By CHONG JINN XIUNGintech@thestar.com.my
The evil in Bright Falls has been in gestation for five years and it's finally awake to scare the pants off gamers.
ARE YOU afraid of the dark? No? Well you will be once you've played Alan Wake. From the creative minds that brought you Max Payne, developers Remedy have outdone themselves this time with an exciting psychological thriller that will definitely creep you out.
After five long years in development, it almost seemed as if the game would never see the light of day but fortunately it's finally out for the Xbox 360. But is it all that it is made to be with the amount of hype generated?
The game introduces us to Alan Wake, a bestselling author down on his luck who has retreated to the sleepy town of Bright Falls with his wife, Alice, with the hope of recovering from a severe case of writer's block.
However, something sinister and dark is taking over the town of Bright Falls and Alice goes missing as soon as they arrive. Worse still, Alan loses a week of his memory, and a novel that he doesn't recall writing is mysteriously becoming true before his eyes.
His journey through the darkness is broken down into episodes that effectively hooks you to play more of the game to find out what's going to happen.
The game's voice-acting work and fleshed-out characters really stand out and this makes it seem like you're watching a TV drama instead of playing a videogame.
A beauty to behold
Much of the game's impressive visuals lie in its excellent use of real-time lighting effects.
The contrast of the light and the way shadows were cast really make the world seem so alive.
The effects are so convincing that I was startled on several occasions when I thought a tree branch was a nasty hatchet-waving enemy.
While the game looks impressive, some elements of Alan Wake's visuals looks dated, no doubt due to its long development cycle. For instance, the characters themselves don't look as great as other character models in other games and there's some serious issues with lip-syncing.
Very often the voices don't sync with movement of the lips and this might put some people off.
However Alan Wake does very a good job at depicting your average middle-American town with plenty of detail and believable locales, from the creepy cabin on the lake to logging camps, deserted forest reserves and abandoned mines.
Focus on combat
The main antagonists of the game are the Taken, which are townspeople possessed by the dark presence. Armed mostly with machetes and occasionally chainsaws, the Taken aren't shy to get up close to skewer you.
There's some strategy involved to killing the Taken as they cannot be harmed by conventional weapons until you burn away the shadows that surround them.
Rest assured that whenever darkness shrouds a pathway, the Taken are lying in wait.
Alan Wake's best moments have to be those when lots of tension is built up before the game releases the Taken on you.
You'll definitely start to get jumpy after each encounter as the Taken will often appear in the most unlikely places.
More often than not, the game gives you visual clues as to when you have a stalker coming up from behind you so you're given a fighting chance.
Though it does take away some of the scare factor, there are moments in the game when the Taken will flank you and strike from behind.
Having said that, the game surprisingly places a lot of emphasis on combat, more so than exploration and with virtually no puzzle-solving of any sort.
The fights in Alan Wake can get pretty hectic with multiple enemies surrounding you at any given time.
Though seemingly impossible, the game provides you plenty of weapons to fight the Taken and get out of a tough situation.
Alan has access to a variety of firearms from revolvers to hunting rifles as well as different light sources such as flashlights, flares and flashbang grenades.
The Taken are relentless in their pursuit of you, running full charge at you and throwing axes your way.
Unfortunately Alan isn't much of a runner and will often run out of breath as you're trying to flee the your enemies.
At times you will find generators that power street lights along the way that create little safe havens for Alan to take refuge in when swarms of Taken chase you down.
Sometimes, you will need to manually kickstart a generator with swarms of Taken breathing down your neck... and boy, do these situations really make you sweat.
At its core, Alan Wake is a very linear game. Though the world looks vast, you are always funneled down a pre-determined path to your destination so you'll rarely get lost in the game world.
The benefit though is that the game moves along at a steady pace as you are taken from one set piece moment to the next ghastly encounter with the Taken.
While there is a general lack of exploration, the game world is populated with hidden little secrets to collect such as loose manuscripts of the story Alan has written that provide additional story elements or a glimpse of things to come.
Walking off the beaten path will often yield rewards and a few nasty surprises as well.
Other interesting things you'll find out in the field are televisions that play a series of mini-episodes of the Twilight Zone-inspired TV show called Night Springs.
It's a nice touch and a nod to fans of Remedy's past game, Max Payne.
Alan Wake isn't a very long title and it can be finished in about 10-12 hours depending on whether you spend time searching for hidden items.
Alan Wake has a very engaging story that immediately sucks you into its dark twisted world. It certainly has been awhile since we've played a good horror game and Alan Wake undoubtedly delivers the scares.
The game's lighting effects are to be commended for creating the right sombre atmosphere.
However, the game's graphics looks a wee bit dated on some accounts with not so great-looking character models.
Another sour note in the game is the bad lip-syncing during cutscenes that breaks the illusion that you are following a gritty TV series.
Alan Wake's heavy focus on combat keeps the game moving along at a faster than usual pace for a horror game.
The combat controls feel smooth and even the aiming feels good as you shine your flashlight at your foes and unleash a hail of bullets.
Though more action-like than other horror games, Alan Wake has its fair share of scares that will catch you by surprise.
Sadly, players expecting a more classic survival-horror experience complete with traps and puzzles will come away disappointed.
Overall though, the long wait for Alan Wake has been well worth it. The game delivers a thrilling experience that will keep you in cold sweat all night should you play it alone in the dark.
Pros: Great real-time lighting effects; good combat controls; engaging story.
Cons: Characters look dated; lip-syncing during cutscenes is completely off.
(Remedy/Microsoft Games Studios)
Action adventure game for Xbox 360
Review copy courtesy of Gamer's Hideout Sdn Bhd, (03) 7725-2775 or visit www.gamershideout.com.my
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