After creating two of the most beloved shooters at the turn of the millennium, Remedy Software went silent. While Max Payne and its under appreciated sequel were released more than half a decade ago, gamers have been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for information on their new Xbox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake.
After a very brief teaser in 2006, we had heard nothing about the game aside from that fact that it was gestating deep in the bowels of Microsoft Game Studios. Fans were ready to write the game off as vapourware in the same vein as Duke Nukem Forever and StarCraft: Ghost.
Well, we can now tell you that the game is real, and it's looking like it just may be worth the wait. At E3 2009, we were given a private run through of the demo by the fine folks at Remedy.
The strongest impression the game made on us was its stunning narration and storyline. Alan Wake is a successful author who has had a two year bout with writer's block. On his wife's recommendation, they pack up and make their way to an idyllic small town called Bright Falls. Bright Falls is your average small town in the Pacific Northwest, replete with vast forests, deep lakes, and a tourist trap centre. Things start off smoothly for Mr. Wake until the day his wife goes missing. Soon thereafter, Wake finds himself trapped in the town, desperately searching for his wife in a nightmarish scenario replete with evil beings swarming over the town.
The creep factor gets ratcheted up as Wake finds completed pages of his manuscript that he can't remember writing, but has a nasty propensity for coming true. These pages are very well written, and give the game a professional veneer to the storytelling that is lost on mots game franchises. Descriptions are vivid and intense, with a full sense of foreboding and intensity. But rest assured, the style is very different than the pulp comic narration of Max Payne, lacking the latter's heavy handed metaphors and symbolism for a much more accessible narrative. Chapters are broken up by a catch up montage not unlike what you'll see on a show like 24 or Lost. These asides really help the cinematic action and storytelling of the game.
Of course, no one would give two Max Payne metaphors about the story if the gameplay didn't measure up, and fortunately, our time with the game has assuaged our fears. While the game seems to crib a few notes from the Silent Hill series, Alan Wake features a set of gameplay features to call its own.
The game plays like a third person shooter, but instead of Silent Hill's iconic fog, Alan Wake's world is shrouded in darkness. Wake will navigate the countryside while using portable light sources to get around. The hook here is that light is a weapon more powerful than any firearm you can wield. The enemies in the game are abominations from the dark, and only by using your flashlight or other light sources can you weaken them enough to make bullets effective. In addition to the standard enemies, items in the world become possessed and fly towards you, from little items like rocks, to jeeps and bulldozers coming to life and coming after you. Expectedly, your little flashlight won't do much to stem this "maximum overdrive" (IMDB it if you don't know what I'm talking about) onslaught, and you'll need to get creative in order to survive. You can use things like generators and road flares (which act like smart bombs) as some examples.
We're told that the game will feature a full day-night cycle, and the game world will feature 10 square kilometres of open world to explore. There will also be moments where you'll hop in a car or SUV and further explore than vast landscape. Remedy is also promising no load times beyond the initial load.
In terms of graphics, Alan Wake is looking superb. The character animations are incredibly solid, especially in terms of facial animation. As expected however, the game's graphical fidelity truly shines in the lighting and particle effects, particularily when an enemy explodes into ash.
Microsoft is looking like they've scored themselves one hell of an exclusive for the Xbox 360 this coming spring. Time will tell if the mechanics hold up over the entire play length, but regardless, we came away undeniably impressed with the game, and can't wait to stay wide awake all night with this one.