Good things come to those who wait, or so they say. It took almost half a decade for Remedy to drag Max Payne through development hell, and now, several years later, Alan Wake seems to have gone through a similarly drawn out process. It's been a long journey, to the extent that some of us started to worry whether it would ever reach its destination. But now, almost five years after its E3 2005 reveal, Alan Wake is finally getting ready to step into the light.
First things first. Alan wake is an action game. True, it has quite a few hallmarks of the survival horror genre, and it most certainly places story at the forefront of its appeal, but it's an action game nonetheless. Max Payne took its cue from countless comic books, film noirs and hard-boiled detective tales; Alan Wake prefers to riff off of Twin Peaks and the likes of Steven King, but there are clear similarities between the two: a male protagonist who's clearly out of his depth, frequent use of voice-over and other cinematic flourishes, and oodles of stylish combat. This is a game that revels in its sinister atmosphere, but it's also one that wants you to enjoy the fight. And when the action kicks into slow-mo to mark an impressive event - as Mr Wake sparks up a flare, perhaps, or as he dodges a falling axe – you'll be more than a tad reminded of a certain trigger-happy cop.
A quick reminder for those of you who may be in the dark about this project: Alan Wake is the tale of an identically-named author who's been suffering from writer's block. Following a suggestion from his wife, Alan decides to take a trip to the quiet Midwestern town of Bright Falls. Unfortunately things don't quite go according to the Thomas Cook itinerary: Mrs Wake promptly disappears in a puff of smoke (well, not exactly – but I'm not allowed to talk about this bit too much) and our suffering scribbler finds himself under attack from The Taken: creepy figures who have been possessed by a mysterious, as-yet-unexplained force.
I've been waiting a long time to get a proper look at Alan Wake, so it was particularly gratifying that I got an extended gander during my visit to Remedy's HQ in Helsinki last month. There's an awful lot for me to cover here, so you'll have to forgive me if I jump around a bit in a bid to paint as full a picture as possible. Perhaps the best place to start is with the combat, since it clearly plays a major role in proceedings. As last year's E3 presentation revealed, Alan's battles against the Taken generally have to be fought along two fronts. Guns are the weapons you'll use to ultimately kill your human foes, but before you can open fire you first have to rid your enemies of the darkness that surrounds and protects them. As you might expect, your basic tool for this job is your torch: if you direct the beam at nearby Taken, it'll slowly start to burn away the inky blackness that surrounds them. If you're feeling impatient, you can also concentrate the beam for a more powerful attack – but this will drain its power quicker. Alan can carry several spare batteries with him, allowing for quick changes mid-combat, but if he completely runs out of juice the last battery will recharge itself, albeit slowly. In short, energy is a resource that has to be spent carefully.
In addition to the torch, Alan can also carry a number of supplementary light-bringing devices. Hand-held flares do an excellent job of cleansing several enemies at once, and keeping large groups at bay, but if you manage to find a flare gun, you'll have what essentially amounts to a rocket launcher. Flashbang grenades also take on a far more destructive quality than what we're used to in standard action titles. It's also worth pointing out that your torch beam doubles up as the aiming reticule for your firearms. There's no over-the-shoulder zoom, and as a result the controls effectively function like a dual-wield setup, with bullet-based weapons on one trigger, and light-based ones on the other.