Previews

Alan Wake

The men who perfected bullet-time and both style and substance in the Max Payne games are back. Back with a game guaranteed to impress, and guaranteed to shit you up good. The third-person perspective remains, as does the stubble, but the unnerving, deeply psychological world of Alan Wake is very different from the explosive noir of Payne.

Wake is a best-selling horror writer of the Stephen King mould - one who has suffered terrible nightmares ever since the unexplained disappearance of his fiancée. Now holed up in a sleep clinic on a mountainside near the secluded all-American town of Bright Falls, Washington, things are about to go even more wrong. Far, far more wrong.

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"Receiving treatment at the clinic, Wake begins to write a novel about his nightmares," explains Petri Jarvilehto, lead game designer at Remedy.
"But somehow, impossibly, it seems that the town of Bright Falls starts to change and slide towards something awful that bears a close resemblance to his book and his nightmares. Wake ends up fighting for his life with a torch and a gun in his hands, trying to understand what is happening, what's true and what's imagined."

We're in Silent Hill territory then, in terms of story at least - perhaps no bad thing since Konami has been pissing against a wall recently in its search for the essence of what made its earlier works so great. Alan Wake is being touted as an action thriller though, designed as a mission-orientated game which leans heavily on a cinematic edge.

Petri goes on: "In the Max Payne games we used movies as our inspirational starting point - John Woo and Hong Kong action movies for the gameplay, film noir detective stories for the game's story. We see this as our way of doing things. We take those classic elements everyone is familiar with and create something new out of them. Alan Wake is a psychological action thriller. We use dreams and nightmares, and the blurring line between them and the reality, as a theme. The familiar setting is the idyllic American small town with something threatening waiting under the surface. There's a huge amount of different movies and TV series, from David Lynch and Twin Peaks to M Night Shyamalan, that contain similar ideas."

BRAVE ALAN
Bright Falls itself is pure, undiluted Americana; a charming, secluded example of the American Dream - complete with diner, sheriff's station, gas pump and town hall. As with everything from Desperate Housewives to Gremlins however, there's something more than sinister lurking below the surface. We still don't know exactly what, though - Remedy is keeping resolutely schtum on who or what you'll be using that rather frail-looking torch-pistol combo on. Suffice to say, it won't be pretty.

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Petri is especially keen for us to appreciate the balance between dark and light in his game - pointing out the difference in tone and atmosphere that can be taken from the same scenes at different times of the day. He promises a truly living, breathing world to explore: "Pretty much everything in the game is completely dynamic. The sun, shadows, light, wind, trees, foliage, water - none of these are static elements anymore," he says. There'll be no irritating load-times either; everything will be streamed, and drivable vehicles are seen as integral to Alan's pursuit of scary things in such a large play area. After the unapologetically linear Payne games it seems that Remedy is promising a far freer and interactive experience with Mr Wake - although Petri advises that we should still expect more than a couple of the physical flourishes that made The Fall Of Max Payne such an immaculate experience.

So it's the next great hope for horror, action and the pursuit of unconfined terror? That's what Remedy is hoping. It's what we're thinking too...

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