Recently, I made a promise to myself: I was finally going to play through all those horror games sitting in my Steam library. If my Steam library were a shelf, it’d be filled with dusty games that I intend to play at some point or another…with the key word there being “intend.”
Then another Steam sale happens, and I just pile on more. But I digress.
As a horror fan, resolving to play the horror games in my library to completion means I’ll need to play a lot of games. I’m not a professional critic, but I thought maybe a beginner’s thoughts could help convince you whether any of these games is worth playing, anyway.
So today, the first video game review in a series I’m calling “My Unrefined Impressions” will be an Alan Wake Review.
Intro to Alan Wake
Let’s start with an introduction. You might not have heard of Alan Wake, especially since it’s an older game – exactly ten years old at the time of this article, to be precise.
I feel like the game can best be described as a loving homage to Stephen King. Just about everything in the game mirrors Mr. King’s common tropes. It takes place in a small town, the main character is a troubled bestselling author (with an inconvenient case of writer’s block), and of course, there are monsters.
Alan Wake, the aforementioned troubled author, goes on vacation with his wife, Alice. They’re visiting the small town of Bright Falls, where Alan hopes to be able to unplug from the stresses of his everyday life for awhile.
Things don’t go according to plan, however, and it very quickly get creepy. For starters, Alan and Alice receive a key to a cabin that doesn’t look like the one they paid for. Then Alice is mysteriously taken by dark and shadowy forces that demand Alan start writing again at the risk of never getting his wife back.
For all the creepiness I’ve described, though, I wouldn’t say it’s purely a horror game. Most sources online define it as action-adventure, which is fitting considering you wield a gun and handy flashlight the entire time, both of which are effective against the shadowy beings called the Taken.
Alan Wake Review
I’m going to break the actual review portion into little sections. In each section, I’ll discuss that aspect of the game and what I thought about it.
Remember, I’m not an actual critic. I don’t expect to have a super polished or in-depth review by the end of this – just my general thoughts.
Here are the sections I’ll talk about:
I gave you a taste of the story in the introduction, but that doesn’t really answer the question of whether or not I thought it was good. (In fact, my rushed explanation might have made that more unclear!)
I would say the story is…sufficient. Others have said that the cliché battle between light and darkness in the story was also, well, basic.
It’s certainly true that it’s not complex and multi-faceted. It doesn’t seem to be filled with deep metaphors and commentary about human existence. This isn’t the kind of story that you’re going to think about every so often years down the road, but it’s still reasonably good.
I was entertained and I was curious about what was happening. It kept me wanting to know what came next until the end.
The single greatest criticism I can leverage here is that the ending isn’t what I hoped it would be. I got the feeling they were rushing to tie up loose ends, and in doing so, the writers did some injustices to the characters I’d grown to like.
As a casual gamer, I’d probably best define decent gameplay as gameplay that doesn’t make me scream in frustration and excellent gameplay as that which feels like second nature quickly.
That being said, I would say Alan Wake’s gameplay is decent. I’ve never been a fan of anything where I have to shoot because I have extraordinarily terrible aim, but I got by.
There’s no annoying clichéd crafting system. Shooting felt fairly simple. The variety of guns was fine, I guess, but I especially loved using the flare gun to make the Taken explode.
All that being said, it was perhaps a bit too simple. You just walk around and shoot, for the most part. I don’t want it to become another one of those stealth horror games where you just sneak around constantly and grab collectible items, but it would be nice if there were more ways to deal with the Taken than blinding them and filling them with lead.
Boss fights were largely uninteresting and all resolved in the same way. I will say, though, that there’s a scene where you fight on a stage covered in blazing fireworks while metal music blares in the background, and that was awesome.
I know the soundtrack is something that usually gets praised by professional critics when it comes to Alan Wake. It has a ton of classic music on it.
One part that I think deserves praise that doesn’t really seem to get mentioned, though, is the metal band in the game. There’s a metal band called Old Gods of Asgard, and you meet two of its former members, then you visit their home for that huge fight on a stage I mentioned earlier.
The game goes really in-depth with the band, though. There’s even a fake fan site for Old Gods of Asgard. (At least, I think it’s fake!)
Anyway, the music for the game is fine and fitting. But I think the level of detail they were willing to invest in its band is what’s truly amazing.
It’s true that Alan Wake is very obviously an homage to Stephen King. Despite that, however, it’s lacking one element that is par for the course for King: a deep dive into the seedy underbelly of its characters.
There isn’t honestly much depth to Alan, Alice, or his agent, Barry. A true imitation of King’s work would give us that front-row seat to the worst parts of our characters.
We’d learn something like how Alan cheated on his wife and deeply regrets (but also enjoys reminiscing about) it. Or we’d learn how Barry killed a cat as a kid and it’s secretly one of his fondest memories that makes him simultaneously feel guilty. We don’t get this kind of look at any of the characters, though – no mixture of good and evil that blends them all into a murky gray.
Each character is very firmly good or bad. It makes them perhaps too simple, but this isn’t something I was hung up on until I thought about it. While you play, it won’t matter. The basic archetype of each character will be enough without feeling hollow.
Is Alan Wake Worth Playing?
I’m not going to attempt to give any sort of numerical score to the game. You can go to any number of online review aggregates to get a firm grade.
What I think many game critics fail to do is answer a basic question that casual gamers have: is it worth playing? So I’m going to answer that question for you instead of grading it.
Yes, I think Alan Wake is ultimately worth playing at least once. I don’t think it’s something you’ll play over and over again, but it’s enjoyable for one playthrough.
You can find it on Steam if you’re interested in grabbing a copy for yourself.
Unlike many of the other games in my Steam library, Alan Wake wasn’t one I dreaded playing. Despite being a decade old, I feel it’s held up very well. Sure, some of its animations are wonky – just watch Alan’s mouth while you play if you don’t believe me – but I ultimately feel as if it’s a good addition to my collection.
Similarly, I feel as if it would be a good addition to yours.