As someone who currently has Alan Wake firmly planted at the top of this year’s “Most Disappointing Games” list, my ears always perk up a bit whenever the fine gents from Remedy have anything to say about the game. So when Eurogamer got the chance to pick the brains of Mikko Rautalahti, the game’s writer, and franchise development head Oskari Hakiinen, I immediately dove into the interview.
I was expecting them to aim their flashlights at some of the murkier points of the game's development period, as well as shed some light on the final game, with thoughtful and reflective answers. Unfortunately, despite fairly solid questioning from the Eurogamer camp, the folks at Remedy merely offered the usual wishy-washy, canned responses gamers have come to expect from developers whose products exist somewhere in that vague expectations limbo, on the cusp of both greatness and severe underperformance.
It’s been about three months since the game’s release, and the first DLC episode, The Signal, has just been released, so while Rautalahti and Hakiinen didn’t give us much, let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the interview.
Players that followed Alan Wake’s development know that we’ve been waiting awhile -- 5 years since it was first unveiled at E3 -- for it to make its debut. After the long wait, we were treated to a final product that, at times, felt just as rocky and uneven as the development process that birthed it. When asked about what parts of the game they were happy with, the pair had the following to say.
"Being the writer, we set out to tell a story and we did a pretty good job with it. It's a mature story - not necessarily in terms of the boobies and blood you might see. We set out to do a story that doesn't treat the gamer as an idiot, but rather as a mature adult. We succeeded with that pretty well."
"The combat was something unique that hasn't been seen before. Also the environment; we captured this idyllic small town well."
"Mikko and Sam Lake [lead writer] spent a lot of time thinking about the characters. Chewing it out and making characters that felt realistic and authentic to the environment, from the way they were dressed to the way they were talking, the dialogue, everything - that contributed to whole package."
I will certainly agree with Hakkinen about the setting and characters. Alan Wake does indeed have one of the best atmospheres ever laid down on a disc. It also does a great job at defining its characters. The guys did take a moment to defend the titular character’s uneven attitude. It’s also nice to see that they weren’t interested in defining mature by GTA4 standards.
However, I couldn’t disagree more about the combat. A two-phase third-person shooting mechanic isn’t the most original thing in the world, but they must have been really proud of it, since that’s all the game has you do the entire time. Also, the game’s execution in storytelling feels extremely misguided and unsure of itself, so color me a little surprised by the writer patting himself on the back for that.
The rest of the interview is full of non-answers that won’t satisfy too much of your curiosity. For example, when questioned on what aspects of the game they thought could have been better, Rautalahti and Hakiinen failed to pinpoint a single concrete issue.
Still, a few bits of information can be pulled from the mess of standard PR-speak. The Writer, the second DLC episode, is aimed for a Fall release. It is unclear whether or not there will be additional DLC episodes for the game, as this is still being hashed out. The team at Remedy also has "great ideas" for an Alan Wake sequel, and they “don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t continue with Microsoft with a full-blown sequel for Alan Wake.” They also had some bad news for PC users, since a PC port of the original game (or any potential sequels) isn’t actively being worked on at the moment.
Let me be clear, I don’t exactly dislike Alan Wake, but I needed it to give me more across the board in order for it to be included in the same conversation as other classics of the last couple generations. That said, it still would have been nice to see Hakkinen and Rautalahti really go to bat for the title against some of the game's larger criticisms.
So what say you, Ranters? Did Alan Wake hit you in all the right spots after the lengthy development cycle, or should these guys take a step back and really look at what their game does and doesn’t accomplish? What did you think were the game’s strengths and weaknesses? Would you be interested in a sequel?
Alan Wake is currently available exclusively on the Xbox 360, and its first downloadable episode, The Signal, is available on XBL.