Alan Wake in the test - Alan's PC awakening

Author: Petra Schmitz
Date: 2012-02-15 18:00:00
With Alan Wake, one of the most atmospheric games ever finally finds its way onto the PC. Can Remedy's creepy action game still cast a spell over us on our favorite platform? We reveal it in the test.

Even GameStar editors know the basic problem of Alan Wake. And no, we do not mean the problem of the action game Alan Wake (much too long development time, then first exclusive deal with Microsoft for the Xbox 360, with a delay of almost two years only now released for the PC), but that of the writer Alan Wake , The writer's block thing.

Okay, with us it usually doesn't last as long as with the protagonist in Remedy's horror. And we do not have to (or are we allowed to?) To overcome the blockade in any sleepy town to get strength and inspiration. On top of that, we don't have to deal with the powers of darkness in this sleepy town, who ... yes, what do they actually want from Alan?

We will never reveal what dark forces the little nest Bright Falls has in their power and what exactly their desire is. Just because we don't really know. One of the great strengths of Alan Wake is that it leaves a lot in the vague, only hinting at it, so that the player only vaguely perceives the world and the safe ground breaks under his feet. The threat in Alan Wake is never really tangible. And that is exactly what makes them so terrifying, similar to HP Lovecraft's legendary work around the Cthulhu myth.

It starts with a nightmare

But from the beginning: Mr. Wake, once a celebrated thriller author, arrives in Bright Falls with his wife Alice. The two want to go on vacation in a log cabin on a romantic island in an even more romantic lake. Out of the big city, into loneliness. Also and above all so that Alan clears his head and maybe after two years of doing nothing he will finally get something on paper again.

But even the first few minutes in the sleepy nest on the American west coast come to what can best be imagined as the start of a horror novel à la Stephen King: Alan wakes up in the car after a crazy nightmare in which light is his only ally against an unknown enemy.

In the local diner, Stucky does not hand over the key to the vacation home, but a strange old woman. Finally, in the log cabin, the electricity fails first, then Alan's wife disappears under mysterious circumstances and Alan finally finds himself somewhere on a cliff in the forest in his battered car.

Everything just a dream? But where's Alice? And some time later, the question arises: where did the island and the log cabin go? Because, according to the residents of Bright Falls, both have actually not existed for years thanks to a volcanic eruption. Alan doubts (not without reason?) About his mind. But his wife has disappeared. So he goes in search of Alice and soon finds himself in a whirlwind of sheer madness - apparently revolving around one of his books. One that Alan hasn't written yet.

Am I on TV now?

We're kicking the cornerstones of Alan Wake's story so broadly because the plot is the lighthouse of the game. That is what one remembers, it is special, it stands out like a glowing light from the usual story-series. In addition, most of the other stories in the genre of action games fall into meaningless crumbs. The unusual division into episodes also contributes to this.

Like a television series, Remedy divides the game into (six) chapters. At the end of everyone there's the bouncer pop song that is also very popular on TV (such as Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" or "Up Jumped The Devil" by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds), the next one starts with a "Before" a brief summary of what has happened so far. At the latest, these bonds point to Alan Wake's origins.

Remedy has vigorously used well-known series. Above all, David Lynch's Twin Peaks from the beginning of the 90s, a fantastic journey into the abysses of the human soul, which later became a style-setting and crazy.

Alan's effort

As in David Lynch's original, an unknown power lurks somewhere in the woods around Bright Falls. And that's exactly where Alan has to go to get Alice back and (maybe) put an end to the whole haunt. The action sections of the game present us with several challenges. In the beginning, it is the fear that we feel when we venture into the dark armed only with a flashlight and a revolver. Later in the game, we struggle with signs of wear. The linear paths from A to B are getting longer and longer, the opponents are annoying, creep gradually gives way to exertion.

The game mechanics are fundamentally not wrong. It fits the rest. Desk athlete Alan is not a superman who swings through the woods like Tarzan and rivets rows of opponents. Alan's range of motion remains small, for example, he can only sprint for a few seconds. His flashlight eats batteries like rabbit dandelions and his weapons often suffer from a lack of ammunition.

Under these conditions, he competes, among other things, against people affected by darkness, whom he can only make vulnerable with light (flashlight!). The camera work, which is so close to Alan that it is often not possible to spot opponents moving from behind in time, is intentional, but the result is more frustration for us than increased fear.

As I said: in the best survival horror manner, it is fear and tension that determine this part of the game - and at a time when even the greats of the genre such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill turn to action. Later, the run and fight sections in Alan Wake degenerate because they are too long and tough.

Even useful flares, enemy-decomposing stun grenades and occasional mini-puzzles can hardly change that. Remedy would have done well to stagger the trips into the woods, to break them up into smaller pieces to avoid wear and tear.

Obsolete and still beautiful

Keyword "signs of wear": Remedy announced Alan Wake back in 2005, for Xbox 360 it was released in 2010 and only now is it appearing on the PC. It is obvious that the graphics cannot keep up with current top titles in the genre. Everything looks a little dusty, a little old-fashioned: texture mess here and there, undynamic shadows, wooden animations, lack of shaders.

Surprisingly, none of this bothered, because Bright Falls and the surrounding area are captured in a devilishly atmospheric way. The mountain backdrop alone, which spans scenes again and again, compensates for the graphic tastes and creates an imposing and threatening atmosphere.

The fact that the central figures are located in the world in a way that is understandable also contributes to the dense atmosphere. We feel with Alan, not least because he always comments on the events and his inner life from off-screen. With a voice that is also very suitable in the German version. The rest of the Vertoner-Riege also does a good job, so don't be afraid of Fremdschäm's comments.

It's just stupid that Remedy slipped a bit, especially with the excellent sound: the plot-driving cutscenes are audibly louder than the rest of the game. We would very much like a patch there. You won't be able to tweak the action sections, which will soon become tedious, but the terrific plot is anyway the central element of Alan Wake. And at Remedy they really did everything right.

The addons

The PC version already contains the two add-ons The Signal and The Writer , which add to the story of Alan Wake. The signal connects directly to the main game, which is why we cannot reveal anything about it here without spoiling you badly.

Pretty: In The Writer you can use the flashlight to conjure up the appropriate events and objects from (English) words. You can start the two addons right away, without having played through Alan Wake. In your own interest, however, you should start with the main game.