Alan Wake is a game that many fans consider to be a sort of private pleasure and, while that characterization may feel good for people who like to discover diamonds in the rough, it's not quite accurate. The game has sold a total of 4.5 million units.
We were able to break the story of what a sequel might have looked like, and the future is filled with possibility, but even we were a little surprised at the passion fans still feel for the game and character. I asked Twitter why they loved the game, and many responses, from both industry folks and fans, are in this story.
I have some thoughts of my own.
No aliens, a flashlight, and the real world
Alan Wake takes place in the fictional city of Bright Falls, Washington, which is already enough to make it visually interesting. We don't realize how few settings we explore in big-budget games until someone breaks the mold and takes us someplace we rarely go.
@BenKuchera Being from the Pac NW, loved how Alan Wake nailed the strange, ethereal atmospherics of the wilderness up here. Strong as Lynch.— Steve Haske (@afraidtomerge) April 21, 2015
@BenKuchera Alan Wake recreates that feeling I get about life: that stories are the scaffolding the world drapes over.— FPJerome (@PearlRiverFlow) April 21, 2015
Alan Wake is a story about stories, and the hold they have over us. Wake is a writer who falls into his own imagination, and his attempts to claw his way out. The narrative folds back over itself in ways that are deeper than a character simply turning to the camera and talking to the player. The story is played "as a video game, paced like a a TV show, told through novel-like narration," as Bioware's David Crooks put it.
.@BenKuchera That it's a story about storytelling media and expression itself, and how that can bring worlds alive.— David Crooks (@CypherSignal) April 21, 2015
This is one of the most powerful themes of the game; that creation is a powerful act that we don't really understand. Instead of pulling from the standard fantasy and science fiction works that have informed games for so long, Remedy took cues from David Lynch and Stephen King. They set the game in the Pacific Northwest.
There were guns, but you used them as you'd expect a writer thrust into a terrible situation would use them ... which is to say not well. Your most powerful weapon was a flashlight.
@BenKuchera A big part of its appeal was simply that it was not a Tolkien or Aliens ripoff. I love a more grounded setting.— Ben Prunty (@benprunty) April 21, 2015
@BenKuchera It was intensely creepy, even when not in combat and not using gore. Even when NOT in danger, there was fear and tension.— Kim Acuff (@EmberDione) April 21, 2015
While our own Brian Crecente called the ending a "cliffhanger" in his story about the sequel to Alan Wake, I'm going to go ahead and disagree. The game ended, pretty conclusively, in a way that made sense. It's also an ending that I've discussed endlessly with people who enjoy taking deep dives into such things, and there have been multiple arguments about what it all means, and what happens next.
If you want to know why the idea of an Alan Wake sequel is so exciting to so many people, consider the fact that years later people who make and love games are still talking about what the game did well, and how few other games have emulated that success.
@BenKuchera Many reasons. The devs allowance for people to interpret the ending to their own, the Twin Peaks vibe, the flow of the story?— Brian Hicks (@Hicks_206) April 21, 2015
@BenKuchera I loved a well executed cut to credits right after some sort of story stinger, Alan Wake has like 6 of those.— Andrew Guthrie (@Andybricks) April 21, 2015
The game didn't stand on the shoulders of other games, it stood on the shoulders of other art forms, including television, film and books. This is something that's so rare in games, especially big budget console releases, that it felt immediately fresh and new when Alan Wake was released.
The game was structured in terms of "episodes," with an amazing soundtrack punctuating each segment, and a recap of the last episode when you began the next one. It sounds gimmicky when described, but the game's pacing benefited immensely from this structure, with a more natural sense of rising and falling tension and action of each episode.
There were moments of quiet, there were action scenes, and there were scares. But it was arranged in such a way that it felt natural, with a heaping helping of clues and collectibles — and not a few groan-inducing moments of product placement — that helped keep you interested in what was going on.
Alan Wake has had a strong impact on both players and those who make our games. Its legacy is strong, and that legacy is proof that there are treasures to be found in gaming by looking outside our normal influences and themes. I've spoken to many people who still get chills every time they hear Poe's "Haunted" due to its use as a musical cue in the game, and a few even followed the breadcrumb of that song to reading House of Leaves, which is a perfect compliment to Alan Wake.
If you haven't played it, please do so. If you continue to love it as much as I do, at least there is a small bit of hope that the franchise isn't all the way dead. Remedy created something magical in Alan Wake, and I refuse to believe we've seen everything that world has to offer.