For as long as I could remember, a vocal minority constantly trashes Alan Wake’s linear approach once it was announced. The sudden exclusivity deal coupled with the original open world design being trashed years earlier lead to a bunch of undeserved hate against the game. Some blamed Remedy’s decision on the 360’s hardware limitations to handle early builds ( http://www.youtube.com/watc... ); the reality of this decision came, in the developer’s words, “from a storytelling perspective.” With that in mind, the reason for this blog is to attack that small group who still like to look at old builds and dream about the beauty this could’ve been with a fully optimized PC engine, and posting thousands upon thousands of direct gameplay screenshots to show off to console gamers saying “You want REAL power? Spend hundreds to play this beautiful game in all of its glory!”
What do these fantasies do to us? Instead of just enjoying that commendable game for what it is, why not try looking at Remedy’s decision with a fresh set of eyes? After playing Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (which I’ll eventually review), I believe there’s enough evidence for fans and detractors to see why the open world setting just wouldn’t work for this series--at least not yet.
1.) The game plays off of linear principles
Throughout your journey in Bright Falls, you’re given the chance to search for manuscript pages that are either in plain sight or slightly hidden. Given that their twinkle can be viewed from space, it would be fair to say they’re intertwined into the gameplay itself. These pages (with voiceover work prompted whenever you pick one up) give an “illusion of suspense”. You see, oftentimes these letters gives specific details about the next attack by the ‘Taken’, what Wake calls his dark foes. Like any decent horror writer, Wake sometimes throws in descriptions about the Taken’s actions: something like “His half-ton grinder cut through the car like butter.” You might ask “if you know about the attack and what you’ll be facing, where’s the suspense?” The suspension comes in what ISN’T WRITTEN. Since you’re worrying about the finding a car, you initially expect there to be no other attack before that, which leads to a few decent frights.
The reason this aspect felt novel (pun intended) was thanks to a linear design giving you crumbs to move forward. Sure, the times of wandering off the beaten path of extra ammo and manuscript pages were there, but changes in weather pattern or the yearning to find a generator-powered streetlight as you progressed made you constantly want to reach the next checkpoint. That wouldn’t be the case with an open world design. With American Nightmare’s hub setup, the player is given too much control of when the action takes place. Example: you’re about to venture into a web-infested cave, but then figure it would be best to scour the entire open area for all of the pages. This is when extras like listening to the radio, watching a TV, or reading manuscript pages become ‘empty collectibles’. You’re only compelling yourself to find everything for achievements, rather than immersing yourself into that illusion I mentioned earlier. Don’t get me wrong, American Nightmare is an excellent spin-off and will probably remain one of my favorite games of this year, but it retains the flaw horror games try to avoid: allowing the player to choose when the suspenseful moments happen.
2.) Would side stories even work at this point?
I suppose it’s ironic for me to mention this when considering Red Dead Redemption released the same day as Alan Wake, and has a better story. While RDR has an exemplary main story, the setting also calls for you to become interested in the local inhabitants. You’re considered a stranger around those parts and others take a particular liking to your interesting past. While the concept of a city boy like Wake helping strangers does sound like an interesting grind, it doesn’t seem like a welcome idea for writers to create an interesting atmosphere for a game relying on moment-to-moment events. Take a look at some of Hitchcock’s best films; you’ll find that most of them rely on isolation. Developers of horror/suspense titles want to hold you under the water as long as possible until you have to come up for air; at this point in time, a linear approach seems to be the only way for anyone to do that.
3.) Just look at my first paragraph in number one
After putting this blog out there, I’m curious to see how many posters already knew most of the exposition given in that paragraph. That is the same case for certain manuscript pages laid out in American Nightmare (it does introduce a few new ideas to the canon as well). What’s always a problem in later iterations is the need to go back and retell past events for newcomers in obtrusive ways. Since each episode is introduced with a “Previously on Alan Wake,” there will probably be enough detail given in the possible upcoming sequel to address past events without ever having to look back at them. What happens if that concept is built around an open world environment? Instead of integrating an evenly-paced TV format through one-and-a-half to two hour episodes, you’ll be hampered by side story elements for the sake of a writer filling a void. There’s a fine line where exposition is either needed or useless, and I believe most of it would be the latter had Alan Wake been an open world game.
In conclusion, I think Remedy’s decision to make Alan Wake a linear game was for the better. Could there be a chance next generation for the developer to create an innovative way for the term “open world psychological action thriller” to be something considered? Who knows what the future holds to that question. I just thought it was time to voice my opinion on their decision. Make no mistake about it, I was there throughout Wake’s entire development cycle: from the tech demo of displaying rampant tornadoes while going through abandoned areas to the shocking 360 exclusivity announced a few months before the game released (which we all know now was timed exclusivity). As amazing as those early impressions were, I think it’s time for everyone to move on and accept the final product rather than fantasizing the ‘what could’ve been’.