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Alan Wake: more than a dream, less than a nightmare?

Content of the article: "Alan Wake: more than a dream, less than a nightmare?"

I just finally finished Alan Wake after purchasing it discounted in something like 2012. I'm not sure why it took me this long, perhaps it's been my penchant for competitive multiplayer games instead of single-player narratives, but I am sad I didn't play it sooner.

Playing this game, the first thing that took me in was the atmosphere. Sailing into the town of Bright Falls on the little ferry hooked me. I've been a Washington resident my whole life and I'm very familiar with the look and texture of the small towns this game is meant to evoke. These sleepy, somewhat passed-by and insular little towns have inspired other captivating media like Twin Peaks (seemingly one of the reference points for this game, and something I should probably get around to watching) and the Twilight series, for good reason. Kurt Cobain grew up in a town like this. There's a palpable mix of hope and despair; proud of their roots, while the world is slowly passing them by. There's a mystical quality that has much and little to do with the weather. Full of quirky and heartfelt characters, the game nails the atmosphere right out of the gate.

The narrative is almost as compelling. I enjoyed watching the story unfold, with the high points being the town's characters you meet along the way. They were interesting and compelling, and I wanted more of them. I found a few characters to have some nonsensical motivations (like the FBI Agent) and some story threads were left hanging that really should have been resolved. The ending was also very unsatisfactory, in my opinion. I wanted something a little more tangible than what we were given. I've come to understand that the DLCs provide a little more beyond the end, but I'm not particularly interested in paying $15 or so more on a 10-year-old game for a bit of extra story resolution. Perhaps someone here can convince me they're worth it. I am looking forward to playing Control and whatever comes beyond that, as I do think Remedy has a knack for storytelling.

The main reason I wished I'd have played this game earlier is that the technical aspects and gameplay have not aged particularly well. The light mechanic was interesting for awhile, but got stale by the mid-game and felt like a slog the last couple of missions. The driving controls felt awful and made those portions feel forced upon you instead of one of the freer and exhilarating portions of the game. The guns were barely different and the enemies were minor deviations from two or three basic types. The levels felt repetitive and the environments were bland outside of the narrative areas. The little goodies spread throughout the levels were nice to find, though it often felt more like a chore to find them than an achievement for clever exploration or solving some kind of puzzle. Speaking of which, there were a few minor "puzzles" that required almost zero critical thinking to solve and were almost as disappointing as potentially having no puzzles at all.

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I read later that it was originally supposed to be an open-world game that they'd repackaged into a narrative and structured game while salvaging the levels they'd built, which makes a lot of these disappointments make more sense. It was the right choice for the story, which was the good part, but it was unfortunate they couldn't refine the levels and gameplay a little more to fit that structure.

A lot of this could be completely unfair to the game, considering I'm playing this after playing games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, or The Witness, instead of 5-8 years before them. It would be great to see a technical remaster of the game with better textures, an even better environment, and maybe a little refinement of the gameplay. Or perhaps just a proper sequel?

Overall I was glad to have played it. It was a nice story and good escapism during this bleak fall. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone invested in narrative-driven games and willing to overlook some dated gameplay and visuals in favor of the characters and plot.

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