Alan Wake – Children of the Elder God
by Diego Beltrami
Alan Wake is third person shooter disguised as a horror story, heavily inspired by the likes of Stephen King, Twin Peaks and all sort of pulp horror stories.
The game has you travel through forests and mostly desolated places being chased by shadow people whom can only be defeated by shining light on them first to remove the darkness that protects them from harm.
There is an interesting moment during the latter part of the game, where you go to explore the home of a group of former rockstars who have a giant rock stage built in their farm.
It’s a ridiculous setting, and the setpiece for a wave survival moment, where you stand in the stage while rock music roars from the speakers and light plays a show along the fireworks and the occasional lighting strike. It’s meant to be a power trip in a game that’s about feeling weak, about terror. It a reversal of roles of some sort. During all of the game you’re the one being chased, the one that’s at a disadvantage. In this moment Alan says, this is enough. Here we make a stand. And the game gives him the tools to do it. A lot of guns, lights and resources to have the upper hand in the combat to come.
What strikes me out of that particular moment is that it actually works despite being completely out of place. Not only in setting (a rock stage in the middle of a farm in a middle of nowhere town) but also in approach to the genre, a power trip in a horror game? And while mechanically it doesn’t do anything different from any other wave survival setpiece of the game, how the whole event is framed is different. This should be completely immersion breaking but somehow it works. Maybe because after all the weirdness you have been exposed during the game a giant rock stage doesn’t feel so out place as it should and maybe it’s because the game needed a moment where the rules are broken, where the player feels in control, even if it’s just for a little while, to put things in perspective to avoid desensitizing the player to the horror or just to give them some relief after hours of being on the run.
In the end it’s a liberating moment for the player. And the game makes the most of it in terms of spectacle. It’s bizarre in a good way and maybe that’s why it fits.
It’s certainly a defining moment in the game, that’s only overshadowed by some of the DLC levels that takes place in Alan’s head and make better use of the surrealism of the concept behind the game. A surrealism that’s present in the stage fight but the DLC takes it a step further and constructs impossibilities to inhabit which makes for a much more interesting level design.
Still, the stage fight, I think, is a good example of how breaking your own rules for a little while can help put things in perspective for the player and spice the game up, even if the basic underlayer of the game remains the same.
Maybe Alan Wake would’ve been a better game if it tried more of these bizarre situations and embraced its weird nature like sometimes it does with its Twilight Zone lookalike TV shows, Barry’s comic relief and several other moments during the game. Right now it stays in a middle position trying to maintain a façade of seriousness in its narrative while exploring this pulp ideas for a few moments. Perhaps with more constructions like these and less monotonous forests the complain about making it an open world wouldn’t have popped up so often. Well, that and also actually having been though as an open world game at first kinda had an influence in that I guess.
Anyway, it might have been more interesting that way, It could also have been a terrible mess. So I don’t blame Remedy for sticking to this vision.
I hope American Nightmare goes to stranger places, as the DLC proved, Alan Wake can shine when the weirdness and bizarre of horror are aplenty.