When Remedy finally re-emerged with Alan Wake at E3 this summer it was the long awaited return of one the most hyped and talked about games during the last five years. One reason why it was talked about so much was the fact that it was in hiding for most of the time. Rumours of a revamped game surfaced from time to time and Remedy could only assure us that the game was indeed still in production and that they would tell us more as soon as they were allowed to.
But let's go back in time to when Alan Wake was first revealed. Remedy came off the two very successful Max Payne games and at E3 2005 they showed off a real time demo of Alan Wake in the ATI booth. We got to see Bright Falls in the day-time, we witnessed what appeared to be a fiarly free-roaming car sequence, a physics demo with logs rolling down a hill and finally towards the end a sequence with Alan running towards the safety of a lighthouse with shadows closing in behind him. The catch phrase "psychological action thriller" was thrown around a lot and I cannot imagine a single soul leaving that small room unimpressed.
I left the demo thinking of Stephen King novels, Twin Peaks, and Silent Hill. Remedy was onto something big here and it turned out it was going to be even bigger than they had imagined and planned for. But one has to keep in mind that there are not a lot of studios the size of Remedy that undertakes massive high profile projects such as Alan Wake these days, and in a way it is encouraging that they haven't strayed from their practices and just thrown man power at the project in order to complete it.
The concept behind Alan Wake is simple. A stressed out writer suffering from writer's block travels with his wife Alice to the quiet town of Bright Falls. She disappears and events from Alan's best-selling book, a book he can't remember writing, starts playing out in real life. In order to save his wife and get to the bottom of what is happening to him he needs to hunt down the missing pages of his script. A clever story telling device that has Alan recapping events as they happen in the game.
I mentioned that E3 this summer was the big coming out party for Alan Wake. After a brief demo at X06 we had heard nothing from Alan. We got to see a sequence in a forest with Alan trying to hunt down a man who had a few missing pages of his manuscript in his possession. Of course it's never as simple as that and he has to chase him down as a dark presence tries its best to stop him. This dark presence takes possession of objects, in classic Poltergeist fashion, and Alan has to use his flashlight in order to "disarm" the objects.
The presence also controls some of locals and Alan must use the flashlight to make them vulnerable before his unloads his gun to rid his path of enemies. The brief demo also showed a segment where Alan turned on a generator in order to create a safe haven, and he also use a flare in order to get out of a tricky situation with several enemies. All in all a very different and much more linear experience from what most people had expected. In a way the it could be compared to the difference between what people expected with Project Ego and what they got with Fable. But that is doing Alan Wake injustice as the night time sequences is only one part of the game, and the daytime gameplay in Bright Falls is likely to be very different.
At Tokyo Game Show Remedy added another piece of the increasingly intriguing Alan Wake puzzle. Not only is Alan Wake giving chase to find the missing pages of the script in order to save his wife. He is also being chased himself as a FBI agent (Nightingale) believes Wake is responsible for all the trouble that is taking place in Bright Falls. Remedy explained how light that once was Alan's ally now turns into an enemy as he is chased through the forest by helicopters and agents with flashlights. However, the FBI is the least of Alan's worries and as the dark presence maims the agents and sends a helicopter hurling into a canyon Alan finds himself on a cliff surrounded by agents risen from the dead and possessed by the presence. A cliffhanger on a cliff ends the TGS demo. A testament to Remedy's characteristic play with clichés.
What impressed me most with Alan Wake was the atmosphere Remedy had managed to create through a dense and dynamic soundscape, but perhaps more importantly through visual cues such as the wavering, almost living trees as the presence draws close. Paired with the ongoing passed tense narrative and a seemingly twisting and turning story where I could sense a potential ally in the local deputy, Alan Wake looks set to deliver an experience that makes up for five long years of waiting.