Let's play a game. It's a game where you have to forget you ever heard of Alan Wake and, for a bonus point, erase any memory of playing the Xbox 360 version. Done? Then we can begin in earnest.
Despite all the comments over the years about how the game couldn't work on PC, the Vista-exclusive-title-that-wasn't has, eventually, come back to its rightful home. In doing so, it's brought with it the usual raft of port upgrades like improved visuals, all the DLC and so on. But, essentially, it's exactly the same game and, if you know anything of the original, you'll probably find it has exactly the same issues as it once did. But that's for further on in this discussion.
|There are more flashlight batteries in Alan Wake than in the rest of America combined
If you have no idea about Mr Wake and his nightmares, he's a writer and he's on his way to a holiday retreat with his wife. Struggling with writer's block, they and his agent hope he can rediscover his muse in the sleepy little town of Bright Falls. And, naturally, there's more to his struggle than just the inability to write.
As you'll gather from the tutorial, it's all about the darkness and the light. The screenshots kinda give it away too. The light gives you strength and the darkness, er, well, takes it away. Enemies are protected by darkness and so you have to use the power of light to defeat them, which means shining a flashlight on them then blowing them away with pistols and other assorted weapons.
Other weapons include flashbangs and flare guns for emergency moments of panic, while the torch can kill outright if pointed at weaker foes like the flocks of birds that sometimes terrorise you. It'll be your constant companion during the combat sections, which all take place at night and go on a bit too long sometimes.
This is the first thing that's wrong with the game – there's not enough time spent exploring the story. You've got this town that you only really ever see during the hours of darkness. There's a lot of potential for plot development, exploring the town, chatting to people, but it's just not there. It's like a Stephen King book (he's referenced right at the start, so it's a valid comparison) that does away with all the chatter and is just one long description of evil people getting blasted with revolvers. And it doesn't even have a woman setting fire to things with her mind.
However, despite the disappointing lack of non-combat options, there's enough plot there to keep you going through the action sections. And that's not to say the combat bits aren't fun, they just drag on occasion, especially as the darkness tends to make the backdrop for each level relatively monochromatic, whereas the daylight sections are far more alive with colour and visual splendour. As we're reviewing the PC version here, which has more oomph in the visuals department, it makes such an issue stand out more.
|It's such a shame you get so little time in the daylight to admire your surroundings
There are more differences between the console and PC versions than just cosmetic ones, though arguably not enough to make you want to play it a second time if you've already had the pleasure on the 360. The plot's reasonably strong, but not enough to stand up to repeated playthroughs due to its linearity. The real changes come then in the controls, and it's not gone terribly well.
Essentially – and remember this is a personal view, it might be perfectly fine or, perhaps, even worse for you – the mouse controls are either too sluggish or too sensitive depending on what you want to do. General camera movement when you're not in combat feels too slow, requiring long drags with the rodent to examine your surroundings. So you whack the sensitivity up in the options to compensate, but it's never truly quite right.
On the other hand, combat is made tougher because when you hold down the 'aim' button, your mouse is now hyper-sensitive and you'll be flinging your torch beam all over the shop at first – but you can't put your sensitivity down, because then the non-aiming bits will be hideously sluggish once more. Sigh.
It's a common problem with pad-to-mouse conversions and some might argue “just use a pad then”. Well, if that's your argument, just buy the 360 version and be done with it, as it's cheaper. If you're buying for the PC, chances are you'll be wanting to use the faithful rodent, so it's an important thing to note.
Other PC additions include the two DLC 'episodes' called The Signal and The Writer, which don't add anything too grand to the experience (as is generally the case with DLC) but are welcome enough due to them not costing anything for the PC buyer. It's also welcome to see a developer include an in-menu FOV change option, especially after recent debacles such as the hideous nausea-inducing 45 degree viewing angle of The Darkness II. Then there's some 3D options, a 'hide HUD' thing and so on.
|"You mean that little puppy did all this to you?"
So, do you buy Alan Wake on the PC? If you've played the 360 version, then the answer has to be a pretty certain 'No'. You're not getting enough that's new or different to warrant another twenty or so poundingtons. But if you avoided it on 360 and are coming in fresh, it's worthy of your time, even if it's not going to blow your mind. At the end, you'll still be left with the same sense of “it'd have been so much better if...” disappointment at the end, and it was always too much to hope they'd let you explore the environs during the day a bit more.
ALAN WAKE VERDICT
As it is, you’ve got an above average third person torch-‘em-up that’s still got issues and will take some getting used to with the old mouse sensitivity issues. Worth a punt if you’re stuck for something to do, but it’s not one you have to rush off this second to buy.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Taking a bit of time to relax and enjoy the views from Hartman Clinic makes you wonder what might have been if there was more to the game than just shooting things.