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Xbox 360 Review: Alan Wake

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Alan Wake lacks structure. Actually, that’s not right. It has a structure, it’s simply poorly executed. If asked how to describe the flow of the game, you can break it down as a constant run from point A to point B, through familiar forests (or maybe it's the same forest), and fighting a meager selection of three basic enemies.

This is all wrapped around an increasingly goofy paranormal plotline that at some juncture had potential. Action scenes feel disconnected from the main story, and after a few encounters, come off as mere stopgaps. Everything feels broken into pieces, lacking narrative or gameplay flow, the unnecessary “chapters” further breaking things apart.

There is fun in Alan Wake. Guns carry a legitimate punch, and wiping out hordes of darkness-infested enemies with flash bangs or flare guns is enjoyable. The game has a number of impressive set pieces and the increasingly angry evil force tossing tanker trucks, train cars, and boats at Wake as his quest nears the end. The town of Bright Falls, despite having that neighborly appeal, seems surprisingly large in scope. Oh, and if the possessed people Wake is shooting are actual residents, how many sheriffs does this town have anyway?

The extensive forest sections that comprise much of the adventuring in Alan Wake are dull to trudge through. The designers, bowing to modern gaming clichés, have inserted multiple strains of collectibles throughout, absurdly placed to break tension at the wrong moment. Early, Wake is being chased by a mass of unexplained darkness. The player must run forward, staying ahead of the collapsing, splintering bridge behind them or die. As if this is a casual situation, a coffee thermos, an inane collectible, sits off to the right.

There are two things wrong with this. The first, as noted, is that it breaks tension. In a scene featuring limited lighting, the flashing thermos is impossible to miss. Second, if the developers have placed it there, you can obviously reach it, meaning that mad dash to beat the black smoke behind is not as frantic as it might seem.

Some of the items make sense. You can piece together Wake’s manuscript via individual pages scattered about, although making them hidden goes against the game’s logical narrative flow.  TV and radio broadcasts enhance Wake’s adventure. These are thankfully hard to miss and fill in plot points, apparently discarded from the main story to insert more forest fights.

Without all of these items, Wake would have no sense of adventure. The paths to the various Bright Falls locations can be played strictly in a linear fashion, which would likely help one be appropriately prepared against the eventual onslaught of stand-offs in enclosed areas. Say what you will about the awesomeness of battling the darkness with the lights of a rock concert stage show, it goes on well past its welcome, much like the game itself, and in reality, is no different then various other convenient stand-offs later.

Alan Wake is too bloated. For its supposed focus on a deeply wound narrative, it almost forgets it has a story to tell. The stoppages to battle the unfortunately possessed drag on, puzzles are never difficult (just time consuming), and the game even has the audacity to include a brief mine cart ride. What year is this again?

Dialogue does little to salvage the increasingly absurd plotline, particularly that of an FBI agent who finds it amusing to call Wake by every popular author of the day's name. The FBI’s standards for employment have apparently dropped so low, you’ll laugh in their face more often than feel their authority. Maybe he should have been the end boss…

Alan Wake is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Ash Bradford

    I hated this game as well. Thanks for the accurate review. I don’t understand all of the praise this game seems to get. It’s clunky, awkward and unpleasantly boring. If I have to wander through one more forest board searching for random supplies and killing the same damn enemies I’ll go insane.

  • Ryn

    Thank God I’m not the only one who hated it. Reading other reviews about “new and exiting gameplay” led me on a conspiratorial quest to uncover who actually wrote the reviews,

    Flashlights that recharge themselves, ammo conveniently scattered throughout the forest for no reason (i.e. no concurrent war’s) and generators…everywhere. Honestly BIOSHOCK’s Rapture feels more real to me than Alan Wake’s sleepy Oregon town. Hell, Avatar is more true-to-life than this POS. The developers said the TV series theme left it open to continue the story with sequels. God save us.

    Grade F- Shovelware down there with some of those $9.99 Wii games.