Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Alan Wake: Don't let Ebert see it

Five-odd years in the making, psycho-supernatural-action-adventure-mystery-thriller Alan Wake wants, more than anything, to be taken seriously. With every word, frame and pixel it wants you to know what a deep, heavy, meaningful work of cinematic suspense-gaming it is. But there's a terrible secret at the heart of Alan Wake. If this were a mystery story rather than a game review I'd let the reader discover that secret on their own, but what mystery writers call "creating suspense" newspaper editors call "burying the lede", so here it is: Alan Wake is silly. 

Now that's said, let's call it foreshadowing and start at the beginning. As a game -- when it 
is a game -- Alan Wake isn't too bad. As the eponymous hero, a writer's-blocked bestselling mystery author who's retreated with his wife to a tiny mountain town, makes his way through the woods of the Pacific Northwest, he gets to engage in some typical but well-exectuted third-person gunplay against hordes of zombie-type enemies. The twist here is the flashlight action; this standard tool of survival-horror has been elevated into an integral part of the action armory, serving as both targeting sight and main weapon. 

The possessed hillbillies are invulnerable until they have their protective cloak of shadowy evil burned away by light, and this illuminate-first-shoot-questions-later mechanic gives combat an interesting rhythm that does a lot to up the terror factor, at least through the first couple of chapters. After the first few showdowns against the same handful of enemy types, though, the novelty wears off and Alan Wake's action sequences show themselves for what they are, what action sequences so often are in games with cinematic ambition: tedious hoops that must be jumped through in order to advance the movie the game wishes it was.

Thing is, that movie's pretty dreadful; were it shown in a cinema, even the most dedicated so-bad-it's-good craphound would groan it off the screen. The mopey protag, whose only real character trait is a five-o'clock shadow (videogame shorthand for Aunguished Soul; see Heavy Rain et al.), fights to save a wife he didn't even seem to like very much before the spoooooky stuff went down. What we read of this supposedly mega-bestselling author's writing is so dire it could sweep the Bulwer-Lytton awards. The sub-Twilight Zone supernatural twist gives itself away early and often. Facepalm-inducing dialogue is delivered in affectless table-reading tones by indifferent voice actors and projected through dead-eyed, flappy-mouthed digital mannequins. Constant "references" and "homages" (read: "cribs" and "ripoffs") of other, better, games, movies and TV shows make the whole thing feel like a desperate collage. 

All this could be forgiven or at least ameliorated -- Lord knows, I've given better games a pass on worse sins -- if Alan Wake didn't take itself so damned seriously. But there's no knowing wink, no sly elbow; the game/movie is totally, humorlessly committed to its unearned pretension to gravitas, and the undeflated tension between what it wants to be taken as and what it actually is leaves Alan Wake ridiculous. 


Prince Nikka said...

Hi Dear
This is really great post about leave request......................
Kids Parties Calgary

Anonymous said...

we use only fda supplied children's paint