E3 2009: Alan Wake Preview - Alive and Kicking
Written Sunday, June 14, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Alan Wake was a personal highlight for me this year at E3. Not only is it a game that I was actually anticipating, but when I actually got chance to see it in action, boy was it impressive. Deep within the depths of the Microsoft booth at this year’s show, Alan Wake’s Lead Writer, Sam Lake, and Producer, Jyri Ranki, ran us through an extended walkthrough from the one that the majority will have seen at the Microsoft press conference. Alan isn’t going over the cliff this time, we can assure you that much.
So as you probably know by now, Alan Wake is a bestselling writer whose been hit with a sudden case of writer’s block. In order to get those creative juices flowing again, his wife Alice takes him out to Bright Falls, Washington, in order to help the struggling writer. Whilst in the idyllic town of Bright Falls, Alice somehow goes missing and the story that Wake doesn’t remember writing is coming true before his very eyes. The plot’s very Stephen King if you ask us and we love a bit of Stephen K.
Alan Wake, the game, not the main character, is a story driven psychological action thriller brought together with a “strong atmosphere, mood and a smart story,” with Lake adding that they “want to give the best possible rollercoaster ride through the game.” The story follows the pacing and style of a modern day TV series, fresh with cliffhangers and “Previously on Alan Wake” recaps before every new episode – a mechanic that Alone in the Dark used to great success, and by great success, I mean one of the shining lights in a distinctly average game.
The story of Alan Wake is a linear narrative, yet Lake points out it’s not a level based game noting that there is a large world, a story that guides you and a logical pathway to the next objective. Despite boasting a fully working day/night cycle, that aspect of the game is not controlled by the player, but instead by the story itself. The structure of the game is split into two different varying times of day. On the one hand, you’ll have the night sequences that will be more combat orientated, like the demo at E3, and then on the other hand, the day scenes will be more exploratory in nature. The game however is not linear in the sense the word, offering the player big environments to explore and immerse themselves in. Lake highlighted a few locations that players could find themselves in, citing large open forest valleys and the depths of the small town of Bright Falls where you get to meet the quirky locals. Players wanting more out the experience can dig deeper into the story if they are willing to put the time in and explore fully.
The extended walkthrough presented behind closes doors at the show started off in a small picturesque log cabin with Alan and his friend and literary agent, Barry, discussing Alan’s options in this messy little affair. Barry, according to Lake, is the game’s comic relief as Ranki demonstrates by antagonising him and teasing him with the flashlight beam. His responses all seemed genuine reactions to the light being shined in his face and I must say I was pretty damn impressed with the acting and humour that the title has to support the strong narrative.
One of Alan Wake’s shining lights is most definitely its story telling method. We all know that Alan’s story is coming to life word by word in front of his very eyes, but the narrative voice over the top at certain points of the game makes the story feel that much more genuine and really brings it to life. One drawback of this method may be that it does prepare you for what’s to come which in a way is a bit of a suspense killer. Knowing Remedy though, they’ll have a few tricks up their sleeves to counteract that. I mean, you’ll be shocked at one point if the narrative isn’t followed to the word – it surely would catch you off guard. Chances are they’ll hold a few things back from the narrative as well though, but of course, that’s more speculation than fact.
Light and dark are the two key elements of the title, and not only will light act as a weapon, but it will also act as a safe haven. Other than your trusty flashlight and gun combo, there will also be a whole array of light related weapons dotted around Bright Falls. Of course, the flare gun is one of them. The evil powers that are consuming Bright Falls are invincible unless subjected to light, so without the use of light, you’re screwed. As you’d assume, on the other hand, the darkness pretty much stands for danger and terror ... so steer clear of that if you want Alan to survive his own novel. From what I could tell anyway, Mr Wake has regenerative health so the emphasis seems to be on enjoying the experience rather than making it a tasking affair.
Chances are you’ll have seen the Microsoft press conference showing of Alan Wake, if not, here’s a quick summary ... Alan is off to find Rusty because he knows where the missing pages of his manuscript are, he finds him, loses him, and then has to find him again. Stuff flies at Alan because of some scary poltergeist possession and so do dark, evil spirits, Alan defeats them with light (and a gun), gets across the canyon, gets in cabin ... and that’s where we pick up Alan ... at that exact point. Where in the press conference a possessed digger whipped out the main protagonist; in our walkthrough, Alan sidesteps that and takes down the spirit controlling it with a well placed flare gun round. Lake notes that strong poltergeists who take control of large vehicles can only be taken out with strong light; so here, the torch wouldn’t have cut it.
At this point Alan is following the voice of Rusty over to a nearby log cabin on the work site where inside, Rusty is a little worse for wear but still manages to tell Alan where the two missing pages are. “They’re at the lighthouse, behind the lifebelt.” Alan being naturally inquisitive makes his way down to the car and drives to the lighthouse. On the way down in the car, Alan’s narrative voice and inner monologue is mapping the events out, building up the next scene and the suspense accordingly. The narrative is pretty damn chilling at this point and fantastically intriguing and well written. This is Sam Lake at his finest. Without spoiling anything for anyone out there, when Alan gets to the lighthouse, a nasty surprise is waiting ... and the scene ends.
When asked about whether they had to return to the drawing board to revamp the tech cause it had been so long in the making, Lake responded, “not so much, the concept has remained the same” stating that they’ve kept the bar very high in terms of quality. Lake cements that fact by stating that they are “very close to the original vision” although “some elements have evolved along the way.” It is then that Lake comments that the company has been in a very “fortunate position” in being able to take as long as they needed, before popping out his quote of the show; “Remedy is not a factory, for us it’s a labour of love ... we take our time and try out different things until we feel that we’ve found out the right combination for the game.” Despite that being terribly cliché, you can’t really fault his logic, as the game is shaping up nicely.
I’ve got to admit, I’m such a sucker for strong story driven games which is probably why Alan Wake is so appealing to me personally. Alan Wake however seems so much more than just a good story. It’s got the looks of a traditional noir horror film, it’s got a unique and frankly impressive story telling technique, and everything regarding the mood and atmosphere just gives me goosebumps thinking about it. Goosebumps I tells thee! At first we were just glad that Alan was alive and kicking and not pulling a Duke Nukem Forever on our asses, but after seeing the title living up to its initial potential, we can’t wait to see what sort of story Wake and Lake have to tell us. Our only disappointment was that the game seemingly slipped back to 2010 despite claims saying Remedy said 2009 was the year of the Wake.
Alan Wake will be available on the Xbox 360 and PC in spring 2010.