If you haven't played Alan Wake yet, and you plan to, be warned: I'm about to shine a light on its finale AND PULL THE LEFT TRIGGER. (Which makes your beam really strong, and totally drains your flashlight's batteries.)
Actually, wait. Hold up. Don't go anywhere.
What I'm about to say probably won't do any damage to whatever enjoyment you'd glean from the game. Alan Wake's first few hours are without a doubt the best hours of the game--and are arguably the most interesting, genuinely unnerving hours of 2010 so far. And you can still experience those hours. Nothing I'm saying here can take those hours away from you.
My issue is with the left turn the game makes in its final hours, straight into a pile of horseshit.
Looking back, I could sort of feel the left turn coming, too. As I ran through the game--Pro Tip: Hold down the left-bumper and Alan Wake will run!--then, after very short distances, paused to double over and wheeze like a 19th century chimney sweep--Pro Tip: Writers are apparently in very bad shape!--I began to dread the Left Turn more than I dreaded the lumberjack shadow-zombies that live in the game's virtual woodlands.
Right from the start, Alan Wake continually doles out glimpse montages. Look, there's an old lady. There's my wife sinking to the bottom of a lake. There's a guy in an old-time diving suit. There's Alan Wake chattering to himself on a television. And so forth.
The glimpse-montage is a familiar gimmick. We've seen it before countless times in movies and TV shows. The deal that is struck by the glimpse-montage is this: Here is a series of seemingly disparate images. But stick around, and eventually these disparate images will cohere in a semi-logical, and semi-satisfying conclusion.
Alan Wake never makes good on that promise. It never even comes close to making good on that promise. Is Alan Wake's wife still alive? Who is the old lady behind the black veil? Who is the guy-thing in the old-time diving suit? Did Alan's magic clicker really destroy the old lady in the black veil? Why did light come blowing out of her eyes and mouth at the end? Is it all metaphor?
Don't look at me for the answers.
And a more pressing question: Who left all of these goddamn coffee thermoses around? In one of the game's gamier moments, I was about to encounter an intimidating group of the Taken (the aforementioned shadow-zombies), and instead of checking my inventory to make sure I had a flashbang ready and that my shotgun was loaded, and girding my loins for a battle, I was suddenly humping my way towards a pale blue coffee thermos THAT I JUST HAD TO COLLECT.
Alan Wake is not a bad game. I enjoyed the game's deliberate pacing, the way that it confidently allows dread to accrue. I loved the Pacific Northwest setting. I've always been a sucker for old, bottomless lakes and cabins with faulty wiring. And for a survival-horror game, the combat in the game is extremely satisfying. Torching the Taken with my flashlight beam until they became vulnerable/corporeal, then jacking them up with a few blasts from my pump-action shotgun never really got old.
That's not entirely true. Near the end, it got old. A little, anyway.
I just wish the whole damn thing had made more fucking sense. You can't ask me to invest eight hours into something, and then leave me with nothing but a series of nonsensical cutscenes at the end. Maybe Remedy was concerned that if they actually adhered to the laws of logic and storytelling, if they gave us anything tangible and satisfying, we wouldn't all be sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for DLC and the sequel.
Gamers often brag about how many games they've finished. They can't wait to crow about how they took such-and-such game out to the woodshed and really showed it who's the boss. Yet, nine out of 10 times, whenever I polish off a game, I never walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. The final hours of Alan Wake were tedious and masturbatory. This morning, as I put the game back on the shelf, I feel what I usually feel whenever I finish a game: a vague sense of regret and disappointment.