GAMEPLAY (8.5) - Early previews led many to believe this would play like a survival horror game, but it can be more accurately described as a thriller with plenty of tense moments. Also, with Alan Wake receiving a T rating there is nothing too shocking or gory but considering how Wake is holding a flashlight for a majority of the game it is still recommend playing in the dark for a proper experience. Speaking of a flashlight, the basic gameplay in Alan Wake involves light vs. dark. There is an army of people referred to as the "Taken" who have been overtaken with a mysterious dark presence which transforms them into soulless beings with an overwhelming desire to kill Alan Wake. Alan must overcome the dark presence by using a light source such as a flashlight, lantern, spotlight or flare to rid the dark shield over the taken, and only once the dark presence is removed can Alan inflict damage on them with a revolver, hunting rifle or shotgun. The different, yet intuitive combat results into a truly unique experience compared to most other third person shooters. Instead of following the trend and making it a "hide behind cover and blast everything" shooter, Remedy has the player on the edge of his seat throughout as he is constantly being chased by the Taken, and using a fresh style of combat to take care of adversaries.
In Alan Wake there's nothing as comforting as locating one of the numerous 'safe havens' , brightly lit areas that act as checkpoints. In these small areas progress is saved, health is quickly restored to full, and the flashlight charges up its current battery. The flashlight only drains when the player holds down L2, which boosts it, allowing it to more quickly burn through the darkness. It's also the best way for Alan to aim his firearm at the enemy he's lighting up. Thankfully, Alan can not only carry a good amount of batteries, he can also change them out quickly. Alan discovers batteries and ammo all around Bright Falls. Often times, there is a stash of supplies located in Emergency boxes that are next to safe havens. Other times there will be supplies laying on shelves and tables. There are also hidden stashes of supplies that are conveniently available -- left by whom and for what reason will be discovered late in the game -- but with a sharp eye these can be found without too much effort.
Dealing with the Taken is only part of the experience. To mix up the action there are some minor puzzle segments to solve as well as a few driving portions where Alan can blast his lights and obliterate the Taken. The driving segments are mindless fun, but a little more variety to the puzzles would have been nice as they served as a welcome breather from the many tense moments of the game. Exploration is another factor as there are many collectibles to be found in the form of manuscript pages, coffee thermoses, ammo chests, portable radios, and television sets that air entertaining episodes of Night Springs, a campy version of The Twilight Zone. Remedy went a little overboard on the collectibles as hunting them down can become a distraction at times and take away a bit of the immersion. It would probably be preferable to not worry too much about collectibles on the first playthrough and just concentrate on the story, then deal with collectibles on a second playthrough.
GRAPHICS (8.5) - Alan Wake is a good looking game. With incredible lighting effects and believable forest environments, the game has some of the best atmosphere seen in recent times. Remedy does a nice job of changing up the scenery and making the player experience the stark difference of Bright Falls between night and day. The environments give a great sense of scale, leaving the player with a memorable cinematic experience. Unfortunately there was a noticeably poor job of lip syncing but the character animations are very fluid and well done, with realistic character movement.
AUDIO (9.5) - The voice of Alan Wake is what stands out among the sound design. Matthew Porretta does a great job voicing Alan Wake. Since Wake is a writer and is seemingly reliving his manuscript, he narrates his own story which is slightly odd at first, but becomes more and more fitting as his journey continues. The rest of the supporting cast nail their roles and help add to the presentation, especially the local radio host who pops up throughout to fill Bright Falls in on its impending doom. The eerie, dark soundtrack chimes in at all the right spots, and brings incredible dread for every encounter with the Taken that was about to transpire. The sound design is excellent as well, with little noises such as rocks falling down a cliff and the creaking of old wood boards adding to the atmosphere. Also worth mentioning is the exceptional soundtrack which contains a stellar list of songs from numerous artists.
VALUE (8.0) - The game should take most players about ten to twelve hours to complete their first playthrough, not exactly a long time but at the same time it doesn't overstay its welcome. As far as replayability goes, Alan Wake has an unlockable Nightmare difficulty upon completing the game which contains a small portion of exclusive manuscript collectibles to be discovered. There is no multiplayer, which is understandable as trying to incorporate the unique combat into a competitive setting would probably not work, though a cooperative survival mode may have been fun fighting alongside with friends against waves of Taken. As of now there are two promised DLC episodes, one of which is free to those who bought the game new.
SUMMARY - Few games have the life cycle that Alan Wake had. It was announced at E3 2005, appearing in and out of gaming news for the past 5 years. Like many gamers out there I was a bit skeptical about how the game would come together, and if it would be worth playing at all. Thankfully after hours of extremely intense gameplay and one of the most intriguing storylines I've experienced in a videogame I can say it was well worth the wait. Ultimately, Alan Wake is driven by the impulse to see what happens next. It offers up a believable world, characters worth caring about, enjoyable combat and a narrative that people will want to follow. While obviously not intended for children Alan Wake is one of those rare games that can be enjoyed by teen and adult fans of many different game genres, highly recommended.