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What’s the Story?

Hit novelist Alan Wake hasn’t written a word in two years, so his wife books a holiday to Cauldron Lake so he can see a specialist. Instead, his wife disappears and he wakes up in a crashed car missing a week.

 

What’s the Problem?

Not a Very Good Writer

For a best-selling author, Alan’s narration and prose lacks something. That something is “voice”. Everything he reads is not only obvious most of the time (“I saw the door. It was closed.”) but also monotonal and dull. It lacks that sense of character that makes you believe the person actually exists and that sucks you into the story.

Wow. That's, uh... well, I mean, it's only a first draft, so... so maybe it will get better.

Sometimes Alan says things that help out, directing the player toward a missed item or solution, but most of the time he’s reading out things the player could have worked out easily on his own, which makes his content just as dull as his delivery.

 

The Voice Actor

Also seems to be phoning it in with this one. Maybe Alan just doesn’t have any character to work with (apart from “getting angry sometimes”), but still. When you’re main guy doesn’t seem to want to be there it doesn’t draw you deeper into the game.

 

Tom

isn’t Alan. I couldn’t tell this from the voice.

This is a problem because… okay, stay with me here:

It turns out that anything an artist draws/writes/creates at Cauldron Lake comes true, and there’s a Dark Presence there trying to manipulate the artists and bend the story to make it stronger. It kidnapped Alan’s wife and is holding her hostage until he finishes writing a story that will set it free. I’d say “Spoilers”, but you learn this pretty early on in the game if you’re paying attention.

Anyway, when you know this much, Alan’s missing week and mystery escape aren’t so mysterious – he must have written himself a way out. Easy. That probably also means that the presence that manifests itself as a bright light is Alan writing a character to help him.

Also sometimes he appears as a bright light in a diving suit. Because, you know, sometimes even light needs to... swim?

Turns out, it isn’t and Alan didn’t. The bright light is in fact a completely different character. He just happens to be a different artist who also fought the Dark Presence and sounds exactly like Alan. Sorry for the confusion there.

 

Other People

seem to know about the Dark Presence and how to fight it, but don’t regard it as a big deal. In fact, they pretend to have kidnapped Alan’s wife so they can blackmail him for his latest writing. To do this, they put themselves constantly at risk of being killed or consumed by a nameless ancient evil. Seems like a bad trade to me. And, being that the Dark Presence hasn’t been around since the 70’s, how do they even know how to fight it? And why do they keep setting up meetings in the woods at night? Meet in the day, morons. Or in town, where there are streetlights.

Yeah, this is clearly the safest place for a meeting.

 

The Ending

Alan keeps saying that he can’t just write “And Alice came back and they lived happily ever after” on any piece of paper to finish the story. He had to first reach the magic cabin where the Dark Presence is strongest and find out what the story is so far. He has to write an ending that continues on from there. An ending that fits.

Makes sense. It’s also a good reason for the protagonist to willingly seek out the thing that’s trying to kill him rather than take the easy way out. The story has to be right.

Except that what Alan does is (SPOILERS AHEAD) completely ignore what’s written on the last page and, instead, rewrite existence. His wife doesn’t disappear, she’s fine. He disappears. He just undoes every event that you just played through.

 

Flashlights

do not have a “boost” function that intensifies the light but burns through a battery in about six seconds.

But why DON'T flashlights have boosts? What if I need to see something REALLY HARD?

Even if they did, the batteries do not automatically recharge if you stop using the boost. Unless they have some crazy new space-age batteries and flashlights in Bright Falls. Which, judging by the technology on display in rest of the place, they don’t.

 

Some Characters

arrive, have dramatic effects on the story, and leave, and we never find out why they even existed. I’m looking at you, FBI Agent Nightingale, who appears in the story already hot on the heels of Alan for a crime we’re never told about, apparently isn’t possessed by the Dark Presence, and then dies without revealing why he’s so intent on arresting Alan. What the hell, man?

And stop shooting and threatening everyone. Dick.

 

Some Chapters

are pointless deviations that seem to exist purely to pad out the game because the main story wasn’t long enough. I’m looking at you, Entire Kidnapper Plot, which had nothing to do with Alan’s wife and didn’t advance the plot at all for a third of the game.

 

What’s the Solution?

I actually quite the idea of Alan Wake: the writer’s creation coming to life and getting him. The Dark Presence trying to get free. But they need to put more time into setting up that the Dark Presence wasn’t created by Alan (or Tom), but is actually a nameless ancient evil that’s always been there. They also need to establish that Tom the bright light and Alan are not the same character.

And if they want his amnesia to do… anything… they need to take out those flashes of Alice being dragged off by a Dark Presence. Those sort of give the game away.

Give us an Alan whose words and delivery draw us into the world rather than make us bored by it.

Learn how batteries work. Or give us guns whose bullets recharge as well!

Cut out the kidnapper thing; replace with more explanation of what’s actually happening. Show us some more of the town and its folk so we can care when it all becomes corrupted and evil.

 

Worth Playing?

