Light is the key to survival in "Alan Wake."
Its presence gives you strength and weakens your foes. Its absence can be deadly.
It’s an interesting twist that increases the suspense and intensifies the combat in the T-rated psychological thriller developed for Microsoft Game Studios by Remedy Entertainment — the original "Max Payne" developers.
You play as the title character, a novelist whose wife disappears during a vacation to a quaint town nestled in the forests of Washington state. It’s your job to find your wife and figure out what’s up with all of the freaky happenings in Bright Falls.
The story line does a great job of building suspense and anticipation. The game feels like a combination of the TV shows "The Twilight Zone" and "Lost," with a little of the "Fear" video games thrown in — very surreal and creepy.
Along the way, you’ll spend a lot of time on the run, hurtling through dense woods and dilapidated buildings. These creepy environments heighten the sense of foreboding, but the game’s real power to build suspense comes from encounters with colorful locals and glimpses of mysterious manuscripts and TV broadcasts.
And the tension really escalates when the shadowy foes known as the Taken appear on the scene. These creatures — often armed with axes, sickles and chainsaws — draw their energy from the darkness. As a result, you need to weaken them by exposing them to light before they’re vulnerable to your attacks. You can shine a flashlight on them and then nail them with a pistol, rifle or shotgun. Or you can blast them with a flare gun or flash-bang grenade with very satisfying results.
As if ax-wielding specters aren’t enough, you’ll also face supernaturally powered objects — industrial and agricultural machinery being the most menacing. Dispelling their power requires a heavy dose of light — but that can be easier said than done amid a swarm of Taken.
The resulting combat mechanics — balancing a beam of light and a stream of bullets — make the game far more interesting than the typical shooter. And the controls are well laid out and responsive — at least most of the time. They can sometimes feel a bit clumsy if two or three of the Taken manage to get up close and personal at the same time.
The graphics are very good. The settings are definitely top-tier, with an abundance of detail and texture. The murky woods and crumbling buildings go a long way toward creating the game’s mood. The character depictions are good overall, but don’t reach the level of the environments. Movements are usually a bit wooden, and facial renderings are a bit uneven.
I have to admit that I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending, which is a bit surprising given the quality of the storytelling through most of the game. However, "Alan Wake" still offers a fun and fascinating trip into a new sort of twilight zone.
Platform: Xbox 360
On the Web: www.Xbox.com/AlanWake