Friday, August 6, 2010

Alan Wake (mini) Review

I just finished up playing Alan Wake and the subsequent DLC "The Signal" on the X360. Of course you can get all your review goodness at MetaCritic or GameRankings, but let me do a quick summary.

The Good

  • Environments: Some of the best forest and mountain environments I've ever seen.
  • Writing: The narrative, characters, plot twists, and back-stories were all superbly crafted.
  • Mood: Remedy did an excellent job evoking dark, foreboding, and oppressive feelings.
  • Production: High production values. I loved the episodic feel and story recaps.
  • Lighting: Outstanding ambient lighting worked in harmony with the flashlight.
The Bad
  • Controls: The controls (both player movement and camera rotation) seemed sloppy to me. It's like the designers got it to an acceptable level and moved on to other tasks. This was unfortunate because the game requires you to be nimble with the camera control in respect to enemy spawning (more on that later).
  • Animations: Overall, your avatar's animations were generally good. What I found frustrating was the "extra steps" the character took after running and jumping. I died on a couple of simple platforming scenarios because of this. Where's the blending? You mean to tell me the animation has to complete before additional player input is accepted? Unacceptable.
  • Questionable world population: I understand the design choices that were made to create the sense of "make every shot count" a la the Resident Evil Series. I also love ammo-conservation gameplay as much as anyone else, but there were a few occasions that I ran completely out. With no other options available, I would end up running back to the beginning of the level searching for precious bullets. From those early experiences, I learned right away to scour every building, shadow, and pixel before moving onward. "Forced Discovery"... really?
The Ugly
  • I propose an addendum made to the "How to design games" handbook that reads: "Thou shall not spawn enemies behind the player". Look, I understand that design philosophy is subjective, but in the case of this game, it was unfortunately exacerbated by the imprecise controls and flashlight mechanics. Yes, I realize the designers tried to mitigate it by giving the player visual and audio feedback (preview cam) but I still don't like it.
The Truth
Buy this game. Not only will you enjoy it, but it will stay with you long after you hit the eject button.

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