Yeah, probably. The fighting itself is quite fun and it’s nice to see someone playing with the story-within-a-game concept, especially when characters read about the things they’re currently doing (“Agent Nightingale reached for a drink when he read the page about him reaching for a drink…”). And it’s nice to see such a story-driven game, even if it does miss a few beats.

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One Comment

  1. THIS REPLY WILL INCLUDE SPOILERS!!!

    “Not a Very Good Writer. For a best-selling author, Alan’s narration and prose lacks something. That something is ‘voice’. Everything he reads is not only obvious most of the time (‘I saw the door. It was closed.’) but also monotonal and dull. It lacks that sense of character that makes you believe the person actually exists and that sucks you into the story.”

    Actually, it’s quite common for narration of a story to be in monotone, especially if there is some dramatic effect intended, which is surely the case here. Never minding the fact that the “quote” you provided isn’t actually one from the game, I found that most of the commenting on the obvious served a purpose, if only to keep us connected with Alan’s thoughts and feelings while he experienced everything. As for the manuscripts being read in monotone, let’s put the pieces together, shall we? Remedy was obviously going for a sort of TV series feel with this project, and oftentimes when someone’s reading something on TV, the speaker is the person who wrote it (This is later solidified by how when you find the manuscript Thomas Zane wrote, it was read in Zane’s voice, not Alan’s). So even though Alan is reading these manuscripts as you find them, he was also the writer, and that is the version of him you hear reading. Now recall what state of mind Alan was in as he wrote the manuscript. Note the cut scene in which he says “Yes. I’ll write.” A total zombie. So there you have it, the monotone explained.

    “Wow. That’s, uh… well, I mean, it’s only a first draft, so… so maybe it will get better.”

    Why would an incantation essentially written by the dark presence with only the purpose of altering reality in mind, get “better”? Why would this evil spirit concern itself with impressing human beings with its superb writing skills? I’m sorry, this criticism is just way off.

    “Sometimes Alan says things that help out, directing the player toward a missed item or solution, but most of the time he’s reading out things the player could have worked out easily on his own, which makes his content just as dull as his delivery.”

    I think that was for the sake of pacing. I mean, you’re not ever supposed to feel inclined to just tinker around with interactive objects, spending longer than a minute in any one area because that will inevitably make you feel safe there. So most of the decision making regarding what to look for is done for you so you can remain in a sort of scavenger hunt mindset. I think it worked quite well.

    “The Voice Actor Also seems to be phoning it in with this one. Maybe Alan just doesn’t have any character to work with (apart from “getting angry sometimes”), but still. When you’re main guy doesn’t seem to want to be there it doesn’t draw you deeper into the game.”

    Without some elaboration on this point, I can’t address it. But I will say that I thought the voice acting throughout the game was acceptable. Not great, but not flawed enough to take me out of the story.

    “Tom… isn’t Alan. I couldn’t tell this from the voice.”

    How can you be so sure?

    “It turns out that anything an artist draws/writes/creates at Cauldron Lake comes true, and there’s a Dark Presence there trying to manipulate the artists and bend the story to make it stronger. It kidnapped Alan’s wife and is holding her hostage until he finishes writing a story that will set it free. I’d say “Spoilers”, but you learn this pretty early on in the game if you’re paying attention.”

    Not early enough. This definitely called for a spoiler warning.

    “Anyway, when you know this much, Alan’s missing week and mystery escape aren’t so mysterious – he must have written himself a way out. Easy. That probably also means that the presence that manifests itself as a bright light is Alan writing a character to help him. Also sometimes he appears as a bright light in a diving suit. Because, you know, sometimes even light needs to… swim? Turns out, it isn’t and Alan didn’t. The bright light is in fact a completely different character. He just happens to be a different artist who also fought the Dark Presence and sounds exactly like Alan. Sorry for the confusion there.”

    I think you are still as “confused” as anyone else. That Alan wrote Tom into existence is still a very popular interpretation, right up there with “Tom wrote ALAN into existence”.

    “Other People seem to know about the Dark Presence and how to fight it, but don’t regard it as a big deal. In fact, they pretend to have kidnapped Alan’s wife so they can blackmail him for his latest writing. To do this, they put themselves constantly at risk of being killed or consumed by a nameless ancient evil. Seems like a bad trade to me.”

    The game gives you every reason to believe Dr. Hartman (with the kidnapper) is wanting to obtain Alan’s help in writing to alter reality for the sake of POWER. They’re not merely trying to get his “latest writing”, and I don’t even know where you got that from.

    “And, being that the Dark Presence hasn’t been around since the 70’s, how do they even know how to fight it?”

    Game also gives you enough information to piece this one together as well. Hartman (who is an old man now) began his work in the 70s with Thomas Zane. Surely whatever was learned about how to survive against the dark presence, was remembered.

    “And why do they keep setting up meetings in the woods at night? Meet in the day, morons. Or in town, where there are streetlights.”

