Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 Play Log - Alan Wake - UPDATED

Alan Wake Image It took about 15 hours of play (ie, almost 2 weeks by my usual gaming schedule) but I finished Alan Wake.

You play the game as Alan Wake, a famous writer along the lines of Stephen King. He's "the good guy", but he has his flaws - a drinking problem, writer's block and a slightly rocky relationship with his wife, Alice. When she and the cabin the two have rented in a small Washington state town disappear (an event that appears to have happened years before but is never explained), Alan has to fight through numerous encounters with The Taken, people and things that have been possessed by The Darkness. His main weapon is unique to survival horror games - light, either from handheld flashlights or overhead lamps. However, to finish off the creatures he needs to go all Guns and Ammo on their asses with either a revolver, shotgun, rifle or flare gun. Who knew a writer could be such a good shot? Pools of light can also defeat The Taken and act as welcome checkpoints.

I played the game on Easy since I'd heard that you can get into trouble quickly by running out of batteries and/or ammo. Even with lots of both, I still found some of the fights challenging. The Taken will attack in groups and usually from more than one direction.

The game had an entertaining roster of characters (his agent, Barry, was funny) and good game mechanics for the shooting, probably a result of having been developed by the studio that did the first two Max Payne games. The particle effects when "killing" a Taken never got old. The graphics for the scenery, the great outdoors of Washington state, were very well done and especially nice on the PC.

Then there's the story. Sigh. Maybe the story sounded better when they were working on the game. Something in the lake, this Darkness, is making creative thoughts come to life and it seems to affect authors the most. Wake is the second writer to fall under it's spell, we being told about a previous writer and his troubles, but I never really understood who was who. A better backstory with real character models for cut-scenes would have helped. It was the kind of story that would have gotten a one star rating on Netflix. Let's face it, any game (or movie) that ends with the line, "It's not a lake. It's an ocean!" can't be expected to make much sense. But the thing that kept me playing this game was the way the story was presented, being narrated by the writer himself and him finding pages of the novel he's supposed to be writing. There were also the amusing Twilight Zone-esque TV shows that kept everything more than a little weird.

While it isn't a true sequel, I will be playing Alan Wake's American Nightmare very soon. It takes place after the events in Alan Wake and I'm hoping it will explain the ending.

*** UPDATE (7/16/14) *** - What do you call included DLC you didn't know was there until you finished the original part of the game? For me, I call it a welcome surprise!

I had gone back to play some of the video commentary in the game and noticed that there were two new chapters in the menu - The Signal and The Writer. These were apparently purchaseable DLC episodes that were included for free in the complete edition that I got on Steam. They take place right after the end of the main game, when Alan has been sucked over into the other world where The Darkness lives. I can't say it's doing anything to improve the overall story (you spend most of the time following the previous writer, Zane, as he tries to help you escape/wake-up from wherever Alan is), however it's been extremely entertaining - in some cases more than the original game. With only one exception (that I can tell), the location, character, and creature assets are just reused from the original game (saves on developer costs), but the dream world you are in has many surreal challenges to overcome like a rotating house and rocks that float in mid-air. There's also more humor (from Alan and an ethereal Barry) plus more explosive encounters. In some ways, if feels like the developer had a chance to go back and really push the engine (which they now had a better feel for) and be more creative without having to worry as much about ratings and deadlines. If anyone has played the full game and liked it, it would be a shame if they didn't also play these two DLC chapters.

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