Max Payne was a game first released on the PC and the PS2 in 2001, with a follow up in 2004. Then, Remedy went all quiet us, seemingly falling off the face of the Earth. Now, some 6 years later, Remedy have returned, teaming up with Microsoft Game Studios to create a 'Psychological Action Thriller' that is unlike anything you've ever seen before. An XBOX 360 exclusive, Alan Wake has arrived.
To start of with, the packaging and the extras in the Limited Edition are worth the price alone (£49.99).
Anyway, the first thing that made me go wow is the box it comes in. Beings you play a writer, it's only fitting the case resembles a book, with the binding and the feel. It feels professionally done and is quite hefty when all the extra items are included. It doesn't flap open when you remove it from the cardboard sleeve, as it's closed by magnets. The other extras are a bonus disc of goodies, like making of's..., unlocked downloadable content and trailers amongst other things. There is another disc which contains the games soundtrack (which is worth roughly a tenner on it's own) and a rather smart art book called The Alan Wake Files, and is quite a good read. Its quite a nice package and is well worth the money.
Now, on to the game itself.
The storyline goes that you, as Alan Wake, and his wife, Alice, are going to a small town called Bright Falls, for Alan to get away for a bit. It's when he gets the keys for their cabin that things start to go tits up and a bit supernatural, as the game takes references from The X Files, Stephen King books and even Twin Peaks, and it really shows later in the game. Its extremely well written and choreographed brilliantly. Every twist will pull you deeper into the events that slowly take over Bright Falls. You'll meet various characters, encounter various enemies, and solve many puzzles. Oh, yes, the enemies. They are not your average enemy. Shrouded in darkness, the torch becomes your greatest ally here. You can't kill them upon first sight. You must shine your torch upon them to destroy the darkness and then you can shoot them, upon which they dissappear. Not only are the people possessed by this, but inanimate objects get possessed as well, requiring more light to kill the darkness. One example, is the JCB that comes to life and tries to squash the life out of you, whilst enemies come at you with their weapons, making the encounter quite a ruckass, with bullets, scythes and a huge digger flying everywhere. Its all quite manic.
There are various weapons at your disposal, including a normal revolver, shotgun, hunting rifle, flares and flashbangs. You can also use a Flare Gun which has to be reloaded after every shot, but this is a near essential weapon to have. The bad guys use normal utensils like scythes, axes and even set bear traps. The shotgun is the meatiest one, and one of the achievements is to kill two TAKEN with one shotgun blast, which is quite satisfying indeed.
The levels are set out like a television programme in episodial format, even with a 'Previously on Alan Wake..' title card, and is a really neat effect, with even a song from a famous artist acompanying the 'End of Episode...' title card, the first of which is 'In Dreams' by Roy Orbison. It gives a it a 24-like feel. The controls are really intuitive, and everything seems to fit really well, and it plays great. The only niggle is that some times it takes two button presses before it works, but thats only a small niggle in an otherwise great game. Included are puzzles, which are simple ones, like 'GET KEY FROM LOCATION A AUSE AT LOCATION B', but aren't a trek across the wilderness to solve. Thats another thing about this game, it doesn't require much backtracking (and when it is required, it doesn't get in the way and is quite logical).
The graphics are, for want of a better word, awesome. The graphical effects when the TAKEN are near, are brilliant. A dense fog, that moves rapidly flows through the air and, when you actaully see them, they are just black figures with a black mist swirling around them. The trees sway in the breeze and really move when the fog comes down. Even the locations look picturesque, and the town looks just like a mountain town from the US (in the documentary on the bonus disc, they said they travelled to Oregan to look how to set it out), and I think they've done a good job. They even accurately mapped the stars in the sky at night!. Everything seems to fit just right and doesn't look out of place. It might have taken a few years to get here, but it's been worth the wait.
This is one of those games that will keep you glued until the end. And I haven't even mention the pick up's that you have to find on Normal, and then the others on NIGHTMARE only!!
All in all, its one of the best mindfuck games going.