Alan Wake Preview: Shedding A Little Light

By Mary-Lynn McLachlan on April 17, 2010, 11:02AM EDT

Flashlights are a common household item, and common enough in video games with roughly 114 titles featuring them. The first game to have a flashlight was Maniac Mansion which was released by LucasFilm Games in 1987. Typically flashlight uses in video games are limited to practicality, or are used for an aesthetic value that creates a sense of foreboding and anxiety when playing a survival horror game. While these random facts may seem irrelevant, it's actually shocking that it took twenty three years for a creative team to decide to turn a flashlight into a metaphorical bastion of good that incinerates darkness with its cleansing light. Apparently good things come in time. After six years of development Remedy Entertainment's Xbox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake, brings the ultimate flashlight to the table, introducing 'light play' in this action adventure thriller. Will focusing a new gameplay mechanic on a flashlight, one of the most mundane and undervalued items, prove to be more than a shot in the dark?

Alan Wake is a writer suffering writer's block who moves to a small town with his wife, hoping to rekindle his writing flair. Things don't do as planned though, as Alan's wife disappears, and in his frantic search he begins to find pages to a horror novel he doesn't even remember writing. To make matters worse, the words on the pages become real as the townsfolk become possessed by evil, and the town is swallowed up by darkness. It certainly sets the scene for what promises to be a gripping tale. Not many games are completely sold based on their story, however a lot of emphasis has been placed on Alan Wake's episodic and immersive tale. To create a compelling story, Remedy Entertainment created Alan Wake as a writer instead of a navy seal or retired assassin. They wanted to make the characters more relatable and believable. Also, they took heavy influence from favourite television shows such as "Lost" and one of the worlds most loved horror writers, Steven King. With any luck this doesn't mean there is a level where players have to escape a smoke monster, or defeat Pennywise the clown.

One of the most core and elementary themes that humanity has focused on throughout the ages has been the never ending struggle and conquest between light and dark, good and evil. In the hearts of most good people, light is the sure victor, and Alan Wake has the tool to see this noble belief through. His weapon is light. Enemies in Alan Wake may only be defeated if they are first bathed in light, and the darkness shrouding them is burnt away. This 'light play' mechanic is both philosophical, and unique as well as an innovation to the flashlight in video games. While the flashlight seems to be the primary 'light' weapon, it's important to note that Alan may also use fixed lights, and other beacons throughout the game for heavy duty situations. Gameplay is more plot driven than anything, but the environments are still explorable to a degree. While exploring players should take care to scavenge as many batteries as possible, as flashlights will require power, like a weapon would ammunition. One of the most impressive mechanics Alan Wake boasts is the game's ability to constantly test the player's skill level and maintain the most appropriate level of difficulty to ensure the player gets the developer's intended experience. Another impressive mechanic is the environment, and enemy changes from day to night time. Enemies become more powerful when it's dark out, and inanimate objects may also come to life to try and stop Alan.

The world of Alan Wake is rendered very realistically, and beautifully. From lush forests, to creepy houses, this Pacific West inspired world works with the daylight and weather system to create a realistic and immersive experience. Changes in the look of the environment will signify a change with the interactive portions of the environment, as well as enemy difficulty. During the day Alan may interact with different NPCs to discover clues, while at night they may be unavailable, and survival will be the main focus. Alan Wake features music which is both licensed and originally scored, and it'll be interesting to see how these two types mix together in the grand scheme of the game.

As long as the two following predictions don't come true, the story of Alan Wake just very well may live up to its promise. The first prediction is that Alan Wake gets up comfortably from his bed, and realizes he has just dreamed up the novel of his career, and then his wife walks in and kisses him on the cheek. Or that Alan Wake is destroyed in his novel world, and his wife visits his comatose body in a mental hospital for several years before remarrying. There hasn't been a really good "horror" thriller game in quite some time, but Alan Wake is sure to at the very least culture anxiety. With enemies and inanimate objects out to get the player, people are bound to get paranoid. Hopefully no one develops phobias of barrels, or overhanging pipes after playing. Alan Wake is available only on the Xbox 360, and releases May 14th, 2010 in Europe and May 18th, 2010 in North America.

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