After six years in development, it'd be really embarrassing for all concerned if Alan Wake was rubbish. But thankfully it's not; it's a thrilling, masterfully scripted, polished, sometimes scary and always tense plot-driven action game - one of our favourites on 360. But it's not perfect.
A swooping camera, epic score and a familiar over-the-shoulder camera angle kick off our story, as Alan Wake - a famous author who's come down with writer's block - and his missus, Alice, ride a ferry towards Twin Peaks-esque vacation town, Bright Falls.
The boat ride offers an immersive and visually palatable introduction to a game that relies heavily on atmosphere and plot. As Alan you're free to walk around the car-laden boat deck, chatting to fellow passengers and gazing at the glorious North West scenery.
Alan Wake does these sort of scenes very well - and there are plenty of them throughout the game. As we reach dry land and head off to a nearby diner, it's easy to get lost eyeing up the posters on the wall and waddling around the chequered-floor restaurant in search of any kind of interactivity. What we find, though, is a dimly lit corridor at the rear of the building - partnered by a visibly shaken old lady, who warns us against going anywhere near it.
With a concerned facial expression donning our character, we naturally walk in anyway... and Alan's nightmare begins.
Alan Wake's box proudly advertises a "psychological action thriller," but if you're expecting LA Confidential you're going to be surprised; Jack Nicholson busting your door down surprised. Remedy's game has a lot more in common with small screen head screws like Lost and X-Files, and there are some genuinely spooky, messed up scenes during Alan's story.
After a heart-pounding in-game event and plot twist, our man wakes up in a car accident - and his wife Alice has been taken. Alan has no recollection of what happened between Alice's disappearance and the destruction of his no claims bonus, and in true Twin Peaks fashion everything starts to go a bit mental very quickly.
With a torch and revolver in hand, Alan brushes himself off and heads through the forest in search of civilization. Eventually our man starts to discover glowing pages of manuscript oddly scattered around Bright Falls, and it becomes clear that the disturbing events that unfold are following a dark novel that Alan doesn't remember writing.
As shady, spectre-like aggressors start to emerge from the forest it's ironically Alan's torch that turns out to be the more deadly weapon. The 'Dark Presence' - Alan's own demented creation - that's taking over the quiet town is basically made of darkness, so when your enemies come at you with axes and knives 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 a bullet or five.
It's a simple and satisfying combat mechanic that's made more gratifying by an array of spectacular particle and lighting effects. The constant juggling of torch and gun makes for frantic, intense enemy encounters, which fits perfectly with the tone of the game.
The plot's desperate scenarios constantly pit you against a dozen axe and chainsaw-wielding foes who slowly approach your position, Resi 4-style, and you'll wrestle to keep both your weapon loaded with X and your flashlight full of fresh batteries with Y as they constantly run dead. The action's further ramped up later by the introduction of stronger flashlights, bigger guns and secondary weapons such as flares and thunderous flashbangs.