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“A horrifying dark presence has woken up. It’s growing stronger. It’s coming for me. I need to find Alice.”
“Alan. Wake up.”

Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: 360, Windows
Release Date: May 18, 2010 (360), February 16, 2012 (Windows)*
ESRB: Mature
Format: Optical disc, digital download
*Release dates based on original North American release

Alan Wake is a third person horror game in which the player assumes the role of the titular character, but beyond that the game is a love letter to horror fiction from all mediums. The game is drenched in copious homages and references to books, TV series, movies, and other video games, while still managing to tell a fresh and engaging narrative.

Alan is a King-esque writer in the middle of a long bout of writer’s block. At the behest of his wife, Alice, they leave New York to vacation in the Pacific Northwest so that Alan can relax. After a nightmare on the car trip (which serves as the game’s tutorial), they arrive in Bright Falls, Washington, a small town like the type everyone used to come from (but also clearly inspired by Twin Peaks) right before the beginning of the annual Deer Fest…but soon things start to go wrong.

An ancient evil abducts Alice, and Alan must search Bright Falls and the surrounding mountainous forest park for a way to get her back while not going insane in the process.

A lot of tropes pop up throughout the game, most used to great effect.
  • Nyctophobia
  • The crazy old lady who seems to know more than anyone
  • The old man who notes bad weather means bad trouble
  • The obsessed fan
  • The agent looking to make a deal
  • The small town cop in over their head
  • The FBI agent who blames everything on the main character
  • The good doctor
  • The bad doctor
  • The mysterious stranger
  • The redneck up to no good
  • Attacks from inanimate objects
  • Noneuclidian geography
  • Shadow monsters
  • Unknowable horrors
  • Help from beyond
  • Semi-lucid members of a 70’s Norwegian heavy metal band…is that a trope?

The game is episodic in format. There are six episodes in total, taking about two to three hours to play through; each ending with a big cliffhanger reveal, and each, after the first, begins with a “Previously on Alan Wake” segment like on a TV show. This does break up the game rather nicely, giving the overall narrative specific beats and allowing the player to absorb and think over each section before moving on. Later DLC added two more episodes, and a follow-up campaign called Alan Wake: American Nightmare.

The game play is a mix of narrative heavy sections, where Alan walks around talking with people and uncovering clues to the mystery, and action sequences laid out as a fairly linear point A to point B run for your life. This however is arguably the game’s weak spot, as the atmosphere and narrative are delivered brilliantly, but the action segments can go from “Oh god, it’s after me!” to “More of this?...Really?”.

Alan combats monsters with a small selection of guns, flares, and flash grenades, but throughout the game Alan’s primary defense and offense is light. He carries around a flashlight which, apart from performing the normal functions of a flashlight, serves as targeting crosshairs, and weakens monsters so that they can be killed. The monster can’t enter pools of light without being harmed, and Alan’s health meter refills much faster when he is standing in direct light.

An interesting aspect of the game are the manuscript pages scattered throughout landscape. These give insight into other characters and events, as well as foretelling some future events. It does give an unsettling feel to the game as they make you question whether all this is real or just in Alan’s head.

Also there are radios that you can listen to where the late night DJ takes some calls from locals and talks about his growing unease. TVs can be watched which show episodes of a Twilight Zone type show called Night Springs, and sometimes the TV’s show Alan in a room talking to himself, trying to sort out the madness. Everything on the TVs is live action filmed in black and white. The creepy, if somewhat cheesy, Night Springs episodes are all fun to watch, but the Alan bits get downright unnerving.

Synopsis of Episode One (contains spoilers)

After settling into their cabin that evening on a tiny island in the middle of Cauldron Lake, Alice reveals that she had brought along a typewriter and scheduled sessions with the local psychiatrist Dr. Hartman who runs a clinic for troubled artists as a way to help break Alan’s writer’s block. Angrily, Alan leaves the cabin, only to rush back when he hears Alice screaming inside. He arrives just in time to see Alice dragged beneath the waves by a shadowy figure. Alan dives in after Alice, but passes out.

He wakes up a week later behind the wheel of crashed car. Determined to find his wife he starts walking back to the cabin. But as night falls, Alan is chased through the forest by shadow men wielding lumberjack tools, led on by the voice of a man in a diving suit, and finding scattered manuscript pages from a new book he has no memory of writing.

Finally, he makes it to a gas station and calls for help. When Sheriff Sarah Breaker arrives, Alan tries to convince her that his wife was abducted. The Sheriff drives Alan back to the lake to reveal that the cabin island isn’t there. It had sunk into the lake during a volcanic eruption decades ago.

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