Remedy is creating a marvel. It really, truly is. We've seen the game in motion, with its Twin Peaks-style mountain town and vast play areas and we're mightily impressed. Perhaps the most amazing thing is the way that the Remedy team has used weather effects and their day and night cycle to change the mood and feel of Wake's gloomy environs. At the tap of a button, the team whizzed its tech demo from day to night and from storm to sun - all in a split-second, and looking like something in the old '60s Time Machine film, only far, far better. With sun streaming through trees on the mountainside, simply thousands of shadows were cast on the landscape - even mountains had been given vast shadows to throw on the land, depending on the position of the sun.
But away from all this leaf-blowing and choppy water, what about the gameplay? Well, not much of it is on show just yet - but we did get the chance to see Alan illuminating dark comers with his torch and moving portable lights around to chase away the darkness that his pursuing evil thrives upon. We watched, for example, as Alan drove a decrepit car to a lighthouse - itself casting some amazing light effects all round it. Looking worried, he climbed out of the car and ran to a fence that he couldn't get through - and as he turned he was faced by hooded dark figures, standing and waiting for him. The music then rose to a crescendo and the screen flickered out. More please.
Download Alan Wake
Remedy's Psychological Insomniac thriller, with a grieving pun-named horror-writer hero has been cruelly beckoning us like an imaginary prostitute since 2005's E3. We're still crawling blindly towards a release date somewhere in 2007.
Although Remedy have flatly declared that Alan is "no Max Payne, in context they were talking about the game character. Distancing themselves from their previous classic is a necessary part of emphasising Alan's unique newness; the inventors of bullet-time might not be giving their new character magic powers, but other similarities are too stubborn to ignore.
The brooding style, the disorientating hallucinations, the eponymous hero's narrative voiceover, the stunningly produced and atmospheric sound effects. The aspects of Max Payne that pushed it beyond excellent shooter and into well-loved masterpiece are all intact.
The differences are just as obvious; Bright FaHs is open to GTA-style exploration with side missions dragging you deeper into the plot As night falls, the uncanny drift into Alan's nightmare landscape is evocative of Silent Hill. And beyond lazy comparisons to other genre classics, we can also lazily comment on the dazzling graphics. They're dazzling, for the record.
Until now, it's been virtually impossible to get excited about something called I Alan. However, as the rumours and information coagulates, perhaps that's Remedy's greatest achievement of all.
Alan Partridge. Alan Green. Alan Whicker. Alan Bennett. There really have been some top-drawer Alans over the years, but none quite so unsettling and genuinely frightening as Alan Wake (well, apart from Alan Titchmarsh, but well skip over him for the sake of argument.) The incredibly nice chaps at Remedy, who will forever be lauded and worshipped for making our favourite actionadventure title Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne, have finally emerged from their Finnish hidey-hole to reveal further tantalising details on their beautiful new game. And I mean it when I say beautiful - take a drooling gawp at the screenshots over the next four pages and nod in agreement. Are you nodding? Then well continue with a bit of background...
Alan Wake is an American writer, and after meeting his girlfriend Alice, starts to experience strange dreams which he uses as material for his first book, a psychological thriller. The novel practically writes itself and becomes a best-seller, but Alice vanishes without trace after publication.
Wake then starts to suffer from severe insomnia, and in desperation seeks out a private sleep clinic outside the small town of Bright Falls, Washington. However, here he begins to see glimpses of Alice, and horrible words in his own handwriting appear in his notebooks while he sleeps. Not only that, but there now seems to be something dark, something evil hunting him in the shadows of Bright Falls...
The Remedy team begin by giving us a quick aerial tour of the massive outdoor environments that we were first blown away by at the Wake unveiling at E3 2005, displaying almost photo-realistic detail. "We have a pretty impressive level of world simulation, with day/night time and weather patterns says creative director Petri Jarvilehto. "The cool thing about that is that the player can be in the same area that lie's explored many times earlier and it can still feel completely different. Almost any environment can be transformed from a picture-postcard view into claustrophobic and spooky surroundings.
Who Left The Fan On?
To demonstrate, a sunny, midday view of mountains and a calm lake is transformed instantly into a scene at sunset with blustery wind making thousands of rendered trees sway in the distance. We're also shown an incredible real-time sequence where a tornado rips through a built-up area, destroying all in its path.
We then zoom down from above to where Alan Wake is standing, and are given our first look at an early mission from the game, when Alan has to collect the keys to his cabin-retreat where he plans to write his second book. Alan climbs into his car, and rather like Grand Theft Auto, a mission summary and direction-arrow are shown at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, as Wake himself narrates over the action.
