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Alan Wake

The real mystery in this psychological thriller is when it'll be out

It's hard to remember a game that has been glimpsed so little and yet generated so much discussion. Admittedly, not all of that discussion has been positive.

In fact, mostly talk of Alan Wake is followed by arguments about whether it will ever come out, if it can possibly live up to three years' worth of hype and - whisper it - if it even exists anymore. Well, after a year of silence, a new trailer landed last month so we know, at least, it exists. But can it live up to expectations - and when will the game actually arrive on shop shelves?

Release date first, then - because there isn't one. As is Remedy's wont, the game will only see the light of day when completed. The Finnish coders have consistently shaken off any vague seasonal release pushed their way by publishers Microsoft, repeating on their website that the game only debuts once it's done.

That said, almost a thousand days into development and they are, at least, prepared to attach the year 2009 to the project. And, if we were to take a bash, we'd say autumn is a good bet.

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In a weird way, Remedy have tried their best to downplay expectations, showing little of the game, revealing nothing of the story and never once, in three years, giving anyone a chance to play it. It could be argued the sense of anticipation comes from a lack of eyes-on time, with only some incredible tech demos providing any insight into how the gameworld will look and feel. Based on that, it's obvious this is a beautiful, vast and dense world, built around a real-time weather system which brings with it sunshine, rainfall, wind and even the occasional tornado. At 36 square miles, they've certainly gone for big too. The town of Bright Falls is at the heart of the game, but dotted around are huge forests, lakes, satellite towns and story-important landmarks such as the lighthouse glimpsed in one of the earliest trailers.

Remedy admit Wake is a free-roaming game, with exploration, character interaction, interiors and, particularly, driving a major part of the adventure. They've also tried to distance it from GTA by saying the focus on story means the player will be more closely aligned with the plot. "The storyline doesn't advance if the player wanders aimlessly around the woods," says Lead Designer Petri Jarvilehto, which suggests that, while there will be a degree of freedom, you won't be base-jumping from the Lighthouse, or stealing ambulances and careering around the woodland with fifty cop cars on your trail.

So, with the story playing such a massive part, it's just a shame we know so little about it. What Remedy have released is a basic overview, repeated a thousand times: Wake is a writer, whose wife disappears when he moves to the Pacific north west town of Bright Falls - and as insomnia and writer's block kicks in, his book starts writing itself... and the events in it come to life. Hugely influenced by the works of Stephen King, the game's scripter Sam Lake also points towards weird-out cult TV show Twin Peaks as inspiration as well. Does that mean you'll be encountering backwards-talking dwarfs in red rooms? Er, no, but there'll certainly be that same sense of an apparently perfect small town hiding deep, dark secrets, with nothing quite as it should be.

For now, though, we just have to wait. Again. Still, given that Remedy have already made us sit on our hands for three years, another 6-8 months shouldn't be much of a chore...

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