by / May 11th, 2010 /

Alan Wake – X360

Creepy in all the right places, Alan Wake is a supernatural chiller that combines action and suspense in equal measure for a nightmarish battle with some seriously nasty backwoodsmen in the American northwest.

When best-selling horror writer Alan Wake and his wife Alice go on holiday to the would-be idyllic town of Bright Falls, things soon start to go bump in the night. A full-blown row over Wake’s writer’s block leads him to storm off into the dark, only to charge back in when he hears Alice’s screams, but too late: she’s already disappeared. Next thing Wake knows, seven days have passed and he comes to in a crashed car in the middle of nowheresville, with only shadowy axe-murderers for company. When Wake starts finding oddly prescient pages from a manuscript he doesn’t remember writing, it’s clear that things are definitely taking a turn for the weird.

Alan Wake is part Twin Peaks, part Resident Evil, as our hero sets out to get to the bottom of his wife’s disappearance, meeting ever-more wacky residents, from septuagenarian former heavy metal twins to creepy doctors, trigger-happy FBI agents and mouthy radio hosts. There’s also a veritable army of bad guys to take down, which is where the game really becomes fun: all Wake’s enemies (The Taken) are consumed by a menacing darkness and to eliminate them, he must first illuminate them with a flashlight, burning the darkness out of them until they’re vulnerable, before blowing them away with either a revolver or shotgun. In later levels, Wake can drive any vehicle with its light on, thus allowing him to trap the shadowy natives in his headlights, before running them down.

While some levels see our hero teaming up with other NPCs, such as the local sheriff, for the most part you’ll find yourself clambering through heavy woodland and investigating supposedly empty buildings with just your flashlight, gun and wits against the darkness. Some parts of the game are genuinely disturbing, albeit without the heart-hammering fear of, say, Dead Space. The graphics too are impressive, but it’s the gripping plot, memorable characters (especially Wake’s motormouth literary agent), top voice-acting and most of all the cracking gameplay and truly satisfying combat that lift Alan Wake above the glut of psychological thrillers on the market.