Charting the origins of today’s Netflix-ification of society and asking: is Alan Wake responsible?
Poor Alan Wake. You’d think that, what with himself being a celebrated writer of fiction and all, he of all protagonists would be the first to realise that he’s actually at the centre of his own story. Here it takes the form of a missing person mystery, one where the once best-selling author is caught in a race against time to rescue his wife from the eerily spooky forces plaguing the fictional town of Bright Falls.
If this sounds like the makings of Netflix’s next hit series, that’s because these days it probably would be. 2019 marks my first time playing through Remedy’s first stab at episodic storytelling within a videogame, and experiencing it almost ten years later through a modern lens, I can’t help but appreciate the amount of bingeworthy material on offer here. Alan Wake functions perfectly fine as a third-person action-adventure, sure, but whereas many games circa 2010 made gameplay their focus, the emphasis on tone and narrative here is what I find gives me the motivation to venture into the dark in search of a loved one.
It helps that Alan Wake doesn’t tread lightly when alluding to its source inspirations. Bright Falls essentially acts as a dead ringer for Twin Peaks, Alan’s paranoid portrayal makes him a perfect palette swap for John Cusack’s character in 1408, and the supernatural plot feels like it could have been lifted from an X-Files episode. These are all good things, by the way, and the type of material I wish more videogame stories were willing to pay homage to. References may hit you with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, yet it’s done lovingly in a way any self-confessed fan of genre cinema will appreciate.
I went in expecting survival horror. But the deeper I got into Alan Wake,
“I can’t help but appreciate the amount of bingeworthy material on offer here”
the more it resembled that of an old ghost story. Alan’s primary means of fighting back against the hordes of dark apparitions is light. Armed with a flashlight and sidearm of choice, shining beams into the face of threats sees them cower back into the dark of the Washington forestry. And should bullets start running low, dashing for safety under the nearest lamp satisfies the need to catch a breath. It’s in moments like this where Alan Wake reinforces the idea of its hero as just your regular Joe, rather than a tough action hero.
Also solidifying this is the constant monologuing that punctuates Alan Wake’s long stretches of exploration, whereby voice actor Matthew Porretta hams it up just enough so that Alan remains earnest and never cheesy. Less forgivable, however, is the game’s hokey character models, which must have looked a bit iffy even in 2010. Cutscenes that seek to depict a serious tone kept pulling me out of the conspiracy, as janky animations see the game swerve into full B-movie shlock. They haven’t aged well today, but still they’re a testament to Remedy’s ambition.
Alan Wake’s moody atmosphere, unpredictable story and insistence in separating itself into six in-game episodes remains charming and admirable. And as we fast forward to today, where the demands of the streaming-obsessed generation are forcing creative talent to rethink their approach to storytelling, it’s hard to deny that Remedy was definitely onto something in this weird mish-mash of TV show and videogame.