The main story kicks off with Alan and his wife Alice arriving at Bright Falls, a sleepy town with more than a passing resemblance to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and a similarly dark undercurrent. Soon after their arrival, Alice disappears, screaming from their cabin. Alan then finds himself waking up in a crashed car, alone and seemingly having lost a week of his life, and thus the saga begins.
If you think that the screen shots on these pages look good, let me assure you that they don’t do the game justice. Alan Wake is one of the most beautiful looking games I have seen, and sits up there with Uncharted 2 in my books, which is no mean feat. The lighting effects are simply stunning, which is pretty important considering that light plays such a major part in the gameplay. There’s a dark and ominous force at play in Bright Falls, and the only way to combat it and its minions is by using light as a weapon.
As with most survival horror games, you find yourself regularly attacked by some unsavoury characters while you explore Bright Falls, but unlike other games, you can’t just despatch the Taken (as they’re called) with a few bullets. Enemies must first be weakened with light before your weapons will have an effect. At its most basic level this means searing them with a flashlight before opening fire, this does mean that batteries (nice product placement for Energizer here) are as important as ammunition, since without light, you’ve got no chance.
Of course some weapons can get the job done without the need to shine your torch around. Flare guns are particularly useful and can take down many enemies in one go – the effects when using a flare gun are also impressively cinematic. Likewise, flash-bang grenades can do major damage to the Taken and come in mighty handy when you find yourself surrounded. The Taken are more akin to the villagers in Resident Evil 4 than the usual zombies or, err, things that appear in survival horror games. Their movement can be erratic and you need to be pretty good with your thumbs to keep your torch locked on one without another flanking you.
I found the combat to be very challenging without being frustrating, which is quite an achievement with a game like this. Alan’s movements may not be quite as fluid Nathan Drake’s, but then he’s meant to be an author, not an international adventurer. You can also use the environment to your advantage, during one particular altercation I managed to start up a generator which powered a floodlight and the horde of Taken surrounding me instantly disintegrated.
As is always the case with survival horror games, there’s a degree of switch flipping and running backwards and forwards in order to circumvent obstacles. This may put some off, but the obstacles all seem pretty logical – find a generator to turn the lights on etc. You’re not going to have to perform some kind of surreal feat in order to open a door that you didn’t know was even there – at least I didn’t have to do that in the levels I played.