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 :)