There are a lot of legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at the game. I can see where someone would be justified in giving this game a low score, but I loved the experience, and I highly recommend it. For me, the goods far outweigh the bads. It is by no means a game where everything works perfectly, but it is a fine addition to this genre and a great story-driven action game. It probably won't compel you to finish it in one sitting, but you will want to come back to it, both to experience its intense combat and to find out what happens next in its story. Remedy is a talented developer like Valve, who thinks on their own and can come with a uniquely crafted experience independent of what the latest fads are in gaming. You certainly haven't played anything like Alan Wake before.