    Naturally, the kidnapper wanted to be able to hide from any cops that Wake might have brought with him (which would be infinitely easier at night, even more so in the wilderness). The first meeting with the kidnapper is at Lover’s Peak, where there is a light post shining brightly, until Wake (accompanied by the kidnapper) reaches it. The kidnapper was probably posted nearby just in case. Elsewise, the dark presence simply wasn’t after them until they got involved with Wake. It’s unclear whether the dark presence was opposed to their HELPING him or just opposed to them getting his way (e.g., holding him captive so he couldn’t progress the story that would make it more powerful). Also, keep in mind the game’s implications that Mott wasn’t right in the head. That probably had something to do with it too.

    “Alan keeps saying that he can’t just write ‘And Alice came back and they lived happily ever after’ on any piece of paper to finish the story. He had to first reach the magic cabin where the Dark Presence is strongest and find out what the story is so far. He has to write an ending that continues on from there. An ending that fits. Makes sense. It’s also a good reason for the protagonist to willingly seek out the thing that’s trying to kill him rather than take the easy way out. The story has to be right.”

    Correct so far.

    “Except that what Alan does is (SPOILERS AHEAD) completely ignore what’s written on the last page and, instead, rewrite existence. His wife doesn’t disappear, she’s fine. He disappears. He just undoes every event that you just played through.”

    How do you know anything was changed on the LAST page? Yes, it’s a common interpretation that Alan changed SOME parts of the what was written, but it doesn’t tell you he changed EVERYTHING. My understanding of it was that he needed to know what was written so he’d know HOW MUCH to alter so it would all remain balanced. Everything required a sacrifice and, as implied in the ending cut scene, him taking Alice’s place was just the tip of the iceberg.

    “Flashlights do not have a ‘boost’ function that intensifies the light but burns through a battery in about six seconds.”

    And the chances of a human being getting shot thirty times and still living to tell about it are quite slim! Yet shooters remain popular video games…

    There is actually a manuscript in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare that touches on this subject. You might find it and give it a read, to sort of open your mind a little. Otherwise, the statement “You can too much for granted” will have to suffice.

    “Some Characters arrive, have dramatic effects on the story, and leave, and we never find out why they even existed. I’m looking at you, FBI Agent Nightingale, who appears in the story already hot on the heels of Alan for a crime we’re never told about, apparently isn’t possessed by the Dark Presence, and then dies without revealing why he’s so intent on arresting Alan. What the hell, man?”

    Yes, some thrillers include a bit of mystery… Well, ALL thrillers actually… And check the intro for a warning that not everything will be explained in this game, if ever.

    “Some Chapters are pointless deviations that seem to exist purely to pad out the game because the main story wasn’t long enough. I’m looking at you, Entire Kidnapper Plot, which had nothing to do with Alan’s wife and didn’t advance the plot at all for a third of the game.”

    I’ve never understood people who complain about the “padding out” of games. To me, the “padding” is the whole point of video games in the first place! There isn’t a single video game out there that couldn’t be shortened while keeping the story the exact same. Even other linear games like Gears of War could keep me more focused on the story if they just removed all the “padding” (i.e., did away with the shooting), yes yes?

    What is a video game without such padding? A movie.

    That being said, the kidnapper plot was just fine. Having Alan know where to go and what to do right from the start would’ve been just awful. And to this day, no one knows how much Emil and Mott have to do with the dark presence (including you) so it’s kind of disingenuous to pretend you know it’s all certifiably irrelevant to the larger plot.

    “What’s the Solution? …they need to put more time into setting up that the Dark Presence wasn’t created by Alan (or Tom), but is actually a nameless ancient evil that’s always been there. They also need to establish that Tom the bright light and Alan are not the same character.”

    In other words, give the bigger mysteries away as soon as possible. Okay then, I’ll note that you’re all about this.

    “And if they want his amnesia to do… anything… they need to take out those flashes of Alice being dragged off by a Dark Presence. Those sort of give the game away.”

    WTF?

    Anywho, anyone who didn’t automatically assume the creepy lady in the diner was the evil villain (BEFORE seeing the flashbacks) needs to have their head checked. Remedy was obviously not trying to hide this from you. They wanted you to know Alice was taken by more than a gust of wind that knocked her through the rail on the cabin’s back porch, and they wanted you to assume that lady was connected to it all somehow. What the real question was at that point, was WHY. And this was certainly not given away in the flashbacks.

    “Give us an Alan whose words and delivery draw us into the world rather than make us bored by it.”

    It worked just fine for me. He had a sort of uneasy, nervousness-inducing voice more often than not. I understood it was narration, at any rate, and that narration is usually monotone so as not to take away from what you’re seeing and hearing elsewhere.

    “Learn how batteries work.”

    Stop taking everything for granted, especially in horror/thriller stories.

    “Cut out the kidnapper thing; replace with more explanation of what’s actually happening. Show us some more of the town and its folk so we can care when it all becomes corrupted and evil.”

    They did a fine job of introducing you to the town in the beginning. I for one was happy to get to the action by the time it came along. And a thousand times NO to that whole “Tell me what’s happening!” idea. The intro says it all. The unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries are what makes this genre great. There is nothing wrong with a story that keeps you guessing.

    “Worth Playing?”

    Definitely! I’ve played it about seven times now. Can’t get enough of the combat and the atmosphere, plus I’m always noticing something new in the environments or in the story. Phenomenal game, IMHO.


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