Last year, one of the best video game stories I have ever seen was released and quickly died. Alan Wake developer Remedy made the incredibly poor decision to release their game on the same day that Rockstar Games released one of the biggest selling games of the year, Red Dead Redemption, and at sixty buck a pop, most people just buy one game at a time.
Alan Wake is an Xbox exclusive action game that feels more like Twin Peaks than Gears of War. This is no accident, as Twin Peaks was cited as an inspiration for the game. Another clear inspiration is much of the early work of Stephen King. The character, Alan Wake is a successful thriller writer, more Castle than King, suffering from writer’s block, which is the worst thing ever (ed. We know. We’ve been waiting a year for this review). He and his wife, Alice, go on a lovely vacation to clear his head. But things go predictably, and horrifyingly wrong.
Almost immediately, Alice goes missing and Alan wakes up a week later with no memory of the time. Things get weird from there. He finds pages from a manuscript he wrote during that missing week. The story, they tell is the one you are playing. Before long, Wake is attacked by creatures called the Taken, locals who have been consumed by some sort of darkness (ed. I believe in a thing called love, just listen to the rhythm of my heart). These guys are the perfect way to transition to the gameplay, as I don’t want to get too far into the story, which is one of the best I have seen in a game, or any other medium.
Alan Wake is an action game with a unique twist. While you find a pistol fairly early in the game, your strongest weapon is light. When confronted with several Taken, you must first knock the shadows off them with your flashlight. After that, they are relatively weak and can be quickly finished off with the pistol. The use of light as a weapon elevates some seemingly innocuous tools to implements of mass destruction. A flash bang becomes a room clearing grenade, and a flare gun can just straight-up murder a group of these monsters at once. Now, while every bit of the action in this game is incredibly fun and well-constructed, the real star of the show is the story.
I am reluctant to share any more details, but the story, which is told in six episodes, roughly an hour and a half long, is spectacular. The episodes, each beginning with a “Previously on…” and ending with a cliffhanger, would have made a very well received HBO miniseries, but instead, you get to play it.
The atmosphere in the game is incredible. Alan Wake reminds you that there is nothing scarier than being alone in the woods at night. The thing that this game brings more than anything is a sense of dread. The two thoughts that competed in my head were “What the hell?” and “I don’t want to go into the woods.”
I have been putting off this part because I think it is the least important part of the game, but it should be mentioned. The facial animation is not very good. In a story driven game, to have the story elements weakened by poor animation is a bit of a problem, but it is something that stops being a problem pretty quickly. I tried to look at the character’s eyes, and put on the subtitles. Just think of it in the same way you think of the terrible rubber monsters in earlier Doctor Who. It could be better, but it can only affect the game if you let it.
Ultimately, in a year that saw the release of Halo: Reach, Mass Effect 2, the latest Assassin’s Creed, another freaking Call of Duty, and the aforementioned Red Dead Redemption, Alan Wake was one of the best games of that year, and is worth playing. It is available for download on the Xbox here.
Finally, because it is not a review without a number, I give it five terrifying fever-dreams out of five.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Monday, August 23, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Yesterday, I caught a matinee for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I need to see it again before I can write anything approaching a review, but I loved it. The things that had me worried, like shortening the 6 graphic novels to one film and Michael Cera, worked well. the things that had me excited, like Edgar Wright and kung fu, blew my mind. Also, and this came as a complete surprise to me, but Kieran Culkin really stole the show.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
So at this point, I am assuming that my sporadic (at best) updates have alienated both of my followers. Still, I will attempt to get back on the horse, or blog. Anyway, the metaphor breaks down, but I will attempt to update more frequently. At least five times a week. Starting with the week I spend in Sunny California, attending the San Diego Comic-Con. Or as I like to call it Comic-Con. So now, without further ado, here is a picture of a dude cosplaying as Samus, from Metroid.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Today marks the last day before the release of Splinter Cell: Conviction, and is, therefore, a time for celebration. To say that I am excited by this game would be a drastic understatement. The single player looks like it might redefine stealth games, by rewarding badassitude. The cooperative multiplayer modes look to extend the game and reward teamwork. Let me close this post with a video and some links for the Xbox owners out there.
