The phrase “cult classic” gets banded around quite a lot these days, and I would challenge you to find a better fit for it than Alan Wake. It’s been ten years since we were introduced to the troubled writer, in a tale that channelled a lot of what made Twin Peaks so goddamn intriguing.
Alan is suffering from writer’s block, so decides to treat himself and his wife to a trip away to the small mountain town of Bright Falls. Shortly after some troubling dreams, Mrs Wake goes missing, and Alan takes it upon himself to find her.
The game is centred around a gripping narrative, told in a variety of ways. It’s survival horror, with some elements of action-adventure chucked in the mix for good measure. It is told in an episodic format, similar to if you were watching it at 9pm on BBC One every Sunday.
Not only this, but it is littered with pop culture references, too many to mention here. However, my main highlight has to be The Twilight Zone-inspired “Night Springs” in-game TV series, which you will stumble across as you play on old TV sets. If things weren’t spooky enough, this paranormal series usually involves death, along with a serious sense of foreboding.
As well as in-game content, there was a live-action prequel series called “Bright Falls” which was released online a few weeks before Alan Wake. This prequel ties in to tell of what happened in the mysterious town before Alan arrived there. Not only this, but the limited collector’s edition of the game included “The Alan Wake Files”, a 144-page book which expands on the events in the game. I was lucky to happen across one last year at a video games market, and quickly snapped it up (after some epic haggling).
Throughout the tale, Alan fights against the “Darkness”, which overwhelms the town’s residents, both human and animal, transforming them into the “Taken”. His chief weapon is his trusty flashlight, which you’ll need to keep juiced up. Once illuminated, the Taken are vulnerable to gunfire, which is how you take ‘em down.
There are all sorts of different enemies that Alan encounters, and he learns quickly to manipulate various sources of light to overcome them. For example, he can use a flare gun to take out small clusters of the Taken, instead of battling against each one individually. Also, in some segments of the game you’ll be able to hop into your truck and drive to your next destination. If you time it right and whack on your full beam, you’ll cut through the Taken swarms like a hot knife through butter.
It eventually transpires that Alan’s main adversary is the shady Mr Scratch, who is in fact his doppleganger created by the Darkness. His real name is never revealed, instead muffled by an apparent scratching of a record player. Mr Scratch is also, rather chillingly, a pseudonym for the Devil. Scary stuff.
The end of the main campaign is a somewhat open-ended, so thankfully a further two DLC chapters were released. These were designed to bridge the gap between Alan Wake and the upcoming sequel, entitled “The Signal” and “The Writer”. At first they were paid for content, however a good few years later, shortly after the game went backwards compatible on Xbox One, they became free for all to enjoy. It’s a good job too, as they are integral to the main story.
Despite lots of sequel hype, instead we got Alan Wake’s American Nightmare which was released for Xbox 360, and is best described as a spin-off. It was much lighter in tone, falling into the black comedy category. It pitted you against the villainous Mr Scratch and is presented as if you are playing through an episode of the fictional TV show “Night Springs”.
This could only satisfy fans for so long, before attention turned back to a sequel. Unfortunately there is still no concrete evidence of when, or even if, this will happen. Instead, Remedy has been teasing us with nods to the franchise in the recently released Control. Don’t you even think about “pulling a Valve” on us now!
There is some good news though. Alan Wake is coming to Xbox Game Pass on Thursday 21st May, and for those who have never had the pleasure, trust me when I say it should be at the top of your list. And what better time to announce a sequel than on the original’s tenth anniversary? No?
Alan Wake is not only a gripping story of good vs evil, but is told over several different media forms which add up to a truly deep, immersive and thoroughly enjoyable experience. The combination of extensive character development and genuine mystery-driven storytelling makes it a tale that still remains utterly brilliant to this day. Now, how about that sequel, eh Remedy?