I was just finishing up my foray into Bioware’s section when I stumbled upon a little stage nestled in the Microsoft booth… well, their area. I glanced around at all the people standing around these three flat screens pinned to the walls and I finally saw what everyone was clamoring over: the screen held the title Alan Wake. Naturally, my jaw dropped as I realized I was going to witness a live demonstration of one of the most anticipated titles coming to the Xbox 360.
So, sit back and enjoy the wordier rendition of the demo, and an in-depth detailing of the abilities and encounters that Alan Wake displayed.
Now, I am a bit behind in my info but I remember the last trailer left us hanging from a cliff as we tried to piece together the motivations assaulting Alan Wake, and the mysteries behind his wife’s disappearance. The demo began with Alan talking to a friend in a cabin and trying to figure out what his next move should be. See, Alan’s Wife mysteriously vanished after they took a retreat to relieve him of a nasty case of writer’s block. On top of this, a strange manuscript that he doesn’t remember writing has surfaced and its pages have a nasty penchant for coming true. Believing that this new manuscript is wanted for ransom (that jump wasn’t explained) for the return of his wife, Alan is set on figuring out what is going on and getting her back.
After the cutscene in the beginning its obvious that the developers have spent a lot of time making Alan Wake look great. The lighting and tone set by the dilapidated small town were brought to life beautifully through the in game engine. The character models looked great, but they seemed to lack something that I couldn’t put my finger on. After showing off the flashlight effects, and how interacting with characters and your surroundings illicit responses from them, they set off down the dark and lonesome trail. Played from the third-person perspective, Alan Wake is selling itself as a psychological/action/thriller. The developer put a lot of emphasis on the struggle between light and dark and the team’s goal to bring that to life with the strong lighting effects and the dreary atmosphere, stating it contained “a strong mood and a smart story.”
As the team moves Alan further down the road, we begin to hear the sound of gunfire and shouting in the distance and a giant tree falls onto one of the upcoming houses. He pushes forward and investigates a ruined wooden building that looks like it had a giant cannonball fired straight into its side. A trail of blood led Alan to the body of a county sheriff. The crux – or one of the them – of the story is that Alan’s manuscript is coming to life. Earlier, moving towards this scenario, Alan discovered one of the papers to his novel and read it to himself. It detailed portions of the scene that took place after discovering the sheriffs wounded body. After a brief exchange, the sheriff cries out and pulls his revolver out and fires. A shadowy figure that resembles a town member begins attacking the two but is driven off by the sheriffs volley. The developer stopped here to alert us to the fact that enemies and inanimate objects are consumed by the dark forces surrounding the game, and are unstoppable when shrouded in darkness.
It is here that a gameplay element is revealed: to stop approaching enemies, and to destroy them outright, Alan Wake must shine his flashlight on them until the dark shield (essentially) is destroyed, and he can fire on them. Its an interesting gameplay mechanic that is at its best when Alan is being attacked by inanimate objects such as bulldozers and, what looked like, flying giant toasters. Even the large bulldozers are subject to the light rule and when Alan uses a flare (another weapon that focuses on light) he is able to stop them by supersaturating them with it.
After dealing with the few villagers Alan makes his way back to the shattered house to discover that his friend has been taken away. He pushes forward, deeper into the forested area. After being attacked a few times he gets himself into a situation where he is defending himself from an abundance of possessed villagers. Running away, he is able to fend them off by activating a generator via a mini-game.
After escaping them and pressing past other shadowy figures, he finds the sheriff lying on the ground at a gas station. His friend passes on information about his missing manuscript pages and promptly passes away. Alan then must fend off a construction vehicle, and after doing so, jumps into a car and drives away. Following the waypoint in the upper left hand of the screen, the developer swiftly makes his way to the intended destination, a lighthouse. After arriving he see a page from his book and, after reading it, is assaulted by a huge black tornado. It is here that the demo ends.
I wasn’t completely blown away by the game, especially after all the hype, but the story telling looked like it was taking the front stage. It was impressive to see something that isn’t delving into historical or fantastical settings and was telling an original story. The speaker said that the game was pushing really hard to play out like a modern TV show and they plan on using everything in the game to make sure and maximize the mood and atmosphere.
After finally seeing the game in action, aside from its excellent story push, I wasn’t impressed by the gameplay. There were slow motion effects incorporated into the combat that, while cool, don’t fit into the thriller aspect that the game is promoting. The light gameplay elements were fun and will provide a twist to standard running and shooting, but the game really shines when poltergeist effects throw objects at more Alan.
The game is coming out in Spring 2010, so its going to be quite a wait before we see the final directions that it is going to take. Hopefully they don’t juggle everything (driving, gunning, flashlighting) too much because they might lose something along the way, a la Alone in the Dark.
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