There’s more than a touch of Stephen King to the long-awaited Alan Wake. A young author and his wife take a trip to the quiet town of Pride Falls - a name that’s almost as ominous as Silent Hill. Once there, Mr Wake manages to write a novel - ending a long-troubling bout of writer's block. Unfortunately, the good news ends there: Mrs Wake goes missing, and as hubbie sets out to find her he discovers that much of Pride Falls has been possessed by a mysterious, malevolent force. To make matters worse, it seems as if Alan’s latest book is coming true… and he can’t remember any of it.
To be honest, after such a long period of radio silence it was a pleasant surprise to find that Alan Wake had a touch of anything - let alone all the panache and fresh ideas revealed at E3. You may well have seen the game for yourself by now, but if not then know that Wake seems to owe more to the likes of Silent Hill and Alone in the Dark than it does to Max Payne, Remedy’s previous action-adventure hit. That said, there are certainly similarities with MP - notably a tendency towards lush, Hollywood-style production values. Remedy says that it wants Alan Wake to look like a HBO TV show, and their intentions are clear from the appearance of Pride Falls itself: it’s a gloomy and highly atmospheric slice of backwater America, drenched in foreboding and sinister shadow.
Here, for once, it’s a wise move to be scared of the dark, because these shadows are inherently linked to the evil power that’s possessed the whole town. The enemies in Alan Wake take many forms, but all of them have one thing in common: they’re bound together by shadows. Defeating these opponents is a two step process: use your torch or a similar device to drive the darkness from the body, then use your handgun to destroy the host. Well, that’s certainly the process for defeating your human adversaries - the zombie-like locals who come at you with hatchets in their hands. Your other foes are a little… different.
You see, the malevolent spirits of Pride Falls have also started to inhabit inanimate objects. In what was shown at E3, this largely consisted of cars and, in one memorable case, a JCB - but it could potentially be anything. One minute it’s a harmless vehicle, the next it’s a phantom battering ram, rushing forward to crush your puny frame. In survival horror terms this looks to be something of a masterstroke, since you’ll never be completely sure whether you’re safe or not. Indeed, the whole light-and-dark motif has given Remedy the scope for a whole range of set pieces, like the cable car scene shown off during Microsoft’s press conference: here Alan found himself isolated on a suspended platform as it crossed a pitch black ravine, armed with only a flare to stave off the strange bird-like creatures that harangued him from the air.
Frequently Alan will find himself desperately attempting to start up a generator (or another light source) while hoards of enemies bear down on his position. One such moment occurred right before the cable-car episode, as our hero attempts to start up an engine on a balcony overlooking the cliff. As he desperately fumbles with the machinery, the camera slowly pans around to reveal a huge crowd of armed nasties, edging ever closer towards his turned back. Given that I was watching this in a busy room full of journos, I found it to be a surprisingly tense moment - which surely bodes well for the final game.