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Alan Wake - gameplay preview

Hands-On: First hour played

After 5+ years in development, developer Remedy's scrapped its open-world aspirations and settled for something a lot less... ambitious. In fact, at first glance Alan Wake is essentially Resident Evil 4 with more clever words.

After a short introduction sequence to teach you the combat basics, Alan Wake's clever plot kicks off with a swooping camera, epic score and a familiar over-the-shoulder camera angle as Wake and missus ride a ferry into town.

Alan - in case you've forgotten the game's plot since it was revealed in 2005 - is a very famous novel writer who's recently found himself unable to put pen to paper. In order to beat his writer's block, our hero packs the motor for a trip and heads off in the direction of Bright Falls.

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The boat ride is an immersive and visually gorgeous introduction to the game. It's a scene similar to something from Uncharted 2 (though not quite up to that title's incredible standards of animation). As Alan, you're free to walk around the ferry and check out the passing scenery. You eventually talk to your wife Alice, who asks you to pose for a photograph at the front of the ship.

Alan feels weighty to control and is generally well-voiced, with plenty of banter to enjoy between the two characters on screen.

This sequence leads to a cut-scene showing Alan and Alice reaching dry land and driving off to a nearby diner. This is a similarly laid-back gameplay sequence, in which Alan's free to trot around the restaurant interior and listen to various locals' colourful tales.

One waitress almost falls off her feet at the site of the famous writer, while an old biker at a table asks our man to stick a tune on the nearby jukebox.

Alan's here to pick up the keys to his holiday home in Bright Falls - and this is where the happy, sunny section of the game draws to a close.

As he approaches a dim corridor at the rear of the diner, a visibly shaken old lady warns Wake not to go into the dark.

With a concerned facial expression, he naturally walk in anyway... and Alan's nightmare begins.

THRILL-ZONE
Remedy calls Alan Wake a "thriller", but in reality it's less LA Confidential and far more X-Files; loud, scary and a bit f***ed up.

After a very cinematic in-game event and plot twist, Alan wakes up in a car accident - and realises his wife Alice has been taken. With a torch and revolver in hand, Alan brushes himself off and heads through the forest in search of civilization...

In true Twin Peaks/Lost fashion, Alan Wake's life starts to go a bit psycho after his time asleep. As you discover pages of manuscript in the forest, it becomes clear that the mental events unfolding are following a scary novel that Alan doesn't remember writing.

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The game's malevolent 'Dark Presence' - Alan's own creation - starts to possess certain inhabitants of Bright Falls, and everything takes a turn for the ghoulish.

In gameplay terms at least, Alan Wake feels like Resident Evil 4 (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). The difference here is the unique flashlight gameplay, which has you managing both your handheld light source and a gun at the same time.

Alan Wake's spectre aggressors are based on darkness, which naturally makes your torch a useful weapon. When they come at you with axes and knives (again, Resident Evil, anyone?) the only way to take them out is by focusing your flashlight with the left trigger until they're stunned, and then finishing them off with the revolver.

This makes for frantic, intense enemy encounters - which fits perfectly with the Stephen King-esque tone of the game. With multiple ghoulies stumbling at you, you'll wrestle with both batteries for your flashlight (which constantly runs dead) and ammunition for your revolver, with an array of particle effects ensuring satisfying enemy dispatches.

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