Not long ago, the first 2 Max Payne games were briefly available for $5 on Steam. Having played the first Max Payne years ago when it was first released and never finishing it, I was excited to pick it back up. As I started to play through the beginning of the game, I was impressed with how well the story held up after all these years. I started to wonder if Remedy’s latest game, Alan Wake, would be able to capture and keep my attention in the same manner. Not only did it succeed in creating a dark and tense atmosphere, it does so without resorting to the cheap tricks that some horror games fall victim do.
When I think about the best experiences I have had with the horror or suspense genre, whether it be in the form of a movie, game, or any other medium of entertainment, the standouts are not the ones that made me jump out of my seat or grossed me out. The ones that stand out are the ones that made me feel like the world being presented to me was real and that I was a part of it. Remedy has achieved something special with their latest endeavor.
What makes the world feel real are the characters. Alan himself has the attitude of someone who is successful and frustrated at the same time. The way his frustration is presented is believable in such a way that the narrative is never questioned, you keep moving forward because that is what Alan HAS to do. The motivations and actions of the supporting characters are a little exaggerated at times, but they always do a very good job at moving the story where it has to go without making anything seem forced. Very rarely does writing in a video game make you laugh out loud, but there were several moments later in the game that were genuinely funny. The best part about the humor is not just that it was funny, it’s that the humor isn’t out of place or inappropriate to the mood and flow of the game. It doesn’t feel like comic relief that was thrown in to lighten the mood.
So, with atmosphere, story, and characters all very solid, the combat has to be bad right? How can a flashlight and a small selection of guns be fun for more than a few kills? There is something very satisfying about the combat. The flashlight is used to burn away the darkness that has taken the residents of Bright Falls. Once the darkness is gone, they can be harmed by your firearms. There are several reasons this combat mechanic works so well. It is hard to describe the sound made when the light burns the taken. It almost sounds like the Nazgul screaming in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Once the darkness is fully burned off, there is a burst letting you know it’s now time to shoot. All of the guns feel powerful, from the handgun to the hunting rifle. Ammo can be scarce, which adds to the tension, which is why I am a big fan of the slow down when an enemy is killed. It bothers me when I waste precious ammo on enemies that are already dead because it is either difficult to identify the death animation, or because you have to fire so quickly during combat that you end up burning a few rounds after you kill your enemy. After the kill shot in Alan Wake, the game subtly shifts to a slight slow motion pan that stops your from wasting ammo and also lets you have a split second to plan which enemy you are going to engage next.
Whenever I share my thoughts on a game, I try to leave out as many details as possible that pertain to the story or that would ruin any of those special moments that the developer intended the user to experience without any prior knowledge of it. So, without giving away too much, I can tell you that for someone who didn’t really have high hopes for Alan Wake, it ended up being one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year so far.