Thursday, July 26, 2012

Alan Wake DLC review

It's been a long time since I played Alan Wake, so the ending was not fresh in my memory when I decided to finally try the two extra missions, or "specials" in keeping with the theme of television episodes. You might want to read my original post about Alan Wake (and perhaps my spoilerrific conclusion if you've played the game).

First of all, one of my main issues with the original game was the lack of answers given at the end. These two episodes help to address that somewhat. They're called "specials" for a very good reason: like a special episode on television, they add to the story without being necessary viewing. So while they do shine some light (ha ha) on what happened to Alan, the story is still far from over. Whether or not the original end was deliberately crippled in order to sell DLC, these do have a more satisfying ending.

The core game mechanics are unchanged, but that doesn't mean it's just more of the same. The setting is more abstract, which allowed the developers to do things that wouldn't have made sense in the original game, using the core mechanics in different ways to create new gameplay. For example, there's a section where you're facing huge numbers of the Taken, but scattered around are words like "Boom" that explode when revealed by your flashlight, so you need to manoeuver carefully to use them against the Taken in order to get through. It shakes things up and keeps the game feeling fresh, so even if you're playing this right after finishing the main game, you probably won't get bored.

This is also true of the environments. No longer limited by the original setting, they are now far more abstract at times. Just like in a dream, the individual elements are all familiar, but they just don't fit together the way they should. It is, quite literally, a nightmarish landscape. Again it keeps things interesting and different.

Whether it's a result of the development team having less narrative restrictions or more financial ones, the result is some added creativity in a game that was already quite original. The developers took what was already there and tried to see what else they could with it, with great results. I hesitate to try to give these DLC episodes a score, so instead I'll just say that if you enjoyed Alan Wake you'll enjoy these, especially if like me you were disappointed with the ending.

There is still the question about whether these should actually have been part of the main game or not. I'm going to say that they don't really fit the narrative arc of the core game as they occur after the dramatic climax. In fact I would say that they make more sense as the start of the next story arc rather than the end of the current one. But if you're playing Alan Wake for the first time, especially if you've bought the PC version or special edition bundles that came with the DLC, you might want to know whether to go straight from Alan Wake into The Signal. I think the best way to approach it is to see the end of the main game as an end-of-season cliffhanger, wait a day or so, then jump right into these episodes.

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