September 16, 2011

Alan Wake. Running with a Flashlight for Hours and Hours.

Finally, I got around to playing the game that about every Xbox 360 owner has played a long time ago - Alan Wake.

In all honesty, I don't get what the fuzz is about. I was very excited during my first two-three hours of the game. After that, it just got pretty boring gameplay-wise. For the whole duration of the game you do pretty much the same over and over... and over again. And what you do is run ahead following the always-present objective marker, meet a bunch of bad guys to either soften them up with a flashlight and shoot them dead or to just run past them to the next Safe Heaven (that's how a well-lit spot is called, usually from a street lamp). Sometimes you have to find a key or to start a generator, which hardly adds any freshness to the whole experience. In a short while your amusement with the light and shadows interplay, no matter how well executed, will grow  thin. After that there's almost nothing left to enjoy. Well, except maybe the story.
The objective marker. It's an always-present part of the game that points you towards the next objective. If you have to find some key in order to open a door and proceed, it means that you just have to run from where you are to where the marker is pointing you. It's impossible to get stuck or to get lost. Just think about it, what is the scariest thing about darkness? It's that you don't know what it may conceal, it's that you don't see anything... it's that you don't know where to go and you get lost. Getting lost is always scary. Remedy decided to castrate the darkness. It's almost always dark in Bright Falls, but you don't even have to use a flashlight to find your way. The biggest disappointment is that the developers had an urge to add such an aid as the objective marker to the game that is already extremely straight-forward.

The darkness and all the fights get boring really-really fast. The darkness is boring as it is not scary in any fashion - even if enemies come out of it, they always announce themselves - it's either a sound or a slow-mo cinematic moment showing where exactly they are appearing from. It's close to impossible to get scared. At the very start the combat experience does come at you as a slightly original experience - every fight consists of a two-step mechanic. First you cleanse the protective shield of darkness from the taken with a flashlight, only then you can finish them off with an array of bullets. The problem is, that's all you will ever have to do to your enemies (aside from just legging it and leaving them behind). The variety of enemies is present but is hardly noticeable at all - as already said, everything the darkness throws at you can be taken care of in one and the same manner. The fighting affair becomes boring fast.
While on the matter of the forces that ate thrown against you. There's really no feeling that some major force is trying to stop you.

Collectibles. There's a lot of different collectibles in the game. They make the Alan Wake experience even more tedious. At first, I was trying to find at least those collectibles which were expanding the story (the manuscript pages, TV shows, radio shows) but after a while it became extremely boring. I mean, the game is repeatable enough without you trying to look inside/around every shack and rock.
The story was the only thing that I found interesting up to the very end. It's the only thing that kept me going through the second half of the game, where I just stopped looking for any collectibles and got so bored of fighting, I was just doing exactly what the object marker was telling me to do.

The technology. I wouldn't say that the technology behind Alan Wake is overall impressive. The lights-and-shadows stuff is, indeed, very cool, but... sub-HD resolution does make the game look really bad (for instance, I played Uncharted 2 right after Alan Wake and the former looked so crisp in comparison). My biggest beef is not with the game running on lower resolution though, it's the facial detail and animation. It's probably the biggest experience-breaker I've seen in a past few years. A lot of cutscenes feature characters' close-ups, only the animation looks unbelievably ridiculous. Alan Wake, for instance, no matter what emotion he is going for, looks like a wooden puppet moving his mouth up and down. No kidding, that's about the only thing he does throughout the whole game. I just don't understand Remedy... All the movies are pre-rendered, which means it was possible to give any amount of detail to the virtual actors. Damn, some other games released around the same time manage to have 10 times more believable emotions using the game engine.

I was quite relieved to finally finish the game and see the conclusion to the captivating story. Naturally, I decided to check the DLC, hoping the developers coughed up something new and original (like Crystal Dynamics did for the Tomb Raider: Underworld). The Signals is basically the same stuff all over again. This time though, the story completely failed to capture my attention. After about 30 minutes of playing the DLC, there was nothing to keep me going. I started playing Uncharted 2 instead. That game, even though a mindless action, manages to keep things fresh all the time.

As a matter of fact, theses two games, Uncharted and Alan Wake, are a perfect illustration of the difference between the exclusive content on the rival platforms. PS3 might be getting the worse end of the multi-platform games, but it surely receives better exclusives. Uncharted series is just one example, there are also inFamous, God of War, Little Big Planet, Killzone, Resistance, Heavy Rain against Gears of War, Halo and Fable. I know, both lists are much more extensive but I tried to mention the biggest and most popular titles. Little Big Planet and Heavy Rain deserve the special attention as there's nothing like those games on the Microsoft's console.

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