Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Archive for June, 2010

Alan, wake already!

Maybe that’s a spoiler?

So Alan Wake was a game I was very interested in during production.  I’m a big fan of HP Lovecraft, and this seemed to be all about that from the previews.  The game turns out to be more Stephen King than Lovecraft, and not the King that knows how to end his books.  That said, there was some fun to be had along the way.

But instead of talking about fun, I think I’ll talk about what I don’t like.

This is the first game that made me want to throw the controller not because of anything within the gameplay, but by the constant equipment resets.  In every chapter you get stripped of all your gear.  Many times within a chapter you’ll also find that all the cool stuff you had is just… gone.  No flaregun, no shotgun, no high-power halogen death-beam… you’re back to the basic, crappy flashlight and maybe a pistol.  This gets old really fast.  I get that this game is about survival and such, but you’re supposed to up the ante against the player, not constantly reset them to make basic encounters “exciting” all over again.

The first several chapters of the game play like this.  Gameplay is essentially aim at enemies to burn off darkness, dodge any attacks, then shoot them.  Repeat in every encounter.  Fortunately, the latter chapters make up for it by offering new gameplay dynamics and adding NPCs that fight with you, which makes the experience a lot more enjoyable since they throw a good deal of enemies at you during those sequences.

Enemies aren’t very creative, either.  All of them lurch / run at you and attack.  One can rush you.  That’s it.  No massive enemy that you have to dodge first in order to defeat, or any that require any precise locational-based shooting (like in the back).  This is good and bad.  From a starting the game standpoint, it’s great.  I just learn to point and shoot and dodge.  It’s once you’ve got that down that the lack of diversity starts to become an issue.  I don’t want to say the game has no strategy to combat — the tight-in camera makes for claustrophobic encounters and enemies will take advantage of that by always trying to encircle you.  You have to use crowd-control techniques like flares to keep opponents herded to your front and out of melee range.  There’s just not enough of it, IMO.

There’s an interesting story buried in layers and layers of twisting narrative.  With a few less layers, the story would be pretty bad-ass.  If I was to compare it to King, it would be almost like IT, where a force is feeding off of the energy of a town while also keeping it alive in a sense.  In this case, the energy feeds by drawing powerfully creative people to it (musicians, poets, writers) and then attempting to make them re-write reality so that the darkness can gain power and eventually be released.  In essence, the darkness becomes the artist’s muse and grants them the power to twist reality, goading them into releasing it.  That’s pretty cool… if it wasn’t for the two extra layers of a writer writing a story about a writer in a story that was put in place by a writer/poet with a fail-safe shoebox so the writer would know that in childhood he knew how to fight the… yeah.  I don’t know what I’m saying either at this point.

Atmosphere wise, the game is a knockout.  The forests are creepy, the mines decrepit, the town appropriately deserted, and the constant fog and bleeding ink effect used all over the place is really well done.  It’s more reminiscent of a Silent Hill (still the king of atmosphere games) than a Resident Evil, and that’s a huge plus in my book, especially after RE5’s complete lack of horror.

Being Remedy, there’s plenty of side-content to watch, including a Tales from the Darkside themed live show called Night Springs on TVs, a talk radio show that matches the happenings around town, and the unfinished manuscript pages you find along the way.  I found the side content very engaging… sometimes more than the main plot.

My final peeve is that for a hero, Alan Wake isn’t really one.  Everything he does is motivated by someone else.  He never makes one decision for himself, but just follows along when someone tells him he needs to go somewhere, or hints that person X may know something.  By the end of the game you can argue that it’s appropriate based on what’s really going on, but still… it gets annoying that the protagonist is so weak.  Even Lovecraft’s doomed heroes would try to break the rules… they’d just all go insane for trying.

And a final nitpick – if you have collectible items in your game levels, and once I’m finished I can choose to play any chapter / part again, please put collection counters on the chapter / part select screen so that I know which ones I need to play in order to find the things I missed!  It’s great there’s a summary screen but not when it doesn’t tell me where I missed things!

So play it knowing it gets better as it goes.  It has its share of frustrations, but it’s a fun distraction for the few nights of gaming that it lasts (6-8 hours).  There’s at least 2 more chapters of DLC, one available now.  Given the ending, I’m curious to see how the DLC fits into the story… but not curious enough to purchase it for 800 points.

7/10

There’s a point in this game that gives you a brief glimpse into the Payne side of things, and boy was that cool.  Hearing just a few snippets of the old dialogue voiced by the same guy made me interested in playing through Max Payne again.  Hopefully the upcoming one will be just as brooding and dark as the original.

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'cuz I got bills to pay!

Finally!  Highborn, our casual turn-based strategy game for iPhone, iPad, and iTouch devices just hit the Apple store!  We’re discounting it for the first week, so get it for $2.99 while it lasts!

Highborn on the App Store!

10 hour solo campaign, multiplayer via FB connect, witty repartee — what more could you want?  A puppy?  pffh.

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