Saturday, October 25, 2014

Diary Entry #43: Budget Titles Are Better Than Alan Wake

             I recently picked up a 360, prompting me to pick up a copy of Alan Wake. It's one of 2010's most revered games and one of three 360 exclusives that deserve my time. The only problem: it sucks.

             Called a narrative triumph by many, Alan Wake's storyline is incredibly threadbare. The game is broken into six "episodes", and any interesting story content is featured at the beginning and end of each portion. Most mid-episode cutscenes lead to absolutely nothing except more woods to run through.

             If Alan Wake teaches me anything, it's that wooded areas always feature nice little hallway like trails. Final Fantasy XIII has a similar walk-down-the-obvious-path setup, although the story tries to compensate for it somewhat. The characters in that game are running through "the tube", a long path filled with random robots and soldiers that's supposed to eventually lead to an escape from the city. Alan Wake's tube is absolutely soulless and inexplicable, forcing the player to wander in circles until Alan makes it to a mundane locale. Never in my gaming life have I ever thought I'd run straightforward for twenty minutes killing anything in sight for the express purpose of reaching a gas station, unless it was a zombie-free outpost or something. In Alan Wake, it's just a bright spot where you finally get to end the awful combat sections.

             Every enemy is at first totally indestructible due to the dark aura that surrounds them. Shining a flashlight at these monsters dispels the darkness, and after they've turned normal, it's all Resident Evil clonery: dump as many bullets into them as possible and hope for the best. In what appears to be a cost-cutting measure, the woods are filled with the same three enemies for the entire game: a gardner guy who slices at you with a little sickle, a small lumberjack that throws axes, and a big lumberjack who takes more bullets. It never gets more complicated than that, and even while I was playing on the hardest difficulty setting, the only thing that killed me was my apathy towards the games dull combat.

             The Heavy Rain-esque exploration sequences are probably the most interesting aspect of the game, but they only represent about twenty minutes of the games six or seven hour playtime. You'd better really like shooting stuff with flashlights and guns, because there's really nothing else going on.

             For a game about an author, it isn't particularly well-written. Alan Wake's scattered pages from his novel, which function as both a throwback to the journal entries from Resident Evil and a way to totally give away what will happen next in the story, is beyond hammy. The six featured characters are lifeless. Alan himself bitches about whatever for most of the game because he's deep, the FBI agent trailing him is a pissed off veteran with a chip on his shoulder, his manager is fat and nerdy, etc. It's the same as any other blockbuster-media influenced game like Heavy Rain, appealing to the players sense of stereotypes over anything else.

             I feel like Alan Wake is best compared to another 2010 title with a similar Twin Peaks influence: Deadly Premonition. Many people believe Deadly Premonition's story is its strongest suit, and while it certainly has the most colorful, divergent, and thought-provoking narrative since D2, the gameplay is really what shines through. A fractured mix of a J-Adventure, Grand Theft Auto, and Resident Evil 4, there are so many disparate ideas that end up working well.

             Like Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition's combat is easily it's lowest point, but half the game or more is dedicated to wacky cutscenes, side-quests, and mini-games. Even then, at least I can blow people's heads off in Deadly Premonition. In this day and age, if shooting a baddie in the head does as much damage as shooting them in the foot, your third-person shooter is lacking something.

             I'm not sure why, but I also keep comparing Alan Wake and Cursed Mountain, a budget Wii and PC survival horror game that came out a year earlier. Like Alan Wake, enemies are not easily killed at first, but Cursed Mountain uses a pretty novel mechanic to pass this: players must use their "third eye", an otherworldly power that allows you to slip into the realm of the dead and shoot awesome projectiles at baddies. Unlike Alan Wake, the games puzzles actual have more depth than flip-a-switch-after-wading-through-ten-baddies type objectives. Additionally, the Himalayan setting of Cursed Mountain is a great idea, recalling the snowy horrors of great films like The Thing, The Shining, and Silent Night, Deadly Night.

             The 360 is part of a larger goal of mine to collect more and more gaming stuff to eventually open a store. I'll go into more detail about this as details become clearer, but I'd say I'm off to a good start. I definitely need more 360 and NES games. I'm not clear on how many people actually take DS collecting seriously, especially since I always just see tons and tons of them sitting around unsold at GameStop, so I'm not too worried about accumulating that stock.

             Current games to play: Final Fantasy XII, Deadly Premonition (again), Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Yakuza: Dead Souls, and Pixel Pirates.