Preview

Alan Wake Preview (Xbox360)

Chapter 1: Arrival

 It was another cold winter day, much like any other - bitter and grey. Stepping out into the dim light, a short walk to a waiting train transported us into the acrid air of the big smoke, where in a bustling Piccadilly Circus, we pushed our way through the throng to the Century Club on Shaftesbury Avenue. We've come here to unravel the mystery of Alan Wake – Remedy's long-gestating psychological thriller starring the titular novelist who takes a quiet vacation to exorcise the demons residing in his broken psyche.

Wake hasn't penned a bestseller in more then two years, so a getaway with his wife Alice is exactly the kind of remedy (pun intended) he needs to clear his head. Except Alan isn't here to write. He's here to relax, so when he starts finding pages of a book bearing his name, which he nonetheless has no recollection of writing, things start to take an unexpectedly dark turn.


A pensive Alan contemplates a sparkling lake. And ponders whether the tweed jacket with elbow patches was a good idea
Barry Wheeler's a resourceful fella. He wears fairy lights around himself to ward off the armies of darkness

And when Alice goes missing following an argument, Alan descends into a strange, fractured reality that's about as far removed from the idyllic picture postcard beauty of the sleepy small town that Wake has chosen as his weekend retreat, as you can get. Ferrying into Bright Falls is Episode One's opening – Alan Wake adopts a TV style episodic structure taking a cue from the likes of Lost or Twin Peaks – and we're in what appears to be normality as we stroll into a quiet diner and get immediately recognised by the waitress. An awkward exchange ensues exposing Wake's reluctance in embracing his fame, after which we're given free reign to examine the diner and chat to some of Bright Falls' quirky residents.

Later arriving at a cosy lakeside cabin, Wake soon has a heated argument with his wife when she attempts to coax him into typing out a new novel, but all of this quickly becomes irrelevant when he starts to have increasingly bad dreams and gradually, the line between reality and fantasy becomes increasingly blurred. In what seems to be his waking life shrouded in twilight, Wake begins to encounter shadowy, axe-wielding figures intent on chasing him down and killing him.


Chapter 2: Into the Darkness

Walking into a room filled with pine trees – fabricated to resemble Bright Falls' dark forests - we're led to a glowing television set and a pair of surround sound headphones, invited to enter Remedy's intense 'psychological action thriller' known as Alan Wake. We sink into the seat, sheepishly slide the headphones over our ears, crank up the volume and gingerly push 'start'. It's time to wake up and take a journey into the nightmare.

Guided by a strangely ethereal, disembodied voice means that we're soon equipped with an Energizer branded flashlight (a nice bit of strategic product placement), as we begin the first episode having to escape (holding the left bumper to sprint) from the malevolent, hitchhiker as he loudly pursues Wake, brandishing an axe (a tap of LB enables you to dodge the axeman's wild swings).

You rapidly begin to understand that the hitchhiker is a character from the pages of your unwritten tome, and he's none too happy with Wake's treatment of the novel's characters, who have consequently sprung to life and are out for your blood. Pages scattered throughout the world reveal events that are about to happen in the prose, although prior knowledge doesn't dampen the scares.



Light is your strongest weapon and essential to your survival. Standing in beneath a cone of luminescence heals you and keeps you safe
Alan goes out to the cabin's shed to restart the generator, which requires a timing mini-game as you yank the ripcord to get it going


Chapter 3: The Lighthouse


Our goal is to make it to the distant lighthouse and locate a phone, which is not nearly as straightforward as it sounds. Being outnumbered by flickering shadowy entities is a frequent occurrence that has you fumbling for your torch, using the beam to carve through their dark defences, enabling you to fire off a few revolver rounds to dissolve them. As a mysterious old woman in the diner previously warned, “you can hurt yourself in the dark”. The precaution rings true, as pools of welcoming light represent safety and security, healing you in the process.

Conversely, darkness represents danger and nightmares, bringing to life Wake's twisted creations, causing him to fall ever deeper into insanity. Voice-over narration from Wake during the occasional downtime lends interesting insight into his thoughts as well as adding an extra layer of TV-style exposition. It actually works surprisingly well.

During combat, the controls are tight and intuitive, your aim aided by the beam emitted from your flashlight which you can boost with the left trigger to quicker expel the dark force surrounding your foes. Be wary though, doing this takes its toll on the battery life, so gathering extra packets of batteries is essential. As is hoarding bullets for your weapons, the first of which is a six shooter revolver. Slow to fire, slow to reload, the only way to refill the chambers quicker is to rapidly tap X – something that can be panic inducing when several enemies are bearing down on you at once.

Unexpected puzzles give us pause to catch a breath, and during our hands-on, we get to form a makeshift bridge using logs suspended from a crane, enabling us to reach an otherwise inaccessible clifftop. Being able to see the searing light ahead, we press on, crossing a raging river only to reach an area inhabited by yet more dark foes. Being able to see the light radiating in the distance taunts us with a safe haven that appears far off and unreachable.

Having made it the lighthouse, failing to find a working phone, the goal adapts, sending us to a hilltop Gas Station. Upon our arrival following a perilous run through the forest, we finally come into contact with the first of Alan Wake's strong supporting cast – Sarah Breaker, Bright Falls' sheriff. Dawn breaks and the pitch black lifts into a veil of comforting orange and yellow as Sheriff Breaker leads us back to the cabin where Alice first went missing and to a shocking revelation, ending on a cliffhanger. Episode 1 concludes.


Chapter 4: The Light Show

It's not quite the end of our demo, as we're given a taster of an intense sequence set on a stage besieged by an oncoming horde, eager to clamber up and lodge an axe blade into Wake's brain. With Barry Wheeler - another member of the supporting cast - on hand to work the stage lights and pyrotechnics, the scene plays out like the end of Left 4 Dead 2's Dark Carnival campaign, with huge fireworks exploding and spotlights providing temporary relief from the onslaught.


Flares and flash grenades also become indispensable in fending off your dark foes, who wield a variety of sharp instruments like axes and sickles
Running enemies over with a car is fair game since they'll happily disembowel you given the first opportunity

We also get a glimpse of the kind of gear that Wake will be able to get his hands on later in the game, such as a high powered halogen lamp capable of blasting light through enemies and a pump action shotgun to finish them off with greater efficiency. Suffice to say, the stage sequence is the perfect way to end our demo, showing that Alan Wake is equally adept at providing balls out action alongside its more intimately psychological and oppressive moments.


Epilogue:

An hour with Alan Wake has been enough to convince us that Remedy's long development time has not been wasted. On the basis of what we've played so far, it's clearly evident that Alan Wake's survival horror and full-on action elements sit comfortably side by side in a way that Resident Evil 5 simply couldn't match. Throw in slower, more considered story-driven exploration segments and it looks as though Alan Wake could well be that rarest of things. A jack of all trades that's completely masterful in both plot and execution.

Alan Wake is out May 18th in North America and May 21st in Europe.

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Comments

By mockirdie (SI Newbie) on Feb 26, 2010
mockirdie
Why not? sounds cool.