Alan Wake Review

Bitchin'! was an expression that had a short lived life back in my college days. That was the first thing that came to mind when I finished Alan Wake.

I won't go into the plot or mechanics of the game - tons of articles on that already.

But what is Alan Wake? And what made it "worthwhile"?

First, let me say, I wouldn't call Alan Wake "fun"; instead, I'd call it entertaining. In a nutshell, it is a long movie that immerses you and makes you truly feel like you're the character - not the actor - in the movie. I think of Alan Wake as being as groundbreaking to game play as 24 was to TV shows.

The game is partioned into six episodes; think of these as six quests, all serialized. There is no choice in Alan Wake, other than choice of path - you can choose whether to explore that shed to see if there's ammo, but unlike RPGs your actions do not affect the game environment. I have never played a "tunnel" game like this and enjoyed it. That's where the beauty of Alan Wake comes it. They figure out how to immerse you so much that you forget you are playing a game and you instead are Alan Wake himself traversing the town of Bright Falls looking to understand what has happened to your wife.

How does it do it?

First, the graphics are superb. Just phenomenal. Maybe that's why it took five years, but the entire notion of being in the dark with a flashlight and fog is pulled off perfectly. Pure realism. If they could make the character look more real instead of graphics, you would swear you were watching a video.

Second, the episodes are long and single-minded. You usually start an episode knowing your final destination, and it takes 1-2 hours of game play to get to that destination. No "hey I made it in 15 mins but here's a twist so go on another quest for 15 mins with yet another twist etc." Coupled with the graphics above that make you feel like you truly are armed with a flashlight in the dark, and you are absolutely drawn into the game in an intense way. It is creepy and it is emotionally draining.

Third, the fighting requires real work for two reasons: a) you can't take a lot of damage, even in easy mode, and b) if you are careless about what you're shooting at, you will run out of ammo. Nearly every shot must count, and you have to be prudent about your weapon of choice. You learn quickly that the shotgun you found doesn't help if you have to reload after two shots, and that you better save your flashbangs to take out at least three bad guys at once.

And because you're in the dark, if you're facing more than one bad guy you're in a state of backpeddaling and spinning trying to locate them. Again, creepy and engaging.

Fourth - and I found this key - while you do have to face bad guys, most of the time you spend moving toward your goal in the dark. I'd say bad guys occupy 25% of your time max. The rest is moving with the fear that bad guys are going to jump you, so you're in a constant state of watching your back. Once again, creepy and engaging.

Orthogonal to all of that is the story. What a great plot. Like a lot of movies, I was less than impressed with the ending, although I won't say I was disappointed. I just thought it could of been better. At the same time, it is always hard in a book or movie that has great suspense to pull off a great ending.

The cut scenes, dialogue, and voice talent is outstanding.

Once you're done, however, I don't see a need to play again unless you're truly after the achievements and exploring every nook of Bright Falls. Again, there are no choices, the plot doesn't change, the environment doesn't change, characters don't change, etc. I'm looking forward to the first downloadable content, but not interested in popping the game back in now that I'm finished.

By the way, play the game in the dark. You will jump more than once.

Thank you, Remedy, for such a great game. And thank you Xbox org for my free copy :)

Five years in Seattle

As the saying goes, "sheesh where did the time go?"

So what's it like to pick up the family and relocate them to another region of the country? Having done it, it's both crazy (initially) and not a big deal (eventually). And both aspects - the uncertainly of reloc and the end result - have been good experiences for me and my personal development.

Seattle certainly walks to a different beast. I wonder if in its collective goal to be unique they are stupid on purpose, but nonetheless it's where we've decided to raise the kids for the foreseeable future.

Interestingly enough, I've gotten to the point where I don't like it if it doesn't rain. At least from fall through spring (the nine months of the year where it rains most every day). It never rains hard here - I've never needed an umbrella, and it's rare if the windshield wipers go past "intermittent." Yet the ground is always wet and soggy. It will drizzle for hours on end. And then go on for more hours. As I type this I don't remember the last time I saw a blue sky let alone sun, and looking at the forecast I probably won't for another week. And strangely, if I did see blue sky, it would be weird.

Once the weather breaks in the summer, however, it's a different story. The best summers in the world (or at least I'm told by world travelers). 70 degrees almost every day. Not a cloud in the sky for weeks.

I'm really surprised myself in taking to the outdoors. I've considered myself an athlete (enjoy playing sports) but not an outdoorsman. But long walks that challenge your mental and physical state for hours on end, in total solitude, with beautiful views of God's creation all around is a great match for both my competitive nature (can I really make it to the top of that 4000 foot mountain?) and my social personality (get as far away from people as possible). Hell I've started looking for real estate in the mountains for my retirement.

When I moved to Chicago I traded in being a Tigers fan for becoming a White Sox fan. That was part of the deal for my wife becoming a Lions and a Red Wings fan. I'm now trying to figure out how to be a Lions fan while my kids are Seahawks fans, and suffice it to say it's hard. When the Lions played the Seahawks this year, I sported Seahawks gear for the kids, cheered externally for the Seahawks, and celebrated internally as Stafford threw for a couple TD passes. I actually went into the game thinking I truly would cheer for the Hawks, but quickly realized where my loyalty lies. No sense fighting it. Damn you Ford for cursing the Lions.

For all the foot travel I've done in the Cascade Mountains, we haven't done as much family travel as I'd like. Still haven't been to Vancouver or the Olympic Mountains or truly visited Spokane (stopped by my uncle's for a couple hours but did no sightseeing). The only exception is that we have been to Lake Chelan on several occasions. With Spencer and Garrett having activities on the weekends, the likelihood of us catching up on weekend getaways seems slim and none.

So here's to us pitching our tent in the Pacific Northwest. Looking forward to the next five years.