"Missions are built around a single linear storyline, so that the player always knows how to progress, but then there are other story fragments spread all around the world - smaller games for the player to mess around with, continues Jarvilehto. "While we allow for free-roaming exploration, we don't want you to get lost or frustrated. Unsettling piano music is playing as Alan drives to the gas station to meet the mechanic holding the key, who's busy fixing a car engine. As Alan approaches, the mechanic is startled, but then slowly recognises our hero: "Youre that writer guy." The strange mechanic gives the key to Alan, then challenges him: "Must be tough. Knowing that your words will... Change things." "You read too much," quips Alan. "I only write to entertain people."
Alan Wake is episodic, but only in the structure of the game, which is modelled on multiple seasons of TV series', with episodes containing multiple missions, cliffhanger endings and an ensemble cast of characters with very different backgrounds and personalities. Yep, you can relax - therell be no six-monthly downloadable updates to contend with.
On with the playable mission, and as Alan drives to the cabin, he reveals through voice-over that his new book is about a writer, who, after a tragic loss, goes to live in a secluded cabin where he creates a horror story about creatures of darkness disguised as men. However, when the writer leaves the cabin he discovers the world has turned into the nightmare lie's written. Alan's story begins with the writer picking up a hitch-hiker on the way to the cabin -and right on cue, the spooky piano music strikes up again and a real hitchhiker is spotted on the road ahead. "That's creepy..." says Alan.
"Alan Wake is the narrator of the game, very much in the style of a narrator in a novel," says lead writer Sam Lake. "He's perfect for the job, because he's a storyteller by profession. In essence, that means that the player could well playing Wake's next book."
Of course. Wake picks up the shabby hitcher and begins telling him about the fact lie's a writer, and that his story has a hitch-hiker in it. "The hitch-hiker's a killer of course," says the creepy guy in a gruff drawl. "No," replies Alan. "The hitch-hiker gets killed. Then he comes (jack, or something, a creature of darkness that haunts the writer." Alan drives on, but then is stopped in his tracks - ahead, on the road, a car has overturned, the result of an accident.
Alan pulls up. and gets out of his vehicle to examine the wreckage - there are bloodstains on the road, but no-one around. Suddenly, a lorry hurtles round the corner and smashes into his car with the hitcher still inside, as Alan lias to frantically dive to safety, losing consciousness. He starts to hear voices, then wakes up - it's now dark and he lias a gun and torch in his hands, and the hitch-hiker is nowhere to be seen. Alan still has to reach the cabin, now on foot, which is up oil a nearby hill and across a rickety wooden bridge, which he bravely skips across.
The camera cuts to a first-person shimmering view of the bridge, as wo hear a horrific whispered voice: "Waaaaaake!" The enemy zooms Evil Dead-style towards the other side of the bridge, causing a streetlight to shatter. Alan starts to run on the path up towards the cabin, pursued by the unseen enemy, as each street lamp that he passes explodes and plunges the area into more darkness. Wake turns around and shines the torch at the creature, allowing him to shoot at a shadowy human form that recoils in agony.
Seen The Light
"Darkness equals terror and danger for Alan, adds Jarvilehto. "Enemies seem to be invincible, but light reveals enemies as they truly are and makes them vulnerable. There are many different light sources in the game, so that way we can offer a lot of variation - how you combine light with combat." Back to the heart-stopping demo, and as the chaotic music rises to a crescendo, Wake runs the rest of the way, more lights smashing as he moves past them on the path to the cabin. Finally, he reaches the hideaway, but we can see from outside that all the bulbs in the rooms are exploding, creating more darkness. Trapped, Alan turns around, and as the screen fades to black we hear a voice say: "Wake, we have a common destination..."
WAKE UP## Seen The Light
Alan Wake is looking fantastic, but the new presentation lias raised even more questions about gameplay, such as the weapons you'll have access to. "Wake knows how to use a gun, as he used to work as a nightwatchman, among other things, before he became a famous writer. However, when it comes to guns, he's definitely no Max Payne, answers Lake. "Resources are definitely limited, which is one of the ways we can build suspense. Bright Falls is famous for its annual Deep fest, so there are a few hunting rifles around, but you wont be tripping over ammo boxes.
Although there is that army base outside the town... Also, what about the horror aspect: will there be full-on blood and gore in Alan Wake? "We're not making a horror game, we're making a thriller, and as such, suspense and anticipation are vital ingredients in creating the mood and the atmosphere in the game," continues Lake. There will be horrific and surreal sights - the game contains wild, hallucinatory dream sequences, for example - but we feel confident that you can make them without resorting to gore. In fact, we feel that you can make the game more suspense-orientated and scary without that."
Were running out of time, so as we get up to leave the presentation room and collect the smart souvenir Alan Wake-branded torch, I ask Sam Lake about the frightening shadowy foes in the game - who are they, and why are they tormenting poor old bleary-eyed Alan?
"The nature of Wake's enemies is at the very core of the mystery - what are they and where are they from? They seem to be linked to Wakes dreams and writing, but at the same time appear to be tied to Bright Falls. Are they real at all, or is Wake going mad and imagining the whole thing? You'll have to play the game to find out..."
