The (minor) problem with Alan Wake

by: Chuck -
I’m nearly done with Alan Wake (expect the review before E3) but something has been nagging me since I started my play through. First off, Alan Wake has lived up to nearly every expectation I had for it. The graphics are excellent and the story is expertly delivered by the folks at Remedy. However there there’s one thing that’s stuck in my craw.

Alan Wake is composed of six TV style episodes. The story is presented to gamers through a combination of flashbacks, lost manuscript pages, and through character exposition. Combined together these do a fantastic job of pulling you into the game and making you feel like you are really a part of this interactive story. Even the blatant (and sometimes in your face) product placement adds to this effect.

The problem (at least for me) is that the folks at Remedy have added collectables to the game. Along the way you collect Coffee Thermos bottles that are scattered throughout the game world. In some cases the placement works (like in a diner or on a desk in a cabin) but the other times the things are scattered around bridges and throughout the forest of Bright Falls and it’s these moments that took me right out of the narrative and reminded me that I’m playing a game.

As a gamer we’re trained to collect things like stars, orbs, and lost treasures. We know that these things are hidden in the nooks and crannies of the game world and sometimes even placed in plain sight where the challenge is to find a way to reach them. I get that this is a popular mechanic to drive replay of the game but for some reason this really has hurt the Alan Wake experience for me.

I know that I could not collect them and that I could just ignore them but there’s a nagging voice inside my head that reminds me that they are there and that if I just wander off the path a bit there’s something new for me to collect. I don’t think I’m the only one on this but it could just be all the blows to the head I’ve taken playing hockey and football over the years taking their toll.

I didn’t play Heavy Rain so I’m not sure if there are treasures tucked away in odd corners in that game (John can’t remember) but it seems to me that if game designers want to move towards interactive fiction they need to lose some of the “game” elements that people take for granted or at least give us obsessive compulsive types an option to turn them off or on.

What do you think? Am I off my rocker or not. Let me know in the comments.

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