Not much has been seen of Alan Wake since E3 2005 but it seems developer Remedy has been working hard, very hard, as the supernatural thriller is shaping up to be just as impressive as the hype is suggesting.
As Jyri “Jay” Ranki demoed an opening level – an extension of the level shown at Microsoft’s pre-E3 press conference – lead writer Sam Lake backgrounded the story of Alan Wake, which puts players in the shoes of the titular burnt-out novelist who, with his wife Alice, arrives in sleepy Pride Falls in Washington for a holiday.
Remedy’s calling Alan Wake a psychological thriller with scares and a pop culture story, and it’s going to be told in an almost TV series approach.
However, it all goes terribly wrong, with Alan’s wife going missing and the supernatural thriller novel that Wake has just finished comes to life. In fact, Wake can’t even remembering writing the novel in the first place, but all the events he chronicles in the book are coming true. He believes that Alice has been kidnapped and his missing manuscript is being held as ransom.
The demo session opened with Wake and his literary agent, Larry, in a dark log cabin on the outskirts of a huge national park. Ranki played around shining a torch into Larry’s face, causing him to sneeze. “Look out for the natives, they don’t like tourists. It’ll be Deliverance all over again,” Larry says as Wake leaves the cabin and heads out into the wilderness.
What is abundantly clear from the demo is that Alan Wake isn’t going to be some pedestrian, plod along thriller game where you can anticipate what is going to happen: in a matter of minutes Wake is dodging shadowy spirits – once former inhabitants of Pride Falls who have been taken over by the evil presence - who spring out from the darkness of trees, swinging axes and other weapons. Vehicles, too, are animated by the evil force, charging at Wake with incredible speed and force.
Light is going to play a huge role in the combat of the game. Wake can pick up a variety of weapons but his torch will be a vital tool in defeating the evil lurking around every corner of Pride Falls. When Wake shines his torch on one of the shadows, it almost burns them, causing them to fizz and ignite, before exploding in a shower of sparks. Wake can almost stun the shadows with his torch, then kill them with a pistol or shotgun.
Wake can also wield a flare gun that will cut a swift and bloody path through a group of the shadows, turning them bright red before scattering them into tiny yellow flecks. In one scene, Wake has to start a generator that activates lights surrounding a cable car station, blowing up any surrounding enemies.
The tension is rollercoaster constant, too, as during one part, while Wake is crossing a ravine on a cable car, he’s dive bombed by black birds from all sides. Reaching the other side, as he searches through a building for the missing manuscript pages, a front end loader is started up by the evil and crashes through the building, forcing Wake to concentrate his torchlight on the vehicle until it stops, just inches from him.
At the end of the demo Wake has to get into a car and drive to a nearby lighthouse, where some of the manuscript pages have been hidden. Smashing through a group of enemies, his headlights stunning them like possums, he gets to the lighthouse, thinking it is a safe haven. Think again, Alan - a huge tornado, ripping trees and vehicles into its roaring maw, appears, heading towards him. “To be continued …” pops up onto the screen.
If Alan Wake can maintain the suspense and momentum that was shown in the demo, it’s going to have a sure fire hit on its hands, and the game seems to be infused with the same sort of tension and scares that you’d find in a Stephen King novel. The darkness and just a flashlight for light really adds tension and suspense.