Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Microreview [Video Game]: Alan Wake Remastered by Remedy Entertainment

Just wait for Alan Wake 2.

Alan Wake
was one of those games I never got around to on my Xbox 360. After three Red Rings of Death, I decided to give up on the console and, by extension, any exclusive games I had yet to play on it. Within the past few months, the recently released (2021) remaster of Alan Wake was offered up on PlayStation Plus, so I figured I’d give it a shot with the next game releasing on my birthday. I must say, despite all the curiosity I’ve built up over the years, I was rather disappointed.

Alan Wake
begins with the titular character arriving at the Twin Peaks-esque Bright Falls in search of an escape from his ridiculously long two-year writing block. Visually, the game looks fine. It’s an updated version of the 2010 game so I wasn’t expecting an overhaul. To be clear, this is a remaster, not a remake. Some of the animations range from decent to awful, and the same can be said for the rest of the game. The game doesn’t hold up particularly well in this regard, but it isn’t atrocious. The best visual moments I experienced were when I was surrounded by darkness, but then again, flaws are easily concealed with deep shadows. Though I want to give the game a pass due to age, it came out in the same year as Red Dead Redemption, God of War III, and Mass Effect 2. Not to mention a few years after the likes of Uncharted, Bioshock, and Gears of War. Alan Wake was aged when it was originally released, and it carries over into the remaster here.

And all of this would be fine and dandy were everything else top tier, but that isn’t the case. The gameplay is two-pronged; the gun combat can be enjoyable, but the traversal is irritating. Eliminating a group of enemies by shining a light on them until they’re weakened is a unique mechanic that takes a bit of strategy to manage (particularly when there are more enemies on screen). Shining a light on an enemy not only briefly stops/slows an enemy, but eventually allows Alan to eliminate them. Using a flashlight, flash-bang grenades, flares, and flare guns to cast out the darkness can be exhilarating. In some instances, however, it can be frustrating. Whenever the game decided to spawn enemies behind me without a visual or audio cue, I wasn’t frightened, only annoyed. Nothing like getting hit by an axe out of nowhere. This happens frequently throughout the adventure but isn’t as egregious as the poltergeist props in the game. Oh boy. At some point in the story, random things fly at and attack Alan. It wasn’t a fun mechanic to navigate and I hope to never see it in another game again.

Many of the irritating gameplay elements would have been tolerable were it not for the traversal input. Alan feels fine when aiming and shooting (for the most part). When he needs to run, you will constantly find him running out of breath and slowing down. This is, in my opinion, the most irritating aspect of the game. Stamina meters make sense for some games, they can force a balance between a player’s skill and a character’s power (in Souls games, for instance). In this game, it’s just a hindrance. It doesn’t build tension, and it doesn’t keep Alan’s power in check. It makes him an annoying weakling, and the sound of his panting became grating over time. And let me not forget about the unreliable dodging mechanics. I’d still get hit with an axe while trying to dodge. Fun.

Once again, this would all be fine if the story was captivating to the point that I couldn't put the game down. And, once again, this is not the case. Alan Wake is a jerk to most people, and in some cases is completely insufferable. Some of the other characters, like Barry, are given significantly bigger roles than they should have. I didn't laugh when the game attempted humor, I wasn’t shocked or upset when someone got hurt. The pacing wasn’t great and I found myself uninvested. This was one of those stories where I wasn’t sure if what was happening was real or imagined. Unfortunately, that’s my least favorite type of storytelling, and I was no wiser by the end. The final scene of the game ends with an ambiguous line that does nothing to pull it all together.

Though much of this review comes across as negative, I will say this; the game works. It can be frustrating at times, and I did run into a few areas where I needed to reload the last checkpoint due to getting stuck in the geometry, but overall, it does what it needs to do. The soundtrack is decent with a few standout songs, my favorite being “The Poet and the Muse”. While Alan Wake’s basic premise revolves around the age-old “save a helpless woman” trope, its story becomes a bit of a convoluted mess that Alan couldn't write himself out of. I understand what Remedy was going for here, but they couldn’t stick the landing. When I completed the game, I decided I didn’t even want to bother with the downloadable content. I just looked it up instead. I’ve heard great praise for Control, so I’m eager to see if the studio has evolved since Alan Wake, which may prod me to eventually try Alan Wake 2. But as it is, I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone who has no nostalgic attachment to the title. If you reminisce frequently about Alan and Barry, then this is the best way to play a game that hasn’t aged too well.


The Math

Objective Assessment: 5/10

Bonus: +1 for flashlight/gun gameplay. +1 for some catchy soundtrack songs.

Penalties: - 2 for everything else.

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.