Alan Wake is an enchanting game. When I first played through it on normal difficulty I poked fun at it a lot. The campy setting, repetitive gameplay, awkward animations, and silly concepts were all easy targets for ridicule; yet I still played through all the way to the end. The environments really captured me in their detail, and I was immersed in the bizarre world surrounding the small town of Bright Falls. I was fascinated with the game, but not in love with it. The journey looked and sounded wonderful, but it wasn’t engaging. I reluctantly plodded through the flat gameplay to experience the wonderfully crafted story.
I still had an empty feeling about the game, despite exploring every inch. Long after I completed it I still thought about it, and it became a much bigger force in my mind. At the time, I knew I didn’t really enjoy it a whole lot, but that didn’t stop me from having pleasant thoughts and memories of the game every time my eyes caught the box in my collection. The whole concept of the game was romanticised in my head and it took on something bigger than it was. It was eating at me. Finally I decided; why not? Despite a large backlog of games I haven’t even started yet, I started Alan Wake up again; this time on Nightmare difficulty. Maybe the gameplay was better than I remember? I had to clear this empty space in my mind.
It was though I finally had the last piece of the puzzle; Nightmare mode brought the game to LIFE! The repetitive gameplay suddenly became creative and tactical. Every shot mattered, and the light took on a much bigger personality when it was saving my life. The magnification of danger in Nightmare difficulty clicked with the insanity of the story; it finally felt like I was enjoying Alan Wake the way it was meant to be experienced. The new way of approaching the game helped me think about the story with more clarity. The slow parts of the game are a lot more enjoyable when you’ve been fighting for your life and sanity for the past hour. A deep thought that struck me was how generic objects covered in darkness completely disappeared when you cover them in light; suggesting darkness is the final stage before death. I was immersed in the world to the point where I finished the game in a couple of days, and it’s quite a lengthy game.
I encourage everyone who wants to experience Alan Wake to play on Nightmare straight away. Forget about Normal mode, it’s a lifeless plod thorugh a world that really needs to be FELT to truly express itself. The name Nightmare is understandably intimidating; but it’s a great way to describe the game; a relentless battlefield inside Alan Wake’s head. Nightmare is surely how the developers intended the game be played – unfortunately in this age of inept journalists we’ve got far too many easy options in games that can rob players of a genuine experience. Nightmare is quite difficult but I never found it frustrating; the gameplay scenarios are very well designed. I even made a helpful video!
While playing through on “Normal” difficulty may now seem like a waste of time, it did give me this enlightening contrast. Even in a game with such a heavy emphasis on beautiful graphics and detailed narrative, it’s still the gameplay that has the biggest impact. It’s amazing the difference it made, Alan Wake is now one of my all-time favourite games. I’m looking forward to tackling American Nightmare next.