As you wander around Bright Falls you discover pages from a manuscript that were apparently written by Alan, although he has no memory of writing them. It doesn’t take long to figure out that everything that’s written in the pages is about to happen. This presents two insights into the world of Alan Wake – first and foremost is that it appears that Alan’s words have the power to alter reality, but it also means that collecting the pages gives you a heads up on what to expect next. And believe me, when you’re wandering around a dark forest with only a flashlight for company, knowing what’s going to jump out at you before it appears brings a surprising degree of comfort.
I only got to play a couple of levels, so I can’t really give any definitive insight onto where the story leads, but it’s fair to say that the driving theme is Alan’s quest to find Alice. On the surface it feels very similar to Silent Hill 2 in that respect, but I hope, for Alice’s sake, that Alan reaches a happier conclusion. As with any good, story driven game, the supporting cast is paramount, and Remedy has created some great characters for Alan to encounter. The voice acting is also first rate, and adds to the immersive atmosphere of the game.
I spent some time chatting to Remedy's Oskari Häkkinen and he was keen to point out that they had made a conscious decision not to include a multiplayer mode. Remedy is pitching Alan Wake as an interactive thriller, where the storyline is as important, if not more important than the action, so spending time on multiplayer mode would have just taken resource away from the single player story. I for one am very happy with that decision – there are plenty of first rate multiplayer options out there, without trying to shoehorn it into a game that doesn’t need it.
I asked Häkkinen why the PC version of Alan Wake had been canned, especially since Remedy showed off one of the most impressive multi-core physics demos I’ve seen at the Intel Developer Forum a couple of years ago. That demo showed a hurricane tearing through Bright Falls, with multiple cores of an Intel chip handling the incredibly complex physics calculations. Häkkinen said that since Remedy is a relatively small developer with around 50 staff, they decided to concentrate on one platform and make Alan Wake an Xbox 360 exclusive. Whether Microsoft will release a Windows version of the game in the future remains to be seen, but I’m sure there are a great many PC gamers with their fingers crossed.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Alan Wake has taken a very long time to arrive, and when development takes that long, there’s always a worry that the game will be outdated before it even launches. However, Häkkinen said that he was always confident that Alan Wake would look great and play well since all the technology behind it was developed and built in house. That means that the game engine has been constantly evolving, ensuring that it stays at the cutting edge, and from what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t argue with that.
Häkkinen also pointed out that part of the long development process was the fastidious attention to detail that Remedy has bestowed on the game. Apparently whole teams of sound and graphics engineers descended on small town America to ensure that Bright Falls looked and sounded exactly as it should.
With titles like Bioshock 2, Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain already out, it looks like 2010 is going to be a vintage year for games. Whether Alan Wake takes the year to new heights when it launches in May remains to be seen, but from what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t bet against it.