I was introduced to the term "launch goggles" at PAX East this year. It's probably been around for longer than that, but that was my fist time hearing it. The term refers to the ability of the press to overlook flaws in a brand new AAA game during it's launch period. It's a mix of PR brainwashing, hype, and anticipation that can often lead to reviewers giving a game a higher score than they normally would.
Why do I bring this up? Because in reviewing Alan Wake I've had a hard time figuring out if it is really that good or if I've drunk so much of the Alan Wake Kool-Aid over the last five years that I can't help but give the game a good score.
Alan Wake is set in Bright Falls, which feels like the Northwest version of Stephen King's Bangor, Maine. Much like the sleepy town in Maine, Bright Falls is plagued by lots of odd happenings and strange occurrences, so much that the townsfolk just seem to be used to people just disappearing for one reason or the other. The town seems like the perfect destination for burned out writer Alan Wake to take a vacation and try to re-charge his creative batteries,
so he can get past the writers block that's been plaguing him for the last several months. Along for the trip is his wife Alice, who helped convince Alan that the trip is a good idea. It's not until they get to Bright Falls and get to their cabin in the middle of a mysterious lake that they realize what a kook-haven Bright Falls is. They aren't in the cabin for more than a few hours before Alice is kidnapped by the dark presence living in the lake, forcing Alan (and you) to figure out what's going on and how to get his wife back.
It's hard to get too far into the plot without spoiling parts of Alan Wake, so I'll just say that the plot will keep you guessing and there are enough curves and bends to keep you interested. Those looking for a firm resolution at the end will be a bit disappointed (it's not Sopranos bad but, like the ending of Lost, there's lots of room for interpretation). That's not a bad thing at all and it certainly leaves Remedy some room to flesh things out via DLC or a sequel (if the game sells well enough).
The writing is tight and and the story is told in a variety of ways. The first layer is the standard narration by Herr Wake and exposition from the characters around him and everything is well scripted and thought out. The words are also married to a mostly perfect voice over cast, which further improves the experience.
The second level of narration is is what separates Alan Wake from most other games on the market. After his wife is kidnapped, Alan wakes up dazed and confused in his car, which is precariously hanging over a ledge. After escaping the car he realizes that he has lost a week of his life. It turns out that during the lost week, Alan has written a novel which has been broken apart and the pages have been put in his path to fill him in on what he is supposed to do. This part of the narrative is amazingly strong as the pages range from events in the future, to events that have just happened, and events in the past. They do an amazingly good job of filling in the details and pulling the player through the game. The only downside is that you can occasionally miss the odd page or two if you aren't paying attention.
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