I ♥ Alan Wake

L.A. Noire’s dick is like planet Earth right now, everybody’s on it.

Whilst playing it I was constantly reminded of Alan Wake. Alan Wake changed the way I viewed games and renewed a faith that games could (for perhaps the first time in three decades) be an art form, rather than an exploitative ooh-rah ‘Tin Can Alley’ on console. Alan Wake was critically well received, it settled at 83% on Metacritic (from 100 reviews), Alan Wake sold a little over 400,000 copies in EMEA, and a little over half a million in North America. Commercially, it was close to disastrous for a product that took five years to develop.

There is an Everything Must Go sale at the Alan Wake online store, prices have been slashed. It feels like a downbeat and deserted seaside town … the few tourists who used to visit have drifted away.

Time Magazine awarded Alan Wake the number 1 spot in their list of Videogames in 2010. Time’s list revealed a great deal about the state of games in 2010, as Angry Birds was Number 2. The juxtaposition of the sublime and the stunted, making the contrast all the more obvious. Alan Wake was a game, conceived half a decade before the casual T-Virus outbreak of iOS casual gaming, that transcended its period of development hell. The fact few games occupied the space in the interim illustrates the crisis in Western game development.

Alan Wake now finds itself reconciled to discount shelves and second-hand racks and the fate of the franchise hangs in the balance as Remedy haven’t (finally) confirmed publisher interest. In all honesty, Remedy should ask every Wake evangelist  for the money upfront and crowdsource the funding. I can wait another five years. It’s not an issue.

Fundamentally, Alan Wake and L.A Noire were cut from the same cloth. Only the context, setting and marketing are different. They both succeed as they are cast adrift in a sea of banality littered with detritus. Even their hackneyed tales feel fresh. Alan Wake works for a number of key reasons: the setting is familiar yet believable, the execution is capable and the tale being woven is compelling. But more than that, Wake feels much more than the three-dimensional digital marionette than he is. He doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ character, but he HAS character. Cole Phelps is the same. I’m not fooled into thinking they are ‘real’, but the fiction that surrounds them is enough to pull me with them, as the scripted events unfold. This is critical, as only they can you control them with the compassion that makes it engaging.

Wake and Phelps are both falling apart, through the errors and misjudgments of being human, and more especially being a man. Their self-serving desires and weaknesses provide  their undoing,  they move towards redemption with humility and an evaporation of their previous hubris. It’s character progression … without skilling up, getting XP or a bigger gun. A novelty in gaming,  accepted (and expected) in film and books.

When L.A Noire launched lackadaisical critics espoused how it represented a move toward cinematic gameplay experiences due to the facial animation. Although impressive, that’s just a light show, pandering to marketers who need a USP for their back of pack.

Gaming is a HD experience, that ordinarily eschews any widescreen sense of identity, place or passion.

As such its hollow. For a multi billion dollar industry it’s currently walking in the dead men’s shows of interactive entertainment. Alan Wake and L.A Noire and stark examples of the relative success (low and high) of an intelligent portrayal of the human condition. Wake’s fragility makes him the most compelling video game character of the past decade and an immediate favourite of awkward male cosplayers globally. I put myself firmly in that camp. I ♥  Alan Wake.


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