Alan Wake is an action game with a unique twist. While you find a pistol fairly early in the game, your strongest weapon is light. When confronted with several Taken, you must first knock the shadows off them with your flashlight. After that, they are relatively weak and can be quickly finished off with the pistol. The use of light as a weapon elevates some seemingly innocuous tools to implements of mass destruction. A flash bang becomes a room clearing grenade, and a flare gun can just straight-up murder a group of these monsters at once. Now, while every bit of the action in this game is incredibly fun and well-constructed, the real star of the show is the story.
I am reluctant to share any more details, but the story, which is told in six episodes, roughly an hour and a half long, is spectacular. The episodes, each beginning with a “Previously on…” and ending with a cliffhanger, would have made a very well received HBO miniseries, but, instead, you get to play it.
The atmosphere in the game is incredible. Alan Wake reminds you that there is nothing scarier than being alone in the woods at night. The thing that this game brings more than anything is a sense of dread. The two thoughts that competed in my head were “What the hell?” and “I don’t want to go into the woods.”
I have been putting off this part, because I think it is the least important part of the game, but it should be mentioned. The facial animation is not very good. In a story-driven game, to have the story elements weakened by poor animation is a bit of a problem, but it is something that stops being a problem pretty quickly. I tried to look at the character’s eyes, and put on the subtitles. Just think of it in the same way you think of the terrible rubber monsters in earlier Doctor Who. It could be better, but it can only affect the game if you let it.
Ultimately, in a year that saw the release of Halo: Reach, Mass Effect 2, the latest Assassin’s Creed, another freaking Call of Duty, and the aforementioned Red Dead Redemption, Alan Wake was one of the best games of that year, and is worth playing. It is available for download on the Xbox here.
Finally, because it is not a review without a number, I give it five terrifying fever-dreams out of five.