One Man Army Alan Wake been absent that Remedy's former starlet, the now-distant Max Payne, has grown increasingly bald and pudgy since Alan was announced - as has this correspondent.
Alan Wake has been in hibernation for two years, and he hasn't even aged a day - all lie's done is taken off his Rupert the Bear scarf and put on a hoodie. In all honesty though he has become emotionally distant from the PC, once touted as a Vista exclusive (imagine that!) Remedy are under strict instructions from their Microsoftian overlords not to even utter details of the PC release. Frankly though, when a game looks this good it may well be worth the wait.
Last time Alan Wake surfaced it was an engine without a game. A stunning recreation of the Twin Peaks-style town of Bright Falls and surrounding countryside with a beautiful day and night cycle, but very little in terms of gunplay and pyrotechnics. Well, that's certainly changed.
For those late to the slumber party Alan Wake is an author who specialises in horror, and his most recent work (one that he can't even remember writing) has a nasty habit of coming true. His wife has been kidnapped, the townspeople of Bright Falls become possessed by darkness after dusk, and even stationary construction equipment has a habit of being kick-started into life when infected by shadows.
In the words of Max Payne, Alan Wake's action is in essence a linear sequence of scares - albeit surrounded by a free-roamable world. The section I bore witness ' to involved tracking down a chap called Rusty, after the discovery of a page of Wake's novel suggested that after finding him the injured local would be promptly dragged screaming into the undergrowth by an unknown force.
Having found him lying, bleeding to death in a tourist information centre before fending of a couple of dark-polluted yokels (hardly a fitting advert for holidaying in Bright Falls) Rusty's fate came true. It's a neat storytelling system that should have us all heroically trying, yet never succeeding, to conquer the inevitability of the printed word.
In Alan Wake your torch is as much a weapon as your pistol, since before you can damage anything shambling towards you it must be stripped of its darkness - a beautiful effect in which blackness is swirled off into the ether. Once the shield of darkness is on its way out then traditional bullets will finish off the job. What with light being a primary weapon this also means that flare guns can be used to evaporate flocks of infected birds, while should you let off a hand-held flare in a crowd of angry locals then you'll be rewarded with a slow-motion maelstrom of darkness being whipped out of their bodies by the burning red flare.
Light can be a tool as well though. For instance, fix a generator and you'll be able to keep the hordes at bay with the flickering electric light it turns on. Going back to the linear sequence of scares reference though, the action is perforated with sudden and jarring events that Wake clearly chose to skim over when writing his self-prophesying novel. Rummaging around in a building can be interrupted by a bulldozer coming to life and rampaging towards you, for example, ripping through the house as you madly dash from its evil yellow scoop.
The animation of these possessed vehicles is genuinely unearthly (you'll come across a grumpy crane later as well), but any object could be possessed: from cardboard boxes to shopping trolleys. If it moves, it needs to be fiercely shone at with your torch to remove the taint, before you're assaulted by once-inanimate objects.
What happens during the day in Alan Wake is unknown, although it's likely that the beginning of the various TV-style episodes contained within the game will have you discussing the whereabouts of your wife, and the cause of the evil shadows, with the eerie residents of Bright Falls. A strong supporting cast is promised by the delightful chaps at Remedy, and they've already shown off Barry Wheeler - Wake's paranoid and allergy-ridden literary agent. Whether he's the dearest of all Wake's friends is unclear, but you can get a few amusing lines out of him by shining your torch in his face and turning the lights on and off. Which is probably enough.
What with the Spring 2010 tag for the 360 release, Alan Wake is presumably a way off for us PC users. But we can now confirm, at least, that Remedy are likely to do us proud when it's time for Alan to rise and shine.
Here's a game that really wants to get into your head: While recuperating in the Pacific Northwest after the strange disappearance of his fiancee, big-fme suspense author Alan Wake notices that things he's been writing about are suddenly appearing before his very eyes. Or are they? "Wake is in bad shape. He's had a lot of tragedy in his life, and he suffers from chronic insomnia," says Sam Lake, lead writer at developer Remedy (Max Payne). "So the question is, is this really happening, or is Wake going mad? In general, Wake's subjective reality and his stories will start to turn real and with that the small town of Bright Falls will turn more and more nightmarish." When Wake isn't freely exploring this town for answers, his few moments of shuteye will also provide some insight into his current (and quite perplexing) situation. "Hallucinatory, dreamlike sequences are an important part of the gameplay experience," says Lake. "Dreams as a link to the subconscious and the supernatural is something that we are using a lot in the game. And there's also the idea of someone waking up to realize that the world and his destiny in it can be very different from what he thought they were." Spooky.
Snapshots and Media
XBox 360 Screenshots
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