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‘Alan Wake’ caps a waking nightmare with transcendant surrealism

‘Alan Wake’ caps a waking nightmare with transcendant surrealism

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Alan Wake
Remedy Entertainment
Microsoft Game Studios
Xbox 360, PC

The idea of psychological horror is one that has resonated strongly with audiences for as long as horror has been a genre. First introduced by the narrative titans, HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, the notion of psychological horror carried with it a feeling that was intensely unsettling: the idea that we may have more to fear from within than without.

This is certainly a running theme throughout Alan Wake, a game that wears its influences on its sleeve like badges of honor. Drawing inspiration from other sources like television’s Twin Peaks, its survival-horror progenitor Silent Hill, and the novels of Stephen King, Alan Wake pulls on the threads of some of the best the genre has to offer, and weaves them into an unforgettable experience.

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The game tells the story of its namesake. An author experiencing writer’s block, Alan goes on a retreat to a rustic cabin with his wife, Alice. Not long after they arrive, though, their hopes for a peaceful vacation are dissipated when Alice is pulled beneath the waters of a nearby lake by unseen forces. After this traumatic incident, Alan awakens in his car on the outskirts of town, with a week having passed since his wife’s disappearance. As if this isn’t bad enough, Alan is hampered endlessly by shadowy figures who attack him as he attempts to make his way through the forests of Washington, and back to the town of  Bright Falls.

When he does make it back, however, morning arrives, and things only get more confusing. The local law enforcement tell him that the island he and his wife were staying on doesn’t even exist, having slipped beneath the waves years ago. This puts the unstable Wake at the forefront of the investigation, not as a victim, but as the prime suspect. Meanwhile, he finds pieces of a manuscript he doesn’t remember writing, and jarring flashbacks of his lost seven days, causing him to question his own sanity.

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It’s not hard to see why, as the game mainly consists of fighting off waves of shadow-men called Taken. The player fends them off with various sources of light while seeking the truth behind the complex narrative. Anyone with even a basic pedigree in survival-horror will be familiar with the idea of rationing supplies and ammunition in order to achieve success, but Alan Wake adds a third complication to that formula by forcing players to ration their light source as well. Whether it be the token flashlight, a torch, or the various other methods of illumination, the player must balance very carefully between using light to get around and slay the taken, and stumbling through the dark to either affect stealth or conserve energy.

A genuinely original game that suffered through years of development hell, Alan Wake emerged as one of the strongest exclusives that the Xbox 360 ever had. Despite this, and a very open ending, Alan Wake has yet to receive a true sequel, and might never at this point due to modest sales and an overlong development cycle. Nonetheless, Alan Wake is an enduring and memorable piece of work, one well worth experiencing on a rainy autumn night.

[wpchatai]