GameZone's 31 Games of Halloween 2013: Alan Wake

Alan Wake Screenshot - 1155248

Darkness can be pretty damn terrifying. Not knowing what's around — or worse, knowing that something's around you and you have no idea what it is — can totally mess with your nerves. In Alan Wake, darkness is a major component, and whether you're afraid of the dark or not, you always have to be wary of what may be lurking in the shadows. This time on GameZone's 31 Games of Halloween, we're visiting the gloomy town of Bright Falls, where, despite its cheery name, darkness pervades and light is but a faint glimmer.

If you're too afraid of the dark and prefer zombies, though, be sure to check out our look at Dead Island, which also happens to be a fine pick for the Halloween month.

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Why it stands out

Alan Wake garnered a weird reputation for being in development for quite a long time. Announced at E3 2005, it would be another five years before the game actually launched. In that time, it went from a multiplatform title to an Xbox 360 exclusive. Two years after that, though, the game was also released on the PC.  When Alan Wake was first announced, it marked a potential turning point for Max Payne and Max Payne 2 developer Remedy. This time around, the studio was trading hard-boiled action for horror fiction, and it was definitely an intriguing prospect.

Thankfully, now that plenty of people have played Alan Wake, the game has proven to be more than just an interesting idea. While there's lots of third-person action to engage in, the lack of lighting in your surroundings is a major component. The town of Bright Falls is drenched in darkness, causing you to explore a land shrouded in mystery, all the while blindly moving around in search of whatever light source you can get your hands on. Sometimes you can use a flashlight or flare gun, while other moments force you to move around in search of fixed light sources.

It's the moodiness of Alan Wake that really helps it stand out. The constant darkness creates a sullen backdrop for what slowly becomes a more surreal adventure. The titular horror fiction author is in a nightmare world that becomes increasingly more terrifying. You never really know what the heck is going on, but eventually, the game feeds you little revelations that may shock you.

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Is it scary?

If the idea of being stuck in the dark with no control over what's happening scares you, chances are you'll find Alan Wake to be quite the creepy experience. That said, even people who aren't afraid of the dark are bound to enjoy the eerie setting and nightmarish themes of this game. Its ambiance is damn near perfect, and the forest setting where the game takes place is an incredible backdrop for all manner of wickedly terrorizing exploits.

Of course, even if it doesn't outright scare you, Alan Wake is sure to make you tense a lot of the time. The shadowy enemies you encounter can't stand the light, so it's important to let loose with a bit of brightness. Still, what about those moments when you don't have a light source on you? What do you do then? Common sense would dictate that you run, but how do you navigate in the dark in the middle of the woods? Once again, the opacity and setting on hand here take over and create this amazing tension that really helps make the experience remarkably memorable.

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Why play it on Halloween?

Alan Wake successfully marries action and shooting with environment and tone. The actual gameplay offered here consists largely of third-person action tropes, and that's perfectly fine, because the ominous setting gives you an immense sense of fear. Perhaps the game won't exactly scare you, but even then, you'll be sucked into its world, and you'll soon realize that you're just as lost in it as Wake himself. As the player, you're right there with the protagonist, getting deeper into the surreal town of Bright Falls, and you never know what's next.

With every step you take, you lose touch with reality, but you also discover something about that fading reality that maybe you didn't want to know. In that sense, Alan Wake is both completely mesmerizing and absolutely horrific.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

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