Home > Gaming, Horror, XBox 360 > Alan Wake – Review – Survival Borer

Alan Wake – Review – Survival Borer

This game should be put back to bed.

When I first heard of Alan Wake years ago, I was pretty excited at the thought of a new series of survival horror.  Then Alan Wake was thrown into development darkness.  It’s taken quite a while to get here, but we finally have the game, and honestly I can’t really say it was worth the wait.

Let’s take a look at what the game did right.  The story itself is really interesting and is about a horror writer that has basically been sucked into one of his own stories.  In particular, it’s a story that he hasn’t even written yet.  Along with this you have the sub plot as he tries to figure out what happened to his wife before he got sucked into the story.  Here is part of the issue I have with the game, the idea of a horror writer being sucked into his own story has been done before many times.  There are horror cliches throughout the game, but none of them particularly have their own uniqueness or spin on them.  On top of that, they are spread out so much that the game doesn’t feel like an homage to anything really.  Overall the only thing that really stands out about the story and ideas presented in the game is the way Alan narrates the events you see in the game as if you were reading a description on the page.  This idea helps bring to life some of the visuals you see as well as gives you a look into Wake’s psyche as the game progresses.

Now we can look at the flaws the game brought to the table.  The first key flaw being…


There. That “surprise” all caps sentence was scarier than the entirety of the Alan Wake game.  The first half hour of the game had more fear driving elements in it simply because you didn’t know what to expect, but everything after that is so repetitive that nothing is startling in the slightest.  I was so excited for this game as a possible revitalization of the survival horror genre, but instead it’s more of a survival suspense or perhaps a survival ‘oh that’s a little weird.’  Alan Wake has six episodes in the game and episodes one through four are as follows. (spoilers)

You’re in the woods. It’s dark, but not really that dark as you can still clearly see every tree and bush in the ambient moonlight. A shadow man sneaks up behind you. The camera slows down and pans back to show you what would have been surprising and a little scary and is instead spoiled by a “heads up.” You shine flashlight on shadow man.  You kill shadow man. You run to cabin.  Nothing scary in the cabin, it’s just a boring normal cabin. You restock supplies.  You move on.  You find a page of the book you’re in that warns you about EVERY SINGLE surprise that is coming up before it happens ruining the surprise.  It’s now daytime so the game finds some excuse to make you sit around and do nothing until it’s night time.  You’re in the woods.  It’s dark…

It just repeats like this for the first eight hours or so.  That is the biggest issue with the game really.  It’s hard to be scared by something that’s just so formulaic.  I understand its hard to really break away from repetition in a video game, but there just needs to be more variety.  This rings especially true in a horror themed game.  All these places you visit are just so boring.  There’s nothing scary about any of them.  Perhaps the most unsettling scene is a fresh deer carcass that was in someones basement, but unless it got up and started attacking me there’s just nothing at all intimidating about it.

The enemies you fight in the game are just as boring.  They are just guys with weapons and shadows on them.  You shine a flashlight on them and the shadows go away and you kill them.  There really isn’t anything horrific about guys with axes when you have guns.  The other enemy is flying tractor parts and bulldozers that drive themselves.  I guess that might be scary if I was a farmer or a construction worker.

The other issue I have is that the game gives you a comedic sidekick through most of the game.  If there’s one trope I despise in horror stories, it’s the funny guy.  The purpose of them is always to lighten the mood from the darker elements and make you feel safe, primarily so they can scare you later from that safety.  I prefer my horror to always be dangerous and have the idea of safety come from the actual ideas that the person might make it and the like.  I think humor is a bad way to make the audience feel safe.  In the game its even worse though because it takes such a focus to the forefront that it belittles the drama of the story.  One part in particular just infuriated me at the stupidity of it.  *Spoiler* There is a scene near the end of the third episode I think where Alan Wake and his agent Barry escape to a house while being chased by the darkness that creates the monsters and such.  There they decide it’s safe and choose to get plastered on moonshine.  What the hell!? You’re in a life threatening situation and something is STILL after you and you decide to get drunk!?  Part of me wants to think that they are making fun of horror cliches by doing this, but I don’t think the game is that smart. *end spoiler*

One more problem are the TV’s you find throughout the game.  When you find them they will either automatically activate and a scene will play out involving the live action actor Alan Wake is designed off of as he rambles madly about writing.  These are jarring when you have the virtual world of the game.  They are even more jarring than having a CG character mixed with live action.  Other times they will play clips from a fake show called Night Springs which is a Twilight Zone style show.  This is also done in live action and prove to be more parodies than anything too interesting.  Two TV’s in particular actually played advertisements for real products that were involved in product placement in the game.  That made me pretty mad because you actually got achievements for finding them.  So you were rewarded and almost forced to watch advertising if you want to complete the game 100%.

All in all the game was interesting at times, but just fell on its face in all things horror related.  The game talks about being a psychological action thriller, but it just really doesn’t deliver on that market either.  The game never tries to mess with your head, the action is spotty and repetitive, and the only thrilling part about it is the fact that the enemies are as fast as you most of the time.  The game looks great and the sound is really well done, but for all the time it had in development I was hoping for so much more.

  1. jettwinlock
    May 28, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I was never really into horror survival games that much the few I did play I did enjoy. Ever since Resident Evil 4 it hasn’t really been about being scared and just more on inventory management.

    Their are three problem with horror in video games,

    1. Horror is subjective to begin with, much like humor, what scares me pry might not be so scary to you.

    2. Video games as a medium is quite different that movies. Directors have complete control of the experience, that’s not always the case with video games, cut scenes don’t always make up for it.

    3. Video games in horror is tricky since to be scared you need a real threat. Dieing in games either means starting over or losing completely. No one will play a game that forces you to completely lose everything if you die, and survival games need a reason for you want to not die. This can’t be just get to an end of the game, it needs to be something that forces the player with a sense of urgency.

    All of these problems need to be addressed and looked at before building a survival horror game. I honestly haven’t played a good scary game since Eternal Darkness for the gamecube.

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