Alan Wake X10 Preview: A Glimpse of the Dark

At the close of the Alan Wake demo I saw, the screen finally revealed a release date for the long under development game: May 18th for North America. Better yet, the preceding half hour answered a number of questions about what to expect from the game. It also showed off a production that's seen a tremendous amount of attention. nope

It should; managing director Matias Myllyrinne of Remedy Entertainment opened by telling me that they've had the game playable from start to finish since last May. In the ensuing time they've been in a post-production mode very similar to what a feature film goes through. One of their central concerns in creating this combination of psychological thriller and action game has been getting the pacing just right. So they've played it over and over, and over some more to find just the right balance of doling out clues and story element alongside the action in the game.

Another important part of that balancing effort has tackled making the path through the game flexible to however the player wants to approach it. For those wanting to blast their way through the game, that meant refining the key pieces that had to be in there to maintain the game's psychological thriller style without slowing things down. At the other end of the spectrum, for those who explore every corner, the additional content still needs to maintain the momentum to move the story forward. BOOM video 4034

A sense of flow also carries over to the combat in the game. A dodge move that responds to timing and situation helps Alan keep up with the chaos of fights as he deals with everything coming at him out of the dark. Myllyrinne told me that the goal was to create combat that felt connected and looked cool without forcing players to have "octopus hands" all over the controls. To compliment this they've worked hard on a procedural camera control system that pans out to what he called a "predator view" to help players get a situational sense of awareness to encounters when enemies come from angles that would otherwise be unseen.

The signature shroud of darkness surrounding everything possessed by the dark entity uses one of the better special effects I've seen. It gives them a very ethereal appearance. Myllyrinne said that the art director modeled it on a drop of ink dispersing in water. I'd say he got pretty close. That figures into the combat, too, because Alan must use light to get that shroud off anything before he can damage it: flashlight, flare, or whatever he can improvise. As the darkness burns away it leaves a halo-like effect indicating their vulnerability. Without that, though, he can still use his weapons when surrounded in the heat of battle for their concussive force to gain some space. nope

Before the combat level, the demo started with a brief section from the beginning of the game when Alan and his wife arrive in Bright Falls for their vacation. This offered a chance to see the daylight side of the game which tends more to the exploratory side of the game. Alan's wife dropped him off at a diner to pick up the key for their cottage. Inside he encountered exactly the expected slightly bizarre characters: the green uniform clad sheriff who loves his coffee, an eccentric old-timer with an eye-patch who wants Alan to play something for him on the jukebox, and eventually, a mysterious veiled woman who hands-off the key. It was a brief glimpse but the cast and scene looked good and captured the David Lynch style to a T.

Balance was the theme of the presentation and the last piece Myllyrinne brought up was how they want to keep players on the edge throughout each episode and the game overall. To do this they go back and forth between the sane, safe world of the day and the dangerous, nightmarish night in each episode. The cool-off, letting players catch their breath, helps maintain the dramatic tension by giving a hint of some security and then snatching it away again.

They've definitely put in the time to think things through. I'm looking forward to finding out how well it's paid off when I play the game.

Alan Wake arrives on Xbox 360 come May 18. Though announced for PC and console in 2005, publisher Microsoft has onfirmed that the game will no longer be hitting PC.