Last Updated on December 10, 2023
Alan Wake was a third person shooter I missed on its first release. It’s described on the box as an action psychological thriller. That’s a bit of a mouthful and I would have just called it an action horror game. I picked it up well before Alan Wake 2‘s release but feel like revisiting this classic before doing my review of the sequel seems to be a good idea.
This review is going to be generally positive since, well, I’ve bought the original and the Remastered version over the years and wouldn’t have if I didn’t like it that much. For the purposes of this review, this will be a review of Alan Wake: Remastered version but the differences amount to, “all of the DLC and better visuals.”
The game follows the titular character as he travels to a Twin Peaks-esque town in the Pacific Northwest. There things rapidly transform into a Stephen King novel. Well, a Stephen King novel where the protagonist is armed with a Flashlight of DeathTM and a small armory. The game reminds me strongly of the original Silent Hill and I think they’re of equal quality. Which is high praise, by the way.
The original Alan Wake is an excellent title and if you want to know if it’s worth the money to purchase it, I say yes. Very much so. In fact, I’ve already bought and enjoyed the DLC expansions as well as the pseudo-sequel American Nightmare. I will say the game isn’t flawless, however, and needs its problems pointed out. The re-release has benefited the story by including its DLC and updating it a bit but the gameplay loop is fundamentally the same, which is both a benefit and a handicap.
You see, where Wake suffers most is its game play. It’s not bad but it’s firmly stuck in “good” as opposed to “great”. The game mechanics are easy to master and I was never bored. The game, however, suffers from repetitive villains and a lack of unique challenges. By the third chapter, I was getting bored of ax-throwing maniacs and was hoping for something else to occupy my attention.
Other reviewers have complained about three-quarters of the game taking places in spooky forests. This is incorrect as it’s more like half the game. The spooky forests are the best part of the game, too, and I think they could have set the entire game there without issue. Still, I understand how many felt this was a disappointment.
Where Alan Wake excels is its storytelling. The story is spectacular with surreal plotting, memorable characters, and numerous twists. I can’t even address things revealed in the game’s introduction because everything was a surprise. That made the experience all the more rewarding and I wouldn’t ruin any of the game for someone else.
I will say that the game wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if not for the strong characterization of its cast. Alan Wake is an interesting lead because the game doesn’t gloss over his darker aspects. He’s an easily-bored, impatient, and self-entitled jerkass who really isn’t be the sort of guy you’d want to hang out with. Despite this, Alan is passionately in love with his wife and has his better qualities. They’re just well-hidden.
Likewise, I really enjoyed the character of Sarah Breaker. The small-town sheriff is an archetype in these sorts of fictions and just reversing the archetype’s gender already makes it feel fresh. More so, she reacts in a believable and appropriate way to the increasingly surreal situations which greet her. I hope the game publishers, Remedy Entertainment, will continue to use her in future installments of the game.
Other characters which I enjoyed were Rose Marigold, Odin Anderson, Thor Anderson, Cynthia Weaver, Rusty, and Agent Nightingale. All of them were surprisingly deep for their relatively short on-screen roles and added much to the overall narrative of the story. Odin and Thor, in particular, were crazily over-the-top yet their voice actors made it work. Never again will I doubt the Power of RockTM, even in a horror game.
The only character who genuinely annoyed me was Barry Wheeler. Unfortunately, Barry plays an extensive role in the game. Barry is Alan Wake’s agent and ostensible best friend. The character is loud, obnoxious, and not nearly as funny as the developers think he is. By the end of the game, I was developing a fondness for him but I can’t think of a reason why.
Alan Wake is a game of highs and lows with the gameplay sometimes medicore but other times fantastic. Its story can range from absolutely amazing to simply bizarre for the sake of bizarre. It is the very definition of a cult classic and there’s a reason it has a devoted fanbase but failed to achieve mainstream success.
The game is visually stunning with the backgrounds and levels absolutely beautiful. Remedy is excellent at developing backgrounds for their protagonists to move through. Even more so, they’re good at using the background as means of storytelling. Fallout 3 is the only game I can think of with anywhere near the same level of “showing, not telling.” When you come across a road littered with abandoned cars after facing literally hundreds of possessed people, it answers a lot of questions without slowing down the action.
In conclusion, Alan Wake is an excellent game with lots of positives. I can honestly say its storyline is one of my favorites. The game isn’t perfect but I am happy to say it’s well worth the full price of a new release and doubly worth a used copy. I’m looking forward to any more releases in the series by Remedy Entertainment and hope they will not be far coming.