Download the Xbox demo here.
Download the Xbox demo here.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Friday, January 1, 2010
So I am sitting down to write a review of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and I don't know where to begin. I could start with the script (fairly strong, but not very Doyle-ish) or the acting (almost universally great), but I think I will begin with Ritchie's direction.
From the beginning, the direction was impressive. Ritchie managed to show Holmes's intellect and keen faculties of observation in a unique and economical manner. The audience is occasionally allowed to see Holmes's thought process in the moment, but generally, as with Doyle's stories, the explanation comes later.
One of the things that Ritchie is known for is his too-cool-for-school camera work and flashy editing. Both of these were toned down a lot. In fact, the direction never seemed to upstage the story or characters, which, as far as I can tell, is a first for Ritchie. I should confess that I have only seen Lock Stock, Snatch, and the horrible Revolver. In this movie Ritchie adapting himself admirably to the story he is telling, rather than adapting the story to his style. So overall, high marks for direction.
The script is one of the weakest parts of this movie. While I don't mean to suggest that it is a bad script, it does fall into two of the traps that historical action-y movies generally succumb to. First, and somewhat surprising, is the comically strong female character. Now, before you get angry and start calling me sexist, read the next four sentences. I loved the character of Irene Adler in Doyle's story "A Scandal in Bohemia." In that story, she beats Holmes at his own game. What I object to is the modern trend of assuming that any woman who is going to be a strong character in an action-y movie must either be a thief or an assassin or something, and must be able to kick as much ass as any man can. This is the problem with the film's version of Adler. I think that the most compelling thing about the character of Irene Adler was her ability to match Holmes on a mental level. Doyle's version of the character was never a badass tough guy, but she was much more interesting.
The other problem the script had was the one that everyone knew it would have. Unnecessary and unexplainable anachronism. There was enough interesting and bizarre technology in the late-middle nineteenth century that we don't need to have the characters invent tazers. I realize that this is a pointless request, but hey Hollywood, if you're listening, STOP IT! There is no need to pull this crap, and it never adds anything to the movie. I am always reminded of the nadir (it's a real word, look it up) of the historical action-y movie genre "The League of Extraordinary Goddamn What a Terrible Movie," when captain Nemo reveals his eight wheeled "Auto-Mobile."
Side note: Sorry that the last two paragraphs resemble a loosely organized rant about what is lazy and stupid in the movies, but the truth is that they were a loosely organized rant about what is lazy and stupid in the movies.
Back to the script. Other than the odd direction that the script took with Irene Adler and the stupid f--I promised I would stop rant--ing anachronisms, the script is strong. The mystery was well constructed and, despite my fears, actually something of a mystery. ish. The characters were well constructed and generally at least solidly two dimensional. Holmes, Watson, and the aforementioned Adler were fairly complex. Oddly enough, the writers abandoned Holmes's weakness for cocaine, legal at the time, for other ill-defined but presumably more "family-friendly" drugs. In my opinion, this doesn't reveal the weakness that Holmes tries so hard to conceal and overcome, so much as it makes him look like a victorian Hunter S. Thompson.
Which somehow brings me to the acting. Robert Downey Jr. is unsurprisingly great as Sherlock Holmes. He is at times (a phrase that seems only to pop up in reviews, I've noticed) hilarious and heartbreaking. The objective seemed to have been to humanize the man, and he could not have been better cast. Jude Law was marvelous as Watson, bringing a complexity and humor to the character I was most afraid would be sidelined. Watson is truly this film's heart (for the record, it caused me physical pain to type that). Rachael McAdams is good as Irene Adler, the love interest, but her character is too obviously Irene Adler, the love interest. A real standout for me was Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood, the villain. He brought a real air of menace to the character and occasionally threatened to steal the show.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, despite a few nagging details, but, and this is important, I am only a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories. I have no idea how a fanatic might feel about this movie. It is an unapologetically modern take on the character, which is most likely a smart choice in terms of box office revenue. Fortunately, the movie doesn't suffer for it. In many ways, it is reminiscent of this summer's Star Trek. There are one or two stumbles, but the movie should appeal to newcomers and, hopefully, die-hard fans of the original stories.