Tuesday, 14 September 2010

"So why don't people like Alan Wake?"

Before i put up my review for Alan Wake i thought this was note worthy to write about.

I had been following Alan Wake for about 6 or 7 year maybe and as such had a lot of prior knowledge about it before it's release. However many of my friends had barely heard of it before it came out earlier this year, and many of them had been put off by the lukewarm reviews.
Knowing these type of videogames were my forte' and i usually end up being the go to guy when they have a question like "what does X mean in silent hill?" or "how do i do blank in resident evil?" they all approached me with the same question: "What's the deal with Alan Wake's reviews?"
See anyone can tell paid reviews are... i don't want to say crooked, just skewed. for example Halo Reach is getting 10/10 scores, but still has plenty of criticisms in the reviews. That doesn't make sense. giving something an absolute perfect score. saying it cannot be any better and then listing off its faults? its why i dislike numerical grading. Grading is subjective and articles should impress an opinion of the experience, nothing more- but thats a debate for another time. Point being, people are giving an impression of the experience. A game could be excelling in all its points from a technical standpoint and yet still the review is always the written expression of the reviewers experience.
Which in the case of Alan Wake will often be marred by a pre-associated stigma in my opinion.

To be blunt, even with little knowledge of the games development, Alan Wake is an extreme case of 'what might have been'.

Let's go back to the beginning shall we?, It's the early 2000's and Remedy entertainment, creators of the critically acclaimed Max Payne series announce they are working on a 'dark survival horror game' according to a small blurb in the Official xbox 360 magazine. This naturally piqued my interest, i believe my ravings at the time involved "its my favorite genre made by the developers of my favorite shooter!" or something along those lines.
Keeping my ear to the ground i searched out what little tidbits of information i could find. This would be a long wait however as it would be nearly 7 years before i got my hands on the finished product (In which time i started attending and successfully graduated from college AND university), the product i eventually got was not what i had been so eagerly awaiting however.

The earliest premise i can recall- and forgive any possible inaccuracies, as i've said its been a long time since i first heard about the original version of Alan Wake,- was a 'dark survival horror-thriller' about a writer named Alan wake, a insomniac who's wife had left him and with it he lost his muse and his writing ability. She had recently disappeared at the start of the original story, Alan alone headed to the washington state costal town of Bright Falls for some much needed R&R. He beings writing a book filled with and fueled by his nightmares. However Alan soon finds out that when the sun goes down the idyllic town changes, his nightmares come to life and a group of men in yellow raincoats are hunting him down. 'They come for him at night, and light is his only ally'. The tone was different, This wasn't a gritty episodic thriller, the music was different the world seemed different to the finished product. Even Alan himself was different. Hell the very type of game was different.

What we were shown was a free roam sandbox game unlike anything that had came before it and in all honesty still has yet to appear at all. By day alan explored the countryside, the towns and farms and locale's of bright falls in search of clues as to what was going on. By night the world turned against him and Alan needed sleep. Using Coffee thermos' scattered around the world to stay 'A.Wake' (ba-dum-pish) he could find a safe haven, somewhere either secure or a place he could rig with traps to ward off the light sensitive 'dark townspeople' that were hunting him down when the sun fell. One early example being using a tripwire and a floodlight to light up a narrow hallway if the door to it was broken down.
Whilst this may seem vaguely reminiscent of the likes of dead rising, albeit on a much larger scale, back then this was a completely new thing. As the game progressed we saw new stuff being demo'ed to show how far this amazing game was coming along. There was nothing but good praise for it "it represents everything exciting about the future of video games" "most eye catching game of e3" "i literally could find no better looking game" ect, ect.
The last big thing was this tech demo for intel's at the time most impressive core for gaming rigs which at the time was jaw dropping.

Then? nothing. The game fell completely off the radar. spending a few years considered as vaporware that would remain only a legend that never saw the light of day. Which in a way wasn't too far from the truth. Most people forgot about the game and those that didn't only looked at it fondly as something that 'would have been cool' and just dismiss it for the next big game that was soon to come out. Almost to the point where Alan Wake was considered this generations Duke Nukem forever ,which at the time of writing i can't help but grin to myself about that.
Then finally three years ago Kotaku announces that Remedy has confirmed the project to still be in production but it has been "reworked" and the team are 'taking a break' to revitalize themselves for the "new" Alan Wake, leaving many wondering just what happened to the old one they spent the last four years working on.

Then there were rumors of a windows vista exclusivity which in fact would later turn out to be completely unfounded. Not only that but the game was not coming to pc at all, and was in fact an xbox 360 exclusive game now.
Which, needless to say, annoyed many and the next announcement annoyed as many, if not more and left many confused. The game we would be getting was not what we had been waiting for. We would now be getting a story heavy, strictly directed episodic game. Basically the final version you have probably all played by now.
The official line was that sandbox just didn't work to direct a heavy story which isn't strictly accurate for anyone who has played the likes of Grand Theft Auto 4 or red dead redemption- a game that was in development for 5 years and released on the same day as Alan Wake- and that the game was rebuilt from the ground up as a "dvd boxset of a tv series" in terms of structure style instead. Something tried a while back by Alone in the Dark and wasn't particularly well liked for the choice then.

