Alan Wake has a lovely story, I must say.
You are Alan Wake, a famous writer who hasn't written anything in two years. You've travelled with your wife to Bright Falls, which is in the middle of the mountains and surrounded by what some people would call "untamed wilderness". Mostly forests, which is where Alan spends most of the game. Ostensibly you are here for a vacation. You start by running into the mayor/late night radio host on a ferry, and ask him to keep your involvement quiet. This is the high point of the game. It's all downhill from here folks.
The story is divided into episodes. Alan has one or two overarching objectives, along the lines of "go here, do this" and has to deal with the complications along the way. It's a little like a TV show really, the framing for each episode functions just like the recap before a TV show, and the end of each episode includes a neat little title card and musical sting. I could see it working out as a TV show to be honest. As mentioned by Yahtzee in his review, they really don't stop between episodes. You segue straight from episode into episode recap, which is frankly annoying. I used this to put down the controller and do other things, or skipped through. It wouldn't have killed the developers to let the game stop between episodes.
You procure the keys to the cabin you'll be vacationing in from a creepy old lady in black, before returning to the car only to see the person who you supposed to get the keys run out after you drive off, shouting that you've forgotten your keys. Oh dear. We also meet a few other people of note, including Rose, the Waitress, and Cynthia Weaver, a crazy old lady who keeps mentioning that "you can hurt yourself in the dark". If this isn't foreshadowing, I do not know what is.
Upon arriving at the cabin, you've got to turn on the lights, and go upstairs to find that your wife (GASP) expects you to try to write something, and has contacted a local doctor for therapy, since he apparently specializes in the treatment of artists.
Alan storms off in a tiff and goes to lean against the railing for a while before he's interrupted by his wife's screams. I think I've mentioned that while most of the graphics in the game are lovely, the faces leave something to be desired, but Alice, Alan's wife is really terrible. The lowest possible point in all this.
She somehow falls of the edge and into the waters of the lake the house sits on. This lake is apparently part of the caldera of a dormant volcano. Wow. And so Alan dives in, only to wake up a week later in a crashed car with no memories and blood on his face. He stumbles off through the darkness and the woods to get attacked. Fun. When he finally manages to contact the police, they claim that the island on the lake, the cabin they had been staying in, the whole shebang had been destroyed in the seventies. Sunk right into the lake.
Alan, being the sort of guy he is spends quite a bit longer buggering around looking for signs of his wife. The first is that she's been kidnapped. The man who apparently kidnapped her gives you two days to turn in a manuscript to him in return for Alice. The manuscript is the central point of the plot, which I'll get to in a bit. This man, Mott, works for Doctor Hartman, the same doctor Alice wanted him to see. After the initial meeting with Mott, Alan has two days to produce the manuscript. He loses a day to some drugged coffee after the Dark Presence puppets a local into mentioning that they have the other pages. At this point, the manuscript is all but written. The only thing remaining is to write the ending.
To make matters worse, an FBI agent has showed up looking for Wake, and when Alan doesn't show up to meet him at the police station, he gets a little ugly and starts shooting. By the time Alan makes his way to the rendezvous where he's meant to turn in the manuscript, things have changed. Alan now has to go somewhere else to make the exchange. The Dark Presence gets there first, and engineers an attack on Mott, as well as allowing Alan to discover that Mott never had his wife in the first place. Alan somehow falls into the lake and wakes up, drugged, in Doctor Hartman's clinic. Hartman doesn't care about the Dark Presence, he's just a greedy git. He gets what's coming to him when the Dark Presence shows up at his clinic.
Alan breaks out with gusto and the idea to head down to a farm owned by some crazy old rocker dudes, who apparently know something. Things don't go especially well. Alan holds off an assault of Taken on a rock stage, quite similar to the Midnight Riders Finale in L4D2. Discovers that the only person who knows how to stop this whole mess is a crazy old lady, who we met in the diner scene at the beginning of the game. Cynthia Weaver, remember her? He and Barry then get drunk on some moonshine and passes out to wake up in jail.
At this point we still haven't solved the matter of the missing week. The moonshine is, for lack of a better word, tainted with the water from Cauldron Lake, and lets Wake do a neat little out-of-body re-run of that week, during which he wrote the manuscript and engineered his escape.
Alan, the Sheriff and his agent Barry have to cross the town in the dark to get to the power station, where Weaver is holed up. Things go wrong, and Alan falls out of the rescue chopper they're trying to take there. Upon arriving, he learns that Zane left something in the care of Weaver, in what she calls "The Well-Lit Room" (capital letters and all). And that he should go retrieve this. The chopper with Barry and Sheriff Breaker in it crashes, and Alan leaves the safety of the secret passage (a lit water pipe you had to drain) to go fetch them. This goes about as well as planned and you all eventually wind up in the well lit room.
Yahtzee mentioned that someone on the design team must have had a thing for Stephen King, and I won't argue. The thing about the lake is that for some reason, artistic types can tap into a sort of power there that changes reality. There's one catch. It's attached to an entity called the "Dark Presence" currently inhabiting the creepy old lady in black.
Most of what we know about this is the result of a man named Thomas Zane, who owned the cabin that disappeared. The one that Alan and Alice had been staying in. His girlfriend died, and Zane attempted to harness this power to bring her back. Which he did. Sort of. The Dark Presence is a greedy little ancient evil, and tries to turn the efforts of anyone using this reality altering power to it's own ends. Including Zane and Alan Wake. In the case of Zane, it inhabited the body of his "resurrected" love. Zane managed to kick it back into dormancy, in a fashion, but had to do so at the cost of his own life. He literally erased himself and all of his work from existence, which a few exceptions. Lacking a creative mind to work with, the Dark Presence was stuck in Cauldron Lake until Wake showed up. The Presence engineered the disappearance of Alice and then set Wake to work with the promise that if he wrote a story, he could bring her back. Not quite so, since the objective is really to set the ancient evil loose on the world. Wake managed to write himself an escape by including himself in the plot of the novel. It's a clever little plot device that I don't really mind. Wake is now effectively a character in the story, bound by whatever rules are in play, as well as the author of the story and therefore the author of fate.
His escape a week into the plot of the novel was aided by resurrecting Thomas Zane and bringing him to his aid. Zane then spends the rest of the game dropping pages of the manuscript on Alan's path. These have various uses, but occasionally they're foreshadowing and advice about what's up ahead, so reading them is beneficial. And they're just plain neat.
But back to the main plot.
Another twist here. The entire story has been a self-fulfilling reach-around. In the Well-Lit Room is Zane's loophole. The failsafe device is a shoebox, containing two things. A page of manuscript written by Zane, and the Clicker. Alan mentions the Clicker in a flashback. It's a thing from his childhood that his mother gave him, a light switch. Turn the Clicker on and the dark disappears. Figuratively, if not literally. And the manuscript page narrates the event in which Alan is given this safety net. Which raises quite a few questions.
This post has gotten a little out of hand, so I'll leave the conclusion to the story and to the review for tomorrow.