Sunday, June 13, 2010

Alan Wake- 2 of 4- Gameplay

Carrying on from yesterday, more about Alan Wake.

You play Alan Wake, a writer with writer's block on vacation in scenic Bright Falls, Maine. He wears a tweed jacket with elbow patches and a hood.
Mr. Wake is not the most in shape of characters it would seem, he's not very good at running and doesn't do well with falls.

Wake does battle with assorted possessed people, birds, and objects, collectively referred to as Taken. The Taken are possessed by what Wake refers to as "The Dark Presence" a sort of ancient, terrible evil of the Lovecraftian set that really wants to get out of the can that it's been sealed in. To this end, it needs wake.

You start off in a nightmare sequence, where one of Wake's fictional characters attacks you with an axe. You are granted a tutorial by means of a magic floating light that delivers a flashlight and a revolver. Brilliant, isn't it? You wake up to your arrival in Bright Falls to find out your controls. The quick run down:

A to Jump (when appropriate)
B to Do Things (when prompted)
X to Run/Dodge
Y to Throw things (in combat)
Left Trigger to Focus Flashlight (when you've got one)
Left Bumper to Insert New Battery
Right Trigger to Fire Gun (when you've got one)
Right Bumper to Reload
Left Analog Click to Focus camera (when prompted)
Right Analog Click to do nothing.
D-Pad to select weapons.

Now, I'm playing on a 360, on Normal Difficulty, using the alternate control setting, which I've mapped above. This switches the functions of the bumpers and the X and Y buttons.

My biggest gripe about this control scheme is that X button. It's the only dual function button in the game. If they'd swapped the left analog click with the right analog click and placed the run button on the left click. Which would have sorted out the whole mess. As it is, when I push down the X button to tell Alan to run, he does this sort of running crouch like someone is shooting at him to start with, and occasionally will do so in the middle of running. It looks a little silly to be perfectly honest.
Most of the controls are context sensitive. The game is split into three distinct modes. One: Walking around safe. You can't jump, shoot and it's usually daytime so you won't have a flashlight. This supposedly being a horror game it inevitably leads into Night.
During the Night you spend most of your time wandering through a pine forest, and adjacent. It's more or less the same pine forest, with assorted bushes, bear traps, boxes with supplies stashed in them almost everywhere, and occasionally hidden glowing graffiti. You can usually jump, use your flashlight, (if you've got one), run and interact.
At night is when you run into Combat. During combat you can shoot, throw equipment, dodge, run and interact (though it's not recommended).

When you're safe, the game usually wants to deliver plot of some sort, usually by conversation with an NPC, or move you between areas. You occasionally find collectibles in this mode. These include coffee thermoses and manuscript pages. Both are used as part of achievements in the game, but the manuscript pages work into the plot. More on these in another post. Occasionally, a manuscript page will give you a brief glimpse into events to come, otherwise they're merely delicious fluff surrounding the gameplay. Alan is also less prone to narration when he's in this mode, which can be handy.

The thermoses and manuscript pages are more plentiful at night, as is one other game fixture. Glowing graffiti appears in the dark when you pass a flashlight over it. The nature varies from helpful arrows to indicate the direction of a supply chest, to splotches of paint which do the same, to cryptic comments or advice painted on the walls. The supply chests are often as not, a bit of a trap. Once you've finished with the chest, there's a good chance a few Taken have snuck up on you and are patiently waiting to beat you to a pulp when you turn around. It's only fair really, since the chests usually contain the means to put the hurt on these guys.

You'll spend a lot of your time finding excuses to run around in the spooky forest, which is fine.

Taken can come in several different flavours.
Possessed humans: These use assorted tools to try to bash your skull in, shovels, picks, woodcutting axes, nail bats, tire irons and the like. They like to come at you in small groups, it's rare to just find one. They also have an infinite supply of things to throw at you it seems, knives and the like, which can be awkward. To injure them, you have to first blast away the protective coating of darkness with your flashlight. You can do this by pointing it at them, or more quickly by focusing the flashlight, which drains the battery. Once that's done, dispatching them is a matter of point and shoot.
Some of these are a little tougher than others. Members of the local police, and big burly fellows wielding sledgehammers or chainsaws can take a little more effort and can make things seriously painful for Alan if he can't time his dodging right.

Possessed flocks of birds, original Colonel Hitchcock recipe are an annoyance. They don't hit hard, but they tend to be numerous and can attack from all sorts of directions. They're also incredibly fragile, and don't need to be shot to die, only exposure to the flashlight, or a flare.

Possessed objects are a different beast altogether. They come in all shapes and sizes, from oil drum size barrels, to gates and doors, to construction equipment. They all fall if you can hold your light on them long enough, but they can be misery itself to dodge because of their size.

Aside from these, Alan can find hunting rifles, shotguns and flare guns and his standby revolver. Each of these has its ups and downs. Properly used, the shotgun can deal with more than one enemy at a time, however with the exception of the pump action shotgun, the shotgun will only hold two rounds at a time, so correct use is important. The hunting rifle is a little slower on the rate of fire than the revolver, but packs more kick, being capable of breaking through the protective layer of darkness in some cases. The flare gun will outright kill Taken they're shot at, and are excellent for use against the possessed birds.

You're also granted flares and flash-bang grenades during various sections of the game. Flares can be held in the hand to ward off Taken, or dropped to create a sort of safe zone that strips away the Dark Presence around them. Flash-bangs, correctly used, will slay Taken outright, and are best used against groups when possible.

In portions of the game, they ask you to drive vehicles and this is a straight failure. The vehicles all handle the same, and by this I mean poorly. The camera swings wildly, and while the driving sections break up the gameplay well, they really only serve to move you from A to B, and you could do that another way. Does every game need a bit where you drive vehicles?

But I digress, the gameplay is solid, and if you don't mind the few flaws, you'll probably enjoy it. Alan does have an annoying habit of falling through cracks in the floor at times, but over all not bad.

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