Much has been made of Alan Wake's less-than HD resolution, but the bottom line is that it's a stunning looking title. No game released so far this generation features lighting effects more impressive, or so much going on. At times, with the wind blowing, smoke in the air, objects flying around, flares alight and enemies coming at you, there'd be an argument for this being one of the most visually striking games ever released. It's that impressive. During certain dramatic moments the game even pauses and pans around Alan, giving you a chance to take it all in.
Things take an unfortunate turn for the worse during the game's many non-interactive cutscenes, however. Quite why isn't clear, but in these scripted video sequences the animations appear to be jerky and the lip syncing is terrible. It doesn't hurt the overall experience too much, as the voice acting is still excellent and the direction superb, but compared to the high quality on show at all other times, it's somewhat jarring to see a car judder along a road and a woman speak as though she's a ventriloquist's dummy.
A special mention has to go to the audio work, too, which will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up if you've got a good surround sound setup. It adds an immeasurable amount to the game's atmosphere, which at times is so thick you'll want to remain rooted to the spot, flare held aloft while you take a moment to calm down. The use of licensed music is a great touch, too, with the soundtrack being one of the best and most memorable I've ever heard in a video game.
Remedy and Microsoft haven't made a perfect masterpiece, but Alan Wake may well be one of my favourite releases of 2010 – an escapade I'm going to remember for a very long time. It's a stunning action game, a superbly scripted adventure and a technical showcase for the now-ageing Xbox 360 hardware. If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise, but this ain't no picnic.