Top 100 Games of All-Time: #18

Alan Wake

Release Date: May 14, 2010

Platform Played On: XBox 360

2018 Placement: #20 (+2)


What It Is:

Originally envisioned as a Twin Peaks-style open-world mystery, Alan Wake ended up being a horror-adjacent, fairly linear action game. As the titular protagonist, you fight an entity known only as The Dark Presence that invades the town of Bright Falls. Alan Wake is a novelist who visits Bright Falls with his wife after dealing with writer’s block for two years. When his wife is dragged into a lake by mysterious shadows, Alan has to go find her. Along the way he combats Taken (shadow monsters created by the Dark Presence) and discovers pages to a novel he supposedly wrote but has no memory of.

It’s a very engaging mystery plot and is combined with a unique twist on survival action. Each Taken is shrouded in darkness, and Alan must use light to eliminate the shadows before using a typical pistol or shotgun to eliminate the threat. This turns a flare gun into a mighty weapon and adds a neat rhythm to the gameplay: aim your flashlight at the enemy first before switching to your pistol. Rinse and repeat, and occasionally throw a flash grenade to eliminate groups. Having to manage your battery life on top of ammo adds another wrinkle to your supply management. Also I just have to add: the sound effects for pointing your flashlight and removing the shadow are super, super satisfying.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I loved the idea of a novelist caught up in a weird, spooky town and having to deal with supernatural weird shit. Back when it was initially revealed in its early open world concept, I was all in. I followed the game and its changed and was still excited by the horror-adjacent gameplay. It was the game that got me to buy an XBox 360 because I wanted to play it so bad.

The fact that it delivered on my hype was just a cherry on top. I beat it fairly quickly, and it might have also been the first game I ever bought DLC for as I purchased and played through both DLC chapters as well. I also got the standalone American Nightmare game a few years later. When Alan Wake showed up in Control I nearly jumped out of my chair, and the Alan Wake 2 announcement is probably my most hyped upcoming game if I’m honest with myself.

Everything about the game was just perfect. The thoughtful yet fast pace of the action when taking on the Taken. The humor delivered in addition to the spookiness. It was just SCP enough for me to be delighted, back before I knew what SCP was and realized that was the kind of horror I enjoyed. It’s also refreshing that it ended up more linear than open world after a decade of games turning everything into open world romps.

My Strongest Memory:

Before the Ashtray Maze, there was the Old Gods of Asgard concert in Alan Wake. The setpiece of being on a concert stage as tons of Taken try to ambush you while heavy metal plays in the background is unforgettable. Spotlights, pyrotechnics, and more go off and help you defeat the shadows of the Taken as they assault your position. It’s a fantastic interlude amongst the more subtle psychological thriller vibes the rest of the game gives off.

Also, I can never forget the image of Barry, Alan’s manager, covering himself in Christmas lights to ward away the Dark Presence. Barry is the main source of humor in the game, and the first time he trotted out decking his halls I laughed so hard. It was just an unbelievably goofy image: the stoic, dadly-dressed Alan Wake side-by-side with a guy just covered in Christmas lights. I loved it.

Why It’s #18:

You never forget games that compel you to buy a whole system. Over time Alan Wake grew to be an important franchise to me, not even just because of the cliffhanger ending that I’ve waited for a decade to be resolved. It just encapsulates the kind of horror-ish game I love: spooky adjacent but not outright blood and gore fests with jump scares. I can’t wait for a proper sequel and what Remedy can cook up for Alan with this generation’s capabilities.