Alan Wake Remastered (PC) review
"These are dark times indeed."
Alan Wake Remastered is the best game I've ever hated playing.
I should have done more research before I decided I would saunter through it and gather any collectibles along the way. Knowing I was thinking about playing a horror title, I foolishly concerned myself only with whether there were a lot of jump scares. No, people on forums assured anyone else wondering that same thing. No, there are not. The game is actually not scary at all, just a bit on the atmospheric side.
Alan Wake Remastered (and, this author assumes, regular old Alan Wake before it) can be downright terrifying. Unless you cut your teeth on all of the old Hollywood odes to terror and violence, and the novels of Stephen King and various other things in that vein. Which I did not.
The game oozes atmosphere. In one of its opening moments, you wake up in a car, feeling barely alive, and wander down a deserted road before looking back at your crashed vehicle and seeing a man standing in the mist holding an ax. I have no idea what that guy did last summer, but right now he seems intent on killing you. And he'll chase you through the woods, into a cabin after inflicting grisly murder on a man who only tried to save you. Delightful.
Alan Wake, the hero of the story, is a writer. He produced several bestsellers and now he is taking a much-needed vacation in the scenic Pacific Northwest to undo some self-destructive behavior. His wife, Alice, thinks maybe he'll even get to work on his next manuscript. Which he does, but only under duress. That's after his wife goes missing, after he finds himself wandering through a living nightmare and quickly realizes the horrors he faces are straight out of his mind and--more specifically--his written work.
A moment ago, I said the game oozes atmosphere. More specifically, it oozes the blackness of night. The majority of your time spent with the game is spent in the dark, where horrible monsters known as the Taken (because at one time they were normal people in rural Oregon until blackness overcame them) rush you with murderous intent. They are lumberjacks, firemen, farmers, policemen and tourists. But you've never seen tourists like this, at least not outside of Walmart. They resemble zombies that have armed themselves with reasonable weapons like hatchets and chainsaws. The only way to stop their advance is to hit them with light from a flashlight--or some other similar source--until you can melt away their inky exterior, then follow that up with a cheery blast from a shotgun, pistol or hunting rifle.
Alan himself is no superhero. He can run only a few quick steps before he's clutching at his side and panting from the exertion. His pursuers have no such limitations, which means it becomes necessary much of the time to engage anyone who happens to cast a malicious eye his way. Otherwise, he'll get hit in the back by a flying ax, or someone will just easily pounce him. He can dodge side to side as he races for the next Safe Haven (a patch of warm light beneath a streetlight that doubles as a checkpoint), but that only tends to work for so long.
Lost in the darkness so much of the time, a player like me can start to find it all the slightest bit overwhelming. Here in a real version of Oregon not terribly unlike the setting depicted in the game, I don't especially care for the dark. Like, at all. I like it very little in a game, where its depiction is wholly engrossing and where one or more figures might suddenly emerge from any of those long shadows without more warning than the screech of a bow scraping across a violin's taut strings, or grass rustling in a sudden breeze. Even knowing that I can probably dodge, shine, and shoot my way out of an encounter with limited difficulty, I dread each new one and the oppressive solitude along the way. Tellingly, my favorite moment in the game came when I was escorting a character through the streets of town and we were blasting the Taken together. I'm not one for escort missions, but I appreciated the reprieve and company.
If I hadn't been determined to find all of those collectibles, I might have stopped playing early in my adventure to do my fragile nerves a favor. Then again, I might not have, because I really do love the story. I'm a writer myself, so I could easily enough identify with Mr. Wake despite his brooding nature. And I've lived in Oregon my whole life, so a lot of the surroundings were almost comforting, murderous rampages aside. I also love a good mystery. The way the pieces started coming together as the story progressed suited me just fine. I lived for cutscenes, and for those all too infrequent moments of daylight where the beautiful environments had a chance to breathe.
Alan Wake Remastered includes not only the original Alan Wake and its six episodes (game enough to keep person busy somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 hours, depending on various factors), but two expansions that were originally offered as incentives or DLC: The Signal and The Writer. Each of them add another couple of hours or so, which means the overall package winds up offering somewhere around 15 to 20 hours of horror-themed gameplay.
The Signal is one bit of expanded content I could have done without, quite frankly. It features the same basic environments, but remixed. Alan wanders through a shifting landscape, sometimes shining his light on words to produce new assets and hazards. The monsters come at him more furiously, often in environments that make conflict more of a struggle. There is one scene near the end where he roams through a maze of streetlamps as a never-ending wave of relentless monsters pursues him, and it feels like it stretches on forever.
The Writer is much better, with fewer enemy encounters and a lot more creativity. Some of the biggest battles introduce pleasant new elements, such as one hillside conflict where shining a light on the word "roll" sends explosive barrels toppling down the slope at hordes of Taken, and an outdoor concert where fireworks bring light to the gloom as shadows contract. Some of the game's most creative environments and puzzles lurk in that final bit of content, and it feels like the perfect way to wrap up an experience I can't quite say I enjoyed.
But my tastes aren't the fault of Remedy, which developed the original version of Alan Wake, nor can I blame them on the competent team at d3t that made sure all of the textures bring new life to old haunts on current hardware. Alan Wake Remastered is a compelling refresh for a unique bit of interactive horror that blends a bunch of familiar tropes and manages to take them in a satisfying new direction, even for a coward like me. And if you're less of a chicken than I am, I suspect you'll find genuine joy in each new episode, rather than breathing a sigh of relief as you emerge on the other end of the gauntlet mostly unscathed. Mostly, I say, because some scars never heal.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 12, 2021)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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