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Alan Wake: The Signal Review

Game Review: Alan Wake: The Signal
Release: 7/27/10
Genre: Action Adventure/Horror
Developer: Remedy
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Players: 1
MSRP: 560MP (free with download code from original game)
ESRB Rating: Teen
Website: http://www.xbox.com:80/en-US/games/a/alanwake/
I can’t think of another piece of DLC that I’ve waited for as eagerly as the first ‘special episode’ for Alan Wake, commendably given free to owners of the original game. Partly it was down to a desire to jump back into the beautifully realized setting and story, but I also wanted to see if it would help to resolve the maddeningly vague ending. The Signal is not a standalone scenario, and you really need to have finished the game to enjoy it. I’ll avoid spoilers for the episode, but if you’ve not completed the main game, then get going…

The story deals with Wake, now trapped in the Dark Place, trying to get to safety by following a mysterious signal and avoid the attentions of The Taken, who seem to be under the control of a deranged ‘narrator’. Reminiscent of Silent Hill’s ‘Nowhere’ sections, the Dark Place’s geography keeps shifting , offering up twisted and dangerous paths between locations familiar from the main game. There’s a great deal of reuse of graphical assets, but the dialogue and story keep it from feeling rehashed; it also keeps the download size to a reasonable 300-odd megs.

The Signal does a great job of playing with the mechanics of the main game. The final section’s hovering, ghostly words play an important part, especially in one standout scene. The episode also abandons the use of pages from Wake’s work to foreshadow events, but the new approach is equally effective and suits the story perfectly.

The episode also continues Wake’s obsession with collectibles; no Thermoses or TV shows this time, however, but a new set of achievements. They have the same effect as the main game, however, and it’s easy to not pay attention to dialogue because you’re scouring the landscape for the tell-tale glimmer. It can be tricky finding them, though, due to the dark and the sheer number of enemies that keep forcing you on. For all the plot development, the episode is combat heavy, the puzzles being rather basic. This isn’t a bad thing at all, and some of the battles are more tense and inventive than the original’s.

There are a couple of niggles, though how much they bother you will depend on how much they bothered you in the main game. Alan Wake had a whiff of focus group about it, like the dumb ‘Psychological Action Thriller’ tagline (presumably Microsoft  thought ‘Horror’ appealed to a niche audience – which is why Stephen King wallows in obscurity, eh?). It also had some glaringly obvious product placement,to the point of offering an achievement for changing 100 Energizer(TM!) battteries. It’s not as pronounced this time, but Alan does use the GPS on his Verizon mobile – which gets its own close up – to navigate his way through the Dark Place. Bleugh. The ending, too, is well handled, but might well disappoint players who expected more of a resolution.

If you’ve got the original and liked it enough to play it to the end, there’s no reason to miss The Signal. It’s free (provided you’ve still got the voucher) and offers up a couple of hours of play as good as anything in the main game.I guess the best recommendation is that after trying this one, I’m now looking forward to the next installments. If you’ve finished it, let me know what you think.

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