Alan Wake: The Writer

Review

posted 10/12/2010 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
Platforms: 360
I went into this second (and presumably final) episode of Alan Wake both excited and worried.  Although I had a great time with the game when it first came out, I would be hard pressed to tell you anything about the story.  I remembered there being a cliffhanger ending, David Bowie and lots of Twin Peaks references, but I was fuzzy when it comes to the finer details.  Never before have I been so excited for a brief video recap of the story.

So here's where we're at: Alan Wake, the writer, is currently trapped in his dreams after changing the ending of his manuscript.  He saved his wife, but now he appears to be trapped in a dark place.  We pick up right where The Signal left off, stuck in Alan's dreams and trying to resolve mental problems so that he can finally find a way back to reality and the people he loves.  At least, that's what I got from the minute-long video that accompanies this episode.
 
The truth is, Alan Wake's story is a convoluted mess that seems to revel in how messed up it is.  At the same time, I couldn't help but realize that this is Remedy trying not to paint themselves into a corner.  They clearly want to make a sequel, so right from the start we know that they're not going to reveal any major answers in these two optional episodes.  What we get are more questions and weird happenings.  That might not be a bad thing assuming there's a sequel, but given how long it took to make this game and the soft sales figures, I worry that the anticlimactic ending found in this episode is the final breath for Mr. Wake.


But I'm getting ahead of myself, because it turns out that The Writer is one of the better Alan Wake episodes.   If for nothing else, the game's level designs that makes this episode worth downloading.  The game manages to pull familiar locations from past episodes and warp them into something entirely new and exciting.  There are elements that feel like they came straight out of Inception.  The world is constantly changing around you, often in ways you won't see coming.  A simple bridge can turn into a long and winding path to nowhere, all while you're running through a hamster wheel of familiar shops, houses and offices.  Remedy took the idea of the dream world and ran with it, often in exciting and original ways.

There are also some tense action sequences, many of which involve the player solving some sort of simple puzzle.  Much like the original game, the puzzles aren't very taxing, but I'm happy that there's more to the combat than just shooting ghosts.  Plus, some of the cast shows up in ways I didn't see coming.  It's nice that even in the dream world, Remedy was still able to keep me on my toes.

The game suffers from the same problems that plagued the original.  The combat -- which involves a flashlight and a gun -- isn't very satisfying and the storyline is vague for the sake of being vague.  Also, Alan is a little hard to navigate on narrow paths.  I don't know what it is about the gameplay, but I accidentally fell to my death more times than I would like to admit.  It doesn't help that much of the game's challenge comes from a combination of third-person platforming and the game throwing aggressive monsters at you at inconvenient times.  While I didn't have trouble making it to the end in a couple hours, there were definitely great moments of frustration.


What I found unsettling about these episodes was how insignificant they feel in the grand narrative.  The level designs are cool and it's fun to explore this world some more, but I wish it had more impact in the actual story.  I come away from this episode not knowing anything more about the original story, just sad that I will have to wait for a sequel to get real answers.  I worry that Alan Wake's story will never be finished, much like that of Twin Peaks.

But maybe that's the best ending for the game.  Maybe this isn't a story with answers and conclusions, but rather one about a journey into madness.  The way Twin Peaks ended at the time was painful to accept; it offered no answers and left its fans on a gigantic cliffhanger.  Twenty years later I have come to appreciate the ending, even if it's frustratingly unconventional.  Perhaps that's the most fitting way to end Alan Wake, taking yet another page out of the TV show they were so obviously influenced by.
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