Alan Partridge. Alan Green. Alan Whicker. Alan Bennett. There really have been some top-drawer Alans over the years, but none quite so unsettling and genuinely frightening as Alan Wake (well, apart from Alan Titchmarsh, but we'll skip over him for the sake of argument.)
The incredibly nice chaps at Remedy, who will forever be lauded and worshipped in PC ZONE for making our favourite actionadventure title Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne, have finally emerged from their Finnish hidey-hole to reveal further tantalising details on their beautiful new game. And I mean it when I say beautiful - take a drooling gawp at the screenshots over the next pages and nod in agreement. Are you nodding? Then we'll continue with a bit of background...
Alan Wake is an American writer, and after meeting his girlfriend Alice, starts to experience strange dreams which he uses as material for his first book, a psychological thriller. The novel practically writes itself and becomes a best-seller, but Alice vanishes without trace after publication. Wake then starts to suffer from severe insomnia, and in desperation seeks out a private sleep clinic outside the small town of Bright Falls, Washington. However, here he begins to see glimpses of Alice, and horrible words in his own handwriting appear in his notebooks while he sleeps. Not only that, but there now seems to be something dark, something evil hunting him in the shadows of Bright Falls...
The Remedy team begin by giving us a quick aerial tour of the massive outdoor environments that we were first blown away by at the Wake unveiling at E3 2005, displaying almost photo-realistic detail. "We have a pretty impressive level of world simulation, with day/night time and weather patterns," says creative director Petri Järvilehto. "The cool thing about that is that the player can be in the same area that he's explored many times earlier and it can still feel completely different. Almost any environment can be transformed from a picture-postcard view into claustrophobic and spooky surroundings."
WHO LEFT THE FAN ON?
To demonstrate, a sunny, midday view of mountains and a calm lake is transformed instantly into a scene at sunset with blustery wind making thousands of rendered trees sway in the distance. We're also shown an incredible real-time sequence where a tornado rips through a built-up area, destroying all in its path.
We then zoom down from above to where Alan Wake is standing, and are given our first look at an early mission from the game, when Alan has to collect the keys to his cabin-retreat where he plans to write his second book. Alan climbs into his car, and rather like Grand Theft Auto, a mission summary and direction-arrow are shown at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, as Wake himself narrates over the action.
"Missions are built around a single linear storyline, so that the player always knows how to progress, but then there are other story fragments spread all around the world - smaller games for the player to mess around with," continues Järvilehto. "While we allow for free-roaming exploration, we don't want you to get lost or frustrated."
Unsettling piano music is playing as Alan drives to the gas station to meet the mechanic holding the key, who's busy fixing a car engine. As Alan approaches, the mechanic is startled, but then slowly recognises our hero: "You're that writer guy." The strange mechanic gives the key to Alan, then challenges him: "Must be tough. Knowing that your words will... Change things." "You read too much," quips Alan. "I only write to entertain people."