Alan Wake is the story of a popular author suffering from a long stretch of writer's block. On the advice of his wife, Alice, and his publisher and best friend Barry, the couple retire to the remote mountain town of Bright Falls for a much needed rest. In the hopes of spurring Alan's inspiration, Alice has brought his typewriter and secretly prearranged for some unusual therapy with a renowned psychiatrist named Dr. Hartman.
Once arriving in town, Alan goes to the local diner to pick up a map and the key to their rented cabin. Mistaking a strange woman for the landlord, she gives him a key that he will later discover belongs to a cabin on an island that sank years ago. Inexplicably, this cabin appears as if perfectly normal to the unsuspecting couple, but it is far from it.
Alice is abnormally afraid of the dark and must have a light on at all times and so, as darkness falls, Alan goes outside to attend to the generator. Not long after, he hears Alice screaming and runs back to the cabin only in time to see her fall from the deck into the lake. Diving in after her, he searches but cannot find her and eventually blacks out. One week later, he regains consciousness after driving his car off the road, but he has no memory of how he arrived here, nor of that lost week. However, Alan has reason to believe that Alice is still alive. Some unknown person is claiming to have kidnapped his wife and is demanding his latest manuscript as the ransom. The problem is that there is no latest manuscript, or so Alan believes. However, during the game he will keep coming across collectible pages that he has apparently written, but doesn't recall. What is written on these is a forecast of what is being played out in real time as if he knew beforehand what would happen. At a certain point, Alan's publisher Barry, will join him in the search as well as a local cop named Sarah.
For some reason this game initially gave me the creeps, but not in an enjoyably creepy way, if you know what I mean. There's something about people coming at you with sharp scythes or chainsaws that's a little too close to reality. The theme of the game is darkness versus light and Alan's main adversaries are the Taken, which feed on the darkness but dissolve in the light. As such, the flashlight acts as your prominent weapon as this darkness which possesses the Taken must be burned away first before traditional weapons can have any effect.
The game is very hard and weighted heavily in favour of the AI. The flashlight needs batteries and the guns need ammo, which are in short supply. But worse is the constant need to reload both as they get used up very fast. You should not hold down the power button, but tap it in short bursts to conserve juice, which will regenerate if given time. The whole operation presents a bit of a problem as the process is slow and the Taken are fast and tend to swarm you from all sides. If they get close to you, you're pretty much dead. You find yourself trying to reload the gun, install a battery in the flashlight, move and dodge all at the same time. That's too many simultaneous keys, especially as you need to actually hold down some of them as opposed to just tapping them. It did take a lot of experimentation to find the most practical key bindings. Usually, the multiple Taken, which are hard to kill, take several reloads of both the flashlight and gun in order to dispense them. They also move considerably faster and Alan can't sprint for long and not at all if using a flare. However, there are some explosive objects you can shoot for splash damage and after burning off the dark, head shots will kill them faster. Sometimes the best option is to just run and get to the light any way possible where checkpoints saves are given. The combat definitely takes some time to get used to, especially with the odd over-the-shoulder camera angle, which has an option for left or right.
The game has some collectibles which include manuscript pages, coffee thermoses, TV's and radios to listen to, can pyramids to knock over, signs to read, and supply chests.
I didn't start to really enjoy this game till roughly half-way through, but then I hit a snag at the garden gate. While Barry tries to get the gate unlocked, Alan is swarmed by the Taken. After many attempts, I had to replay part of the game to ensure that I had enough supply of ammo, batteries and in particular, the right number of flares to get through it. However, this was the only real game stopping moment where you couldn't win unless done in this manner. I found the control keys sometimes unresponsive in a timely manner, but since my good keyboard died and I was using a crappy one, I don't know for sure if this response time was a game or a keyboard problem.
The story is interesting, the concept quite unique, and the visuals in this game are fairly good. I also had the bonus of no real performance issues. How much you might like Alan Wake may get down to how well you can cope with frustration. As I said, this game is challenging with Alan being handicapped in many ways. I played on normal and died often, so you might want to play on easy the first time around till you get a feel for it.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is quite different in game style. It's much more of a shooter with fast gun reload, battery install and pretty much unlimited ammo. It has a very Twilight Zone and Groundhog Day feel about it. Although you must replay all of the same areas several times, each time is slightly different and unlocks new manuscript pages. Enemies also become more numerous. The only thing I could offer any complaints about was that the Doppelganger TV sequences are bit too long. Other than that, the combat is more balanced between Alan and the Taken and I quite enjoyed it as I'm a fan of shooters.UPDATE May 15, 2017: Due to the expiration of song licenses, Alan Wake is no longer available for sale. However, If you already own the game, you will still be able to play it. Alan Wake's American Nightmare is still available as it falls under a different license.