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Alan Wake was put out by Remedy in 2010. It was well received. Everyone liked it. It should be no surprise that we at Entertainment Fuse have a soft spot for it, too. There are a lot of great reasons to enjoy this game, but the reason I loved Alan Wake is because I loved Max Payne. Please allow me to explain, but to do that I’m going to give you a history lesson right now.
It was 2001. I was 17. I was living in Coventry, Rhode Island and it was summer. It was a hot, sticky, miserable summer. My parents needed some kind of memory upgrade for their computer because this was 2001 and nothing had enough RAM. So they sent me to CompUSA. Those don’t even exist anymore. I got the RAM inserts I came for, but as I was heading to the checkout line my eye was caught by this game on the end of the shelf. It was stark black and white, a man glaring with an angry scowl. Bright red letters that said Max Payne.
In the hot of the summer, fought through the snowstorm of Ragnarok. I destroyed gangsters by the dozen. I teetered on the edge of sanity and vengeance. I was brought into the dark world of writer Sam Lake’s imagination and I never looked back. When I think of video game storytelling, I don’t think about Zelda, or Final Fantasy, or any of the other canonical games. It’s Max Payne. Full stop.
Max Payne opened my eyes to how a story can be told in a game. It doesn’t have to be crazy and fantastical, it didn’t have to be cut scenes and barely readable text. It didn’t have to be a psychedelic plumbing adventure. It could be part graphic novel part super violent gunfights and sick slow motion moves. It can be dark and bleakly funny. It was the distillation of everything noir, and to 17 year old me it was a revelation. I didn’t just play it. I lived it. I mastered it.
Alan Wake came nine years later and Max Payne is in the DNA so powerfully it is impossible to miss. Doors open and close in the same animations and sound. There is a fake TV interview with Sam Lake, the writer for Max Payne and Alan Wake, and the first face of Max Payne. Another sequence has an excerpt of Alan’s novel is read by James McCaffery, the voice of Max Payne. TVs and radios play shows that echo and reflect your journey, just as they did with in Max Payne. But Alan Wake has it’s own story.
As Alan Wake, best-selling author, you enter the small town of Bright Falls with bad writer’s block, a wife terrified of the dark, and a chip on his shoulder. You encounter dark imaginary dreamscapes that you have to fight your way through. You question what is real and what is not. On the surface it’s all very classic horror tropes, but it’s when you start playing the game that it is more than just a scary story. Alan Wake is a story about the writing process and love and the horrors that live with those things. You can be blocked as a writer. You can lose someone you love. These themes haunt Alan, as literal nightmares, and the journey of the game confronts that. It’s a scary story about stories.
Gameplaywise it’s straight forward. You get a gun, you shoot enemies. There is a bit of a twist in this in that your enemies are infected by darkness and are unkillable until you shine your flashlight on them. It adds a dimension of difficulty in that you have to do the lighting and the shooting, in the right sequence in very dark areas, and if you have a bunch of enemies it’s tough to keep track of who you’ve lit before you shoot them. You have to keep your head on straight, and conserve ammo. It’s challenging, and can be scary, but the best part about this game is in the story.
Alan Wake is about what makes up a story. It is about inspiration. It is about the light in the darkness of our imaginations. As a writer, as a gamer, as a fan of Sam Lake’s work, I love Alan Wake.