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Alan Wake - The Writer DLC review

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Posted by: Brian Rowe

Review Rating 8.5 Great
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Alan Wake is still trapped in The Dark Place, and still wrestling to grasp the reigns of sanity in a realm where there seems to be none. As Wake narrates, “The environment grew wilder and stranger, like it wasn’t even bothering to pretend that things were normal.” The Bright Falls you knew is gone, and what remains is a fragile mockery, floating and twisting above an infinite chasm.

The Writer is so strikingly weird, not to mention ripe for metaphorical analysis, that it makes the seventh episode, The Signal, seem completely irrelevant. Newcomers to the series could easily skip The Signal without losing a beat in the story, and I am almost inclined to recommend doing so. Without a doubt, The Writer is the most powerful chapter in the Alan Wake saga.

Not a single moment or an inch of space is wasted in The Writer. Long sessions of trudging through the woods, broken up only by the hunt for collectibles and enemy ambushes, have been tightened down to the bare essentials. The environment has become more than a place to be traversed, and transformed into a tool for battle. Careful and clever destruction of words with the flashlight, as seen in The Signal and the end of Alan Wake, is absolutely vital to surviving against the hordes of the Dark Presence.

The landscape, or perhaps more appropriately, dreamscape, is among the most surreal in gaming, without ever crossing the line into cliché. You won’t find doorways that pass into the same room you exited, a la Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, or cheap scares from objects or creatures popping out of closets, a la most every other horror game. The Writer is unnerving because of how downright bizarre it can be. I loathe giving away any surprises, but I’m guessing you have never navigated a city as it rotates around like a ferris wheel.

I was suddenly overcome by the feeling that Wake’s mind wasn’t the only plaything in The Writer, but for more reasons than the odd sights within. As gamers, we have come to expect instant gratification for our efforts through unlockables, Achievements, and tidy conclusions wrapped in beautiful cutscenes. Alan Wake has been widely criticized for amateurish writing, an inconclusive ending, and the absurdity of Thomas Zane hovering about in a deep sea diving suit. Perhaps we were too busy nitpicking to see the larger picture.

This is potentially the final appearance of Wake, although Remedy has hinted at the possibility of a full sequel. It’s for that reason that I initially felt cheated upon completing The Writer. Where was my airtight ending with all the answers clearly spread before me? After many hours of mulling over the situation, I realized that all of the puzzle pieces have been laid out, but it’s up to us to put them together. I find it regrettably ironic that many of us can spend six years debating theories about LOST, and yet, we are hard-pressed to extend the same courtesy to the few hours of a video game.

The Writer is not the orderly conclusion that many gamers are hoping for, but that is precisely what makes it so potent. From dialogue to lighting and set-design, Remedy uses every tool at its disposal to craft a story that warrants analysis and argument on a scale that most developers can’t fathom. There have been a few bumps getting here, but The Writer caps off the experience to near-perfection.

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