“A writer is a light that reveals the world of his story from darkness…”
Alan Wake, horror/suspense writer extraordinaire, wants to author a new novel. His inspiration is lacking, his muse is nowhere to be found; he’s frustrated and lashing out. “How will I write this novel?” he cries. As he sees desperation creep its way up the course of his being, he nearly succumbs until his wife suggests a vacation to the hauntingly beautiful Bright Falls. Within lies an isolated cabin, where, to Alan’s disbelief and anger, a typewriter waits. He furiously berates his wife and exits the cabin. Cooling off in the chilly air, Wake hears his wife shriek in fear – she has a phobia of darkness, you see, and the power just vanished. He reaches the cabin quickly, but she is gone. This is the beginning of Alan’s nightmare.
Alan Wake, the psychological-thriller title from Remedy, thrusts the player into the shoes of beloved author Alan Wake. After the disappearance of his wife at the cabin, Wake is involved in a car accident and awakens amidst the wreckage an undisclosed amount of time later. The gameplay kicks in here (though you follow a short dream tutorial at the inception of the game). Alan, throughout the majority of the experience, runs around town with a flashlight, a firearm, and a flare gun chased by the darkness and the corrupted citizens of Bright Falls. To dispatch them, Wake aims his flashlight to burn away the darkness, then shoots them with his pistol. While the mechanics of the gameplay were solid (but certainly not immaculate), the beauty remained in the concept.
Alan Wake is an extended metaphor for writer’s block – among other themes. But if we examine the game as Wake’s struggle through writers block, it presents gamers with a narrative and experience that is unique to the genre of psychological horror and mystery. Throughout the exposition, Wake can be heard narrating much of his journey, and collectibles come in the form of coffee thermoses and written pages from Alan’s work. Without ruining much of the plot, the pages offer a strange connection to Alan’s current dilemma – intensifying the atmosphere because the player begins to dread every step.
By itself, the narrative and gameplay of Alan Wake is a wonderful combination. But in homage of the horror greats of its time, Alan Wake is full of its share of Easter egg content. For example, a few pages that Alan finds in one of his flashbacks is clearly a reference to tortured soul of Max Payne. The television series, Night Springs, that Alan can stumble across (and was once a writer for) is directly inspired by The Twilight Zone. Many in-game sequences can also be linked to numerous famous horror stories or authors. If you’re a horror buff, this is a game that you’ll find yourself appreciating with each run through.
One of my favorite aspects of Alan Wake, however, is not only the atmosphere, concept, and fun references. Between chapters and found on various radios, Alan Wake is littered with a near perfect collection of music. For example, shortly after Wake’s wife disappears and the scene fades to black, Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” commands the credits (at the end of each chapter, much like a television show, credits roll). Take a listen to the song, if you’d like; for me, it set the tone of the game and created one of my favorite gaming memories.
In fact, Alan Wake is one of the biggest inspirations to my novel. As I wrote before, Silent Hill: Downpour and Jacob’s Ladder, coupled with the diagnosis of my mother’s breast cancer, inspired the conception of my novel, Her. It was Alan Wake, however, that gave me the final push to finish the work (I did not, unfortunately, fully play through the game until last summer, much to my chagrin).
Regardless, if you are late to the Alan Wake experience as I was, I highly recommend that you play it. Fortunately, Alan Wake is now playable on the Xbox One, and comes as a pre-order bonus for Remedy’s Quantum Break, which releases at the beginning of April. Give Alan Wake a chance – its intense story and atmosphere, unique gameplay concept, and spot-on soundtrack will make your experience more than worthwhile.