Review: Alan Wake: The Writer

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Alan Wake is among my five favorite games released this year, and is also one of my favorite Xbox 360 games outright. But I must say that The Signal, the game’s first DLC special episode released over the summer, didn’t exactly blow me away. What was supposed to extend the storyline just wound up re-treading familiar locations around Bright Falls, focusing too much on the game’s combative elements, frustrating with jarring difficulty spikes compared to the main game, and generally failing to further develop the narrative in a truly meaningful way.

The Writer, the game’s second and final DLC episode available on the Xbox Live Marketplace starting today, still doesn’t provide a whole lot of closure (though the ending still manages to satisfy). In fact, it plays up the idea of a sequel stronger than ever. However, compared to The Signal, The Writer gets back to doing what Alan Wake does best: telling a great story and mixing in spine-tingling exploration and tense, cerebral combat scenarios in perfect amounts to keep you on your toes and looking over your shoulder.

Whereas The Signal quickly became an action game slog through familiar environments, The Writer feels just as fresh and spontaneous as every chapter in the main game. The Writer picks up right where the previous chapter left off, and within the span of two hours (it took me around an hour and 40 to 50 minutes to complete), you wander through Alan’s nightmares fighting to free him from The Dark Place before he goes completely insane.

Turns out, Alan’s imagination is pretty damn wacky, as many of the environments you find yourself in are surreal to the max. The level designs are even more memorable and “out there” than anything covered in the main storyline, and the imagery and symbolism contained within each environment is truly mesmerizing.

The “floating text” gameplay mechanic also returns after its brief appearance at the end of the main game and overused appearance in The Signal, and this time it is more artfully implemented into the flow of the adventure. Instead of lighting up floating words to spawn in gear or cause explosions (you still do, just not as much), you now use them in more of an adventure context, such as creating bridges and platforms leading to adjoining areas.

They are also used to spectacular effect in perhaps the chapter’s most thrilling moment, when you are running Alan up a winding mountainside path to reach the lighthouse. Huge boulders are lined up along the pathway blocking out the lighthouse’s rotating lamp beams and the shadowy enemies are constantly spawning in front of and behind you, and even though you can gun your way through, it pays to shine your flashlight on the boulders to crumble them and let the lighthouse wipe out the shadows in one blinding flash. One of the new Achievements actually rewards you for clearing this segment without firing a single gunshot.

Combined, The Signal and The Writer are superfluous extensions to a game that I felt was already as complete as it needed to be. But with a game as brilliant as Alan Wake, any excuse to dive back into its world should be jumped on. And even though The Writer isn’t the most substantial piece of DLC, for only 560 MS Points ($7) it absolutely deserves to be played.

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Pros:
+ Surreal level designs
+ Much improved balance and variety of gameplay
+ Compelling story extension with a satisfying climax, even with the ending blatantly setting up for a sequel
+ Fairly priced at 560 MS Points

Cons:
– Doesn’t provide any more closure than the original ending

Game Info:
Platform: Downloadable content for Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: 10/12/2010
Genre: Action/Horror
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!