Alan Wake review for PC

Platform: PC
Publisher: Nordic Games Publishing
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Medium: Digital Download
Players: 1
Online: No

I was always under the impression that Alan Wake was touted as being an Xbox and PC title.  Then, as it neared closer to the game?s launch, Remedy announced the decision to cancel the superior PC version (zing!), opting instead to go 360 exclusive (naturally, I blamed on Microsoft Game Studios, not Remedy).  Being a fan of PC gaming, I shed a tear that day… You see, I happen to be a huge fan of story-driven, single player titles; it?s the reason I play videogames.  I?m not talking RPGs either (although I do love quite a few of them), but narrative adventures that are best told through interactivity, which is precisely what Remedy was promising with Alan Wake.  Alas, when it did finally launch on 360 I still fully intended to play it thoroughly…

However, something strange happened: Every time I saw a copy sitting on a shelf, rather than pick it up, I couldn?t help but think about what the PC version could have been.  This happened for days after launch… and days turned into weeks, which turned into months… which turned into December 2011 and the announcement that Alan Wake was coming to PC in early 2012!  So my unintended delay to buy Alan Wake for 360 wasn?t in vain.  In a round-about way, it is the way it always should have been…

… To answer your question; yes, I?m intentionally being overly dramatic, but that?s because Alan Wake has a tendency to bring out that intensity in its players.

Before talking about how much I like the game (it?s the same game that got positive reviews circa 2010), let?s first focus on the benefits of the PC version.  Since the game is already almost 2 years old (Where does the time go?), it doesn?t take too much computational horsepower to get it running masterfully on PC.  Armed with a mid-range GTX 570, I was able to run the game at 60fps with maxed out visuals at 1080p.  16x AF, 8x AA, everything else at ?high? including SSAO and FXAA (which is kind of redundant with regular AA being maxed).  On top of that LOD and draw distance were also set full tilt.

Don?t get me wrong, it?s not be the best we?ve seen on PC, but because Alan Wake was never an ugly game, with pimped out graphics running at liquid-smooth 60fps this updated DX11 version looks great.  The visual fidelity difference between this and the console iteration is substantial enough to clearly label the PC release as the definitive version from a graphics standpoint.  If you have any hesitations about playing with a kb mouse (you shouldn?t as it handles quite well), the game also has full 360 controller support, so you?re not really missing anything playing on computer.

Speaking of controllers, the game?s control scheme feels a lot like Uncharted?s.  Not just because of the third-person perspective, but because of the animations and stumbling around that both protagonists share… They even sound alike (albeit with Alan Wake sounding more dramatic than charismatic.)  The game world design is also similar between the two games but locations are cosmetically different, with Alan Wake taking place in the mountainous forests of the north-western US, rather than jungles of some tropical locale.

Alan Wake (the character) was a best-selling writer who has been suffering a two-year bout of writer?s block.  The stress has of not writing has gotten so bad that it manifests itself in horrible nightmares.  As such, Alan and his wife plan a relaxing vacation in the small idyllic town of Bright Falls, Washington (lots of trees, mountains, fresh air, wonderful sunsets.)  Anyway, things go from ?peachy? to ?odd?, then ?odd? to ?death-trap? really fast upon arriving in Bright Falls.  After experiencing one simple little black-out, Alan wakes up to find that his wife is missing, a week has past, and the vacation home they were staying in hasn?t existed since 1970… Not good.

The story is divided up into six episodes, with the two additional DLC episodes included in the PC release.  Each episode is delivered like a television show, complete with ?Previously on Alan Wake? intros and lead outs at the end (the licensed music of which is excellent, fitting perfectly with the game?s twilight-zone-style weirdness).  During gameplay Alan narrates his thoughts to the player as you make your way to well lit areas (the only refuge from the all-consuming darkness).  There are also a few pre-rendered game-engine cinematics to help with exposition, but ironically they look slightly lower-res and muddier than the real-time in-game graphics all dolled up.  Fortunately it doesn?t hurt the experience (but it is kind of funny).

It?s not so much a survival horror action game, as a psychological thriller detective game.  In that respect, Alan Wake uses a slightly slower pace than, for example, Resident Evil 5… It?s more like a spooky/eerie Heavy Rain that plays like Uncharted (if that makes sense).  In my opinion the tension created by the shadowy enemies trying to kill you in the dark isn?t as predominant as the tension created by the unknown (which is especially true in the first few episodes).  The driving force behind the whole game – its major motivator – is the hope that you?ll figure out what?s going on and why.  And pardon the pun, but Remedy continually keeps you in the dark which only adds to the ambiance of the game.

One of my favorite features that exemplify this is the manuscript pages that are scattered across Bright Falls.  What makes collecting these pages so engaging is that they detail the events of the game (the episode you?re playing), but you?re not necessarily finding them in order.  You often find pages describing the actions of characters you haven?t met yet, giving you a heads-up for what might be coming.  However these warnings are often completely out of context, only making sense after having played through them.  Overall, there aren?t many games like Alan Wake on any platform; it engages the player with more than just its shooting and action…  I dig it.

One thing that kind of bothered me – and this is sacrilege for a die-hard Steam aficionado to admit – is the integration of Steam-Cloud saves.  As far as I can tell (bear in mind I haven?t really looked), the game cannot auto-save locally unless you forcibly turn-off Steam Cloud support in Steam (not in the actual game).  In my case it kept my checkpoint save, but I lost a couple of hours worth of collectibles by switching between machines.  Moreover, I?m concerned that if I turn off Steam Cloud now, after re-playing with it on, I?ll lose all my collectibles again so I haven?t attempted the switch.  This is particularly frustrating as it?s something that is behind-the-scenes and essentially hidden from the user.  I not sure if this is an Alan Wake problem or a Steam one and I only mention it so players are cognizant of what could happen if they?re switching back and forth between comps.

Arguably the best compliment I can give Alan Wake is that it is a console-to-PC port done right.  Granted, both versions shared a lot of development time and Remedy know their way around a PC, so that might have a lot to do with it.  As a PC game, players who are new to the franchise will definitely get a kick out of this unique gaming experience; so needless to say, you should give it a try.  On the other hand, if you?ve already enjoyed the 360 version, but didn?t buy the downloadable episodes or were thinking of playing it again, there is enough new paint and additions here to warrant the $29.99 double-dip.

Grade: A-