Video Game: Alan Wake

I’ve avoided reviewing video games on this blog, through sheer force of will. However, since this game features a writer, I feel it fits nicely with the theme of book reviews.

Alan Wake is a psychological action thriller video game from developer Remedy released for Xbox 360 in 2010. The story is about Alan Wake, an author who, after touring for his newest installment of his horror/thriller series, goes on a vacation to small town Bright Falls with his wife, Alice. During their stay on an island, the power goes out in the cabin and while Alan goes to see what he can do to fix the problem, Alice is taken under the lake by something. Although he dives in to save her, he wakes up a week later–no Alice, no memories.

During his search, he encounters dark phantoms that haunt him everywhere the light doesn’t touch. The town questions his sanity as he claims he and his wife were staying on Diver’s Isle–which hasn’t existed for years after being destroyed in a storm. Alan works tirelessly to find his wife and to discover what evil lurks in Bright Falls and the mysterious history of writer Thomas Zane.

At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this game, since I had read some less-than-enthusiastic reviews. I say phooey to those reviews, because I thought the game was fantastic. The incredible meta aspect of writing plays a huge part in the story, which is what really drew me in. I originally stopped playing the game, because it was so scary–walking around in the dark, armed only with a flashlight to ward away shadow enemies that can physically harm you–it was not fun to play alone, in the dark.

Once I got past that and got some real weapons and learned some strategy of balancing limited flashlight batteries and limited bullets, the game was thrilling. The gameplay was only frustrating occasionally, when there were too many enemies, so you literally can’t drop a flare, flashbang, or anything to get yourself out of a tight corner. Other than that, the play was smooth and easy. It felt more like a first person shooter, rather than its actual third person perspective, thanks to the fantastic aim assist (which can be really annoying if it’s done poorly).

One of the coolest things I’ve seen done in a video game was at the end of Alan Wake, when Alan is trying to go back to the island–where objects should be, instead only words appear. In order to continue in the game, you have to hold the flashlight on the word for the object to appear. For example, finding the word “path” in the jumble of lamp posts, birds, houses, etc. and shining the light on it until the path actually forms in order to go to the next area of the game. The imagery of this really struck me, as images we see are merely representations of things, just as words are. This reinforced the whole meta attitude of the game.

After some really interesting plot twists about the writer–Thomas Zane from Brightfalls–the game finishes with flying colors. The ending was absolutely brilliant. It’s not often that a video game can move me as much as this one did with such a seriously fantastic and satisfyingly fitting end. If any of you book lovers out there play video games, I would absolutely recommend Alan Wake for your next gaming adventure!

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