I finished the last main story episode of Alan Wake a couple of days ago, but I really felt like I needed to sit with how I felt about the experience as a whole before I could really talk about it.
You see, there were a lot of things about the game I really liked. The sound design was fantastic. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to point to anything in the atmosphere that detracted from the experience rather than added to it. Still, I overall found the whole package somewhat unsatisfying, and for what it’s worth, I don’t think I realized how underwhelmed I was until the very end.
Now, obviously, I don’t want to ruin the game for anyone who hasn’t gotten around to it in the past eight and a half years, but it’s actually a common complaint I have with fright media – the story is captivating, and then it’s over, and the ending either resolves nothing or is so far fetched, it cheapens everything that came before. I’m not going to tell you which type of disappointing ending this one was.
It didn’t help that – for me – I think this game would have been better as more of a walking simulator. Other than being story-focused, it often felt like the game wasn’t sure what it was trying to be. Although I could appreciate the theme of burning away the darkness with the flashlight before being able to take on enemies, I found the process to be rather tedious, and at the same time, more difficult than I expected while playing on the easiest difficulty. By comparison, the “puzzles” almost weren’t worthy of being called puzzles, they were so simple and obvious.
Most of the time is spent collecting ammunition and batteries, wandering around lost in the wilderness, and moving oh-so-slowly to the next story beat. I did like the idea of the special messages you could illuminate (and they helped me through a few map navigation challenges), but I already said that Alan Wake had the window dressing on lock.
My other major issue was with collectibles. I usually love collectibles. I love poking around and seeing what neat things I can discover. But when I’m basically being hunted, and dealing with limited resources and confusing maps, I’m not going exploring. I decided early on that if I spotted collectibles, I’d grab them, but I wasn’t going one step out of my way for them.
My final verdict on Alan Wake is this – it was a great concept, with great atmosphere, that was let down by some odd game design choices and an unsatisfying ending. There are two “bonus chapters” that I decided against playing because I found the last chapter so very frustrating that after the resolution of the main story, I had no desire to continue on. I spent a little over 8 hours playing the six main story episodes on the easiest difficulty.