Before Zeus, in a fit of madness or rage, decided to blow apart our home’s air conditioner with one of his signature golden bolts, I was enjoying a near nightly excursion into the small, rural town of Bright Falls via Remedy’s Alan Wake. I’ve yet to finish the entire game, having traversed approximately three of the games six dark, narration-filled chapters, but I feel I’ve a pretty decent grip on what the game’s all about: shining flashlights on lumberjacks and then shooting the shit out of them. Can’t say I’ve ever asked for a video game that covers this particularly tiny ground, but now that it’s arrived in my home I feel fairly comfortable with it.
Oh, the game is also about selling Energizer batteries — lots of them, based on the frequency of which the player will be picking them up throughout the game. I hope that perpetually drumming bunny machine makes an appearance in the game. That would neat.
It’s not a scary game, despite what critics would have me believe. Oh, sure, it tries to be scary — throws a lot of pitchfork-armed dudes at you, each of which is surrounded by a swirly black fog of evil and lauds you with a volley of insane, rambling taunts as you make your way across the cliffs and forests of the Washington town — but I’ve yet to feel any real tension. Silent Hill this ain’t.
The game does try to scare you, however, and you have to applaud it’s efforts. For instance, the game frequently lays out the dangers to come long before you reach them via pages of the titular character’s novel, of which he has found himself a living part. This Hitchcockian technique is meant to stir those little anticipatory feelings that live inside all of us, get us waiting for that next big thing to happen. Sometimes it works; sometimes, not.
Wake’s writing is read by the author himself and typically reveals something the player will encounter within the next few minutes:
Wake continued making his way through the Stygian woodlands, his frantic search for his missing wife driving him further and further into desperation with each crunching leaf that died beneath his footfalls.
Suddenly there came a great roaring, as if some beast from deep within the forest had suddenly been awakened from deep slumber. It sounded pissed.
“What the hell was that,” Wake asked the darkness.
That’s when the backhoe appeared.
It should be noted, during his adventure, Wake frequently does battle with inanimate objects; that said, for those who anticipate playing the game at some point in the future, be prepared to wage war against a lot of kitchen sinks, propane tanks, ladies undergarments, coffee makers and, I both hope and fear, perverse sex toys.
I must say that the game — in particular, the scenery — looks fantastic. At times I feel I myself must be vacationing in a sleepy, backwoods Washington town instead of plopped before a mid-sized television inside my now unbearably hot living room in Northeast Mississippi. It’s the kind of game environment that makes one stop and look around, as if it were a real place. Wind sways the branches of trees in realistic ways as a light fog settles on the forest floor, and numerous cliffs and crags offer ample opportunities for the player to stop and take it in. The developers have done a marvelous job — possible one of the best I’ve ever experienced — in creating a world I simply want to inhabit. Rarely has a game’s setting stirred whatever it is Alan Wake has stirred within me. I reluctantly call it “wanting.” I want to be in Bright Falls…well, minus all the possessed rednecks, bulldozers and stuff. That can stay within the game.
Ah, the power of images.
The characters in Alan Wake are another matter. Being that the game is a horror/drama/mystery of sorts and such overt care has been taken in creating a masterful setting for the story, one would think the developers would have really strived to craft realistic characters. I’m talking in appearance, of course; a game that revolves around a swirly darkness, possessed hillbillies and sentient power washers that’s also supposed to be scary shouldn’t really concern itself with casting believable characters. Bright Falls, though beautiful, is completely populated by creepy talking, animated cardboard approximations of people who move around in stilted, awkward ways. Although the titular character himself has some nice animation when actual under the player’s influence, cut scenes play out like particularly terrible cartoon melodramas, as if the Hanna-Barbera of the 1960s had suddenly decided to animate one of Stephen King’s more character-centric novels. A story with so much interaction among humans should have had more care placed in making those humans interesting to watch.
Scratch that, Alan Wake’s characters are interesting to watch, though in much the same way it would be interesting to watch a couple of mannequins, digital recorders taped to their plastic chests so they could spout endless strings of exposition, being tossed at each other repeatedly. It’s funny, but doesn’t make for good drama.