Every six months this happens to me. Pretty much like clockwork in fact. Everyone has their go-to game that they pick up and play again; in fact everyone probably has several. I myself have several but this one game in particular keeps surging itself back in to my psyche like the darkness in it is making me one of the Taken.
Maybe its because I am a writer by occupation and am often enthralled by Stephen King. His book “On Writing” is possibly one of the greatest self-help/autobiography/training manuals on writing out there and I implore anyone to read it, writer, fan or otherwise. Alan Wake somehow finds that element in me that King and others evoke to pure enjoyment and amazement at their craft.
There is something very multi faceted about Wake as a character that draws me to him, although you could be forgiven for missing it. Sam Lake’s character creation is a good lesson of how to embrace the cliché and go running with it. Max Payne is a very obvious one, the self-destructive cop/former cop, driven by remorse, self-loathing, painkillers and booze. His inner monologue reads like some of the most prevalent pulp characters. Wake is different in how he is driven by anger, frustration, impatience and hubris, which ultimately disguises his own self-loathing, his fears and his nightmares, especially so early in his inability to protect Alice because of his temperament.
In literature terms, we would call Alan Wake a product of intertextuality, something you could also say of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and even Max Payne. It is a piece of work that takes elements from other previous works and is directly inspired by them. Not copying at all but certainly Alan Wake feels like an homage.
The tropes of things seen to be evil but aren’t, messages hidden in plain sight, memory loss, fear of the dark, clinics, backwater towns… Twin Peaks and its surreal setting and happenings play a big part in the inspiration of the game. As big a part as Scarface and Miami Vice does for Vice City and it’s so enjoyable because of it. But not overbearingly in to a complete copy or pastiche of it, like Vice City effectively is. The setting especially brings more to Alan Wake than a setting does to most games.
Mainly because even four years on, using the Xbox 360, it still feels beautifully atmospheric and seeing the visuals in the PC version it is even better. Sure there’s a few niggles with the characters face animations but given you spend 90% of your time in a third person over the shoulder view, it’s very excusable.
Bright Falls has that magical sense about it that keeps you returning to a game environment. It is beautiful and scary. The decision to scale back from the original open-world intention is one to be lauded as you could see how the element of limited exploration heightens the suspense.
Being a regular consumer of boxsets, Netflix or otherwise, the game’s episodic format is especially refreshing and definitely one that works for the type of game it is. The cliffhanging suspense, the cinematic moments and the beautifully soundtrack and original score lifts this game above the more resource gather shoot and run style horror games that occupy most of the genre. You feel like you’re taking it at the right pace, whether or not you actually are. You get that feeling that it’s ok to put it down, go make a coffee and do some actual work. You’ve reached a natural point to stop and resume another time… You don’t actually do that but you get that feeling.
So why am I writing about my love for a four year old game? Well, and let’s excuse American Nightmare from this equation for a moment (it was a nice enough game which embellished the story of Wake’s inner battle, if not a bit repetitive), it really deserves a sequel. A sequel it is sadly not going to get. As Sam Lake himself said in a recent interview with Polygon, Alan Wake was not profitable enough to justify making a second, especially with it being next-gen and with Quantum Break being Remedy’s primary focus.
However I could see a time, given that the Microsoft exclusivity deal on it has surely or will surely run out rather soon, that a sequel could be touted and crowdfunded. There is enough die hard Wake fans that it could happen and we definitely want to explore the ocean that Wake is trapped in a little more. We’ve read the novelisation (and by the way, kudos on the strategy guide that reads like a book. It really reminds me of good old school game manuals that had care and artistic impression in them), and we are hungry for more.
Sadly that doesn’t look like it will happen and whilst Max Payne 3, despite the lack of Remedy’s involvement, satiated our appetite for their archetypical droll characters it didn’t relieve the fear of the dark for us Wake fans.
The scary dark nightmare we played through that makes up Alan Wake’s novel ‘Departure’ got us to sit up, get excited and take note of how horror and thriller genres aren’t just the realm of indie games or Japanese franchises. I hope sometime soon we get to play through its sequel ‘Return.’ Until then, back in to Bright Falls I will go.