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Games For 2008: Alan Wake

Ah-haaa! Sorry, wrong Alan.

Well, it’s probably coming out in 2008. Rumours report it looking finished this time a year ago, so hopefully all those additional months are polishing the game up to a glowy sheen. Alan Wake is one of those projects that has rumbled along beneath the gaming radar, without ever revealing much in the way of content or planned release schedules. Nevertheless it’s a significant release: the game that the Max Payne team, Remedy, did next, and a title that Microsoft has pegged as “Vista Only” in an unsubtle attempt to nudge more gamers out of XP and into the latest operating system.

Not only that, but what we have seen of Alan Wake so far suggests it could be a genuinely interesting survival horror, mixing up the action of Max Payne with a freeform world and Resident Evil-style frighteners.

The story, such as is it, lands Alan Wake firmly in StevenStephen King territory. Alan, the titular hero-avatar, has moved to a wilderness town to be treated for the insomnia he’s been suffering since the mysterious disappearance of his ladyfriend. He’s a horror author by trade, and his lack of sleep has meant a lack of precious scary sentences. Needless to say, the move to Bright Falls changes things somewhat and meeting the missing lady’s double, combined with having scary nightmares, puts Alan back in the mode for writing horrifying tales. The tales then come to life, with weirdness infesting Alan’s new hometown. Action ensues, with the environs getting overrun by gloom-hugging baddies.

The fact that Alan’s nightmare-monsters-made-real are harmed by light is one of the few mechanistic elements of the game that has so far been revealed. For the most part, Remedy have reported, your flashlight will be a more significant weapon that a sidearm. There’s talk of light-based traps you can set up for the monsters, and the whole idea of playing with light and dark in an engine that has totally dynamic lighting certainly suggests some possibilities for play that we might not have seen before.

The Remedy trailer certain puts the focus on the light issue, and if Alan Doesn’t use that lighthouse to explode some giant nightmare beast at the end of the game I shall be mildly disappointed.

Visually the game looked pretty impressive two years ago, and we’re expecting it to demonstrate some pretty hefty 3D-card humping effects when it arrives. Having seen how easily scaled Crysis was for lower end machines I have to admit that I’m a little dubious about the game being intended for Vista-only. Perhaps there’s something in the cross platform ease of testing for both 360 and Vista simultaneously, but I’d be hard pressed to see a genuine reason why XP gamers should be excluded.

Anyway, this two year old tech demo at IDF shows off the wide-open environments and other clever stuff like a physics-inducing tornado:

What’s perhaps most interesting is Remedy’s claims about the scope and scale of the world. While their intention seems to be to create a more scripted, narrative driven experience than something like the GTA games, they’re nevertheless talking about “living world” and “exploration” stuff for the wider Bright Falls area. They’re aiming to complete that with weather effects such as dynamic fog, storms, or that tornado. Detail is going to come in the form of Half-Life 2 styled comprehensive physics, and plenty of physics-based puzzles in the world for you to deal with. Physics won’t be, Remedy claim, just the wobbly-scenery eye-candy that they were in the Max Payne games.

Despite the comparative lack of hype, or perhaps because of it, Alan Wake is one of the games for 2008 that I am most anxious to see. Like Stalker last year it has made a number of promises about its world and its action that I want to see in the digital flesh. Psychological horror action seems to a genre that developers are able to deliver with sharper and more terrifying clarity than even before, and if Stalker reminded me of anything, it was how much I like a good fright. Fingers tightly cross for Alan, this one could be enormous.

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Jim Rossignol

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