Video game release spotlight: 'Alan Wake'

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The Independent Tech

It's been more than five years in the making and is built on a bespoke games engine to run a host of impressive lighting effects, but Alan Wake is finally here.

Despite being touted as an Xbox 360 title at the same time that Microsoft's console was announced back in the summer of 2005, the development studio behind the game is in fact a small Finnish outfit called Remedy Games which, though certainly innovative and imaginative, found itself at times hard-pressed to get the game finished.

Along the way, the initial concept of a sprawling open-world game was dropped in favor of a more manageable linear model. Indeed, Wake has most likely benefited from a tighter focus, allowing a deeper storyline to develop as Remedy controls pace and tension more precisely.

In the grand publicity tour that started early in 2010, Remedy spokespersons were keen to draw comparisons to the novels of Stephen King, and the compulsive viewing of both the Lost and 24 TV series. Mention of David Lynch's Twin Peaks was hardly necessary as the game was positively pickled by the aroma of black coffee, cherry pie, and a sinister reality underlying the sunny lakeside town of Bright Falls. There's even a promotional mini-series that is unabashed in its homage to Lynch's cinematography.

Wake's plot is also cheekily self-aware: while Alan himself is a best-selling crime fiction author looking for inspiration as he launches out into the horror fiction genre, Remedy found fame with the crime fiction-referencing games Max Payne and Max Payne 2 before turning its attention to this equally postmodern excursion.

With any luck, Remedy will find the mainstream success it's been working towards with this fantastical action-adventure tale of a writer's struggle to overcome creative drought: Alan's wife goes missing and Bright Falls' wraith-like inhabitants come after him, enacting scenes from an unnerving manuscript he doesn't remember writing.

Not only have they crammed the game full of references to tropes of film's horror and thriller genres (an axe plunging through a door, swarms of antagonistic birds), but there are more conventional nods to accepted pop-culture storytelling mechanisms. This initial release is split up into episodes, and, in keeping with TV series norms, bookended by recaps and previews that whet the appetite without spoiling it.

Five years of fan (and critic) excitement can make it somewhat difficult to judge a game on its merits at the time of release, with such a froth of excitement having built up around it.

Nevertheless, not only the popular IGN but also C&VG and Destructoid awarded Alan Wake glowing 9/10 review scores. Internet humor site The Escapist gave it full marks, and while some other outlets such as Eurogamer and GamesTM were more measured in their approach, it looks like Alan Wake presents a decent 15 hours of entertainment - and that's before further episodes are released.

Tech analysis firm Digital Foundry took apart the game and was particularly impressed by some shrewd coding decisions on Remedy's behalf. The importance of this is not just that the game looks good, but also that it should be very easy for extra episodes to be added on when they're good and ready.

Perhaps most importantly, the efforts plunged into Wake's immersive storyline bode well for video gaming in general, as it moves ever more from niche interest to an accepted mainstream pastime.

Game information
Title: Alan Wake
Platform: Xbox 360
Release dates: North America, May 18. Europe, May 14. Australia, May 20. Japan, May 27.
Age Rating: Teen (North America) / 16+ (Europe) / M (Australia) / B (Japan)
Price: $59.99 / €59.99 / ~$95 AUD / ?7,140
Limited Edition: $79.99 / €69.99 / ~$115 AUD / ?9,600
Alan Wake mini-series hosted at Brightfalls.com
Launch trailer hosted on YouTube by RemedyGames

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