Of course there were rumors as to why this stark change was made. Some said money, Many blamed Microsoft. The most common was the crisis of the time forcing many studios to close, Rare being the poster-child example at the time, and that making the game was simply proving too complex and expensive and so to save the project they reworked it into a smaller game the console could handle. With lead by the hand directed pathways between set pieces, isolated by steep drops or high fences, to keep the player on track through small cross sections cut out of the ghost of the former, much grander world.

-and therein lies the problem.

What we see is good, great even (but wait for my review for that), however this is always damped by the ever constant looming, weighty shadow of what might have been this sense that no matter how good the product we receive is it still remains only a hurried cobbling together of parts from a far grander work to save a project from failure and that remedy had no problem releasing a neutered bare basics pale imitation of the original, eagerly demanded game was proposed to be.
Now this does not mean the game we have is bad. at all. It does mean however that if the reviewer has been following the products creation for its entirety there opinion can be very harshly skewed by said feelings of being handed a half hearted, uninspired product only put out to recompense the developers on there losses.

At the end of the day though it is just as likely as any negative possibility that one day the developers just went "you know what, this isn't working out as what we want" and took it back to the drawing board. Which is absolutely okay and there is nothing wrong with such a decision. The most famous of which being the complete redesign of resident evil 2 long into its development cycle- and the series' 4th installment too now that i think about it.

Yet no matter how great resident evil 2 was, we always want to see the "resident evil 1.5" that might have been (which is actually possible- more on that at another time), the scrapped version could be absolutely terrible, full of ideas that seem great but utterly fail. However the fact that there is a version we will never play has an air of mystery and revealing of the 'man behind the curtain' to it in equal measure.
We feel something is kept from us that may be just as good, if not better, than what we paid our hard earned money for. At the same time it just shows the developers are more than a logo on the case. They are human. They can make mistakes, bad design choices and can also have the good fortune to perceive these problems and take more time out of there own lives to improve on it till they feel it is ready for you, the audience. Still this ability to fail can inspire a lack of confidence and make us more, if not overly, critical of faults in the final product and judge it on "what could have been" instead of the faults and merits of the stand alone shipped retail product which is all a review should ever do. Honestly i think there are very few reviews for it that don't have a little bit of that sentiment to the final opinions on the critiques of the game and i have had to think really hard before finishing my review if i am letting my prior knowledge alter my opinion. At the end of the day i managed to write a review for Alan Wake, the game remedy worked damn hard for you on for a long, long time and write about the game, without wondering about the game we could have gotten.

For at the end of the day this is what Remedy had the pride to put there name on and ship with confidence that it represents the best they could do with the project. Sure things could have been better if things had been done a different way, if it stayed on the pc as well. At the end of the day this is what we received and can only judge it as such. Still i'm sure for many reviewers this has proved hard to do and i don't blame them. I don't think it means you should dismiss the reviews, i just hope i made some sense with this lengthy diatribe and you see what i mean or at least made some sense out of this wall of text in which i have tried to express my opinion some of the overly, an seemingly unneeded, harsh criticisms you have seen and emailed me about.

-and most of all, as usual, thanks for taking the time to read and i hope you found it interesting as always.


Anonymous said...

As someone to whom Alan Wake was only a name bandied about till this last Spring, I will say this was remarkably informative. It's also probably a text book cautionary tale as to why follow games too closely & too hopefully is a recipe for disappointment.

In any event, it was a very good and full look back on something I knew nothing about, but has wider implications to understanding the game industry.

Thank you!

LizLadyNinja said...

I didn't think Alan Wake was a bad game. I loved it. I loved all the references to horror that the game made. I do wish that it had been a little bit longer, but it can't be helped.

I specifically loved the atmosphere that this game created. I don't really understand why people don't like this game. But I'm in the overwhelming majority of people who truly loved the game.

I remember when I first heard about it. And yeah, it didn't live up to the hype we were first told about, but 7 years went by. That has to be taken into account. I'm not surprised that what we received wasn't what we originally thought we were going to get. But I think we still received a solid game.

I eagerly await a sequel!

vivian said...

nice sharing.and good job.thanks my dear friend.i will come next time.thanks.

Anonymous said...

I knew it! Back when I heard about this game I do recall it being advertised as free-roaming the city by day and trying to survive at night. Then I didn't hear about it for a long time. I picked the Limited Collectors Edition of Alan Wake up the other day out of the pre-owned "marked down cheap" games at GameStop and found the game I played to be amazing! But it would be cool to one day play a version like they showed before.