In the 1800’s there was a woman that little children would take their old teeth (ones they had recently lost) to in exchange for a gold coin. A few years later, tragedy struck her, first a fire in her house which caused her to not be able to go into any type of light, and then she was hanged. There’s a story that goes around the town of Darkness Falls about her, and she’s called the Tooth Fair… Wait that’s wrong.
That’s the synopsis for the film Darkness Falls (2003), My mistake.
Taking a holiday to Bright Falls, Alan Wakes wife goes missing. While trying to find her he starts experiencing events from the plot in his latest novel, which he cannot remember writing, coming to life.
This game is described as being an action psychological horror/psychological thriller by Finnish game developers Remedy, creators of the excellent Max Payne series. Set out as a TV show, each level is a different episode in the series complete with a different ending song and recap sequence at the start of the next episode. As is common with TV shows each one ends on a cliffhanger.
This is where you start to see influences on the game with Twin Peaks being the basis for the setting…
The most obvious Twin Peaks related things are naturally the location and the setting, the small town of Bright Falls in the state of Washington. As a TV series it really was the first to focus on a quirky and creepy small town setting.
The biggest influence is Stephen King. The first line spoken in the game is “Stephen King once wrote, ‘Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear’.” There’s a hedge maze à la The Shining as well as the famous axe scene.
Lead writer Sam Lake said
Stephen King is certainly one source of inspiration for us. Using a writer whose life turns nightmarish as a main character is something that King has successfully done in several of his books.
Other influences are Alfred Hitchock’s the Birds (1963) and you can watch a fiction TV show call Night Springs on TV’s throughout the game wich is a nod to The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Graphics are amazing in this game. The national park setting is stunning and you can see for miles with each tree and branch flowing in the wind independently. When the camera pans out and shows you the mountainous range it’s a wonderful vista most games wish they could produce. Up close the graphics are just above average and do their job but this game is all about atmosphere and at night there is an eerie fog that surrounds the landscape that looks beautiful yet spooky.
Character models are good but not spectacular not that it matters as most of this game takes place at night and that’s where the your greatest ally (not Barry) comes into play… Light.
The lighting effects in this game are phenomenal. Shadows created from your flashlight just wrap themselves to the surround objects. Then there’s the flares. The mix of light and smoke are truly stunning.
Trapped in this town looking for your wife the darkness is trying to stop you. It has taken over the townsfolk as well as animals and even inanimate objects such as wagon wheels and combine harvesters turning them into murderous shadows. To defeat them you need to remove the darkness’ shadow that surrounds them by using light. Torch, street lights, car headlights, flashbangs or any light source available to make them vulnerable to your weapons.
Gameplay is basic. You use light to remove the shadow and have a very effective dodge which takes you into a nice slow-motion sequence and that’s basically it. Basic, but fun.
That’s not what the game is about. It’s about the atmosphere and the story and that’s where it is engaging and most effective. The characters you interact with are well written and varied. From the aging heavy metal rockers Odin & Tor to the Sheriff, who you’ll wish you had at your side from the start of the game, to Barry who’s Alan’s agent and best friend.
I like Barry, he provides comic relief but he’s always there helping Alan no matter what’s going on. I know someone who hates him but that has something to do with the fact he dislikes anyone with the name Barry.
An interesting feature are manuscript pages. As said earlier Alan is trapped in a nightmare based on a book he doesn’t remember writing so littered throughout the game are manuscript pages from this book which give you a bit more insight to what’s going on. They are out of chronological order but will offer hints as how to pass an upcoming challenge.
Controls and the camera are good for the most part but you will be frustrated by them when trying to dodge. I was forever getting stuck up against a wall because it didn’t dodge in time and I couldn’t see what was behind me. Minor gripes that don’t ruin the game.
All in all it’s a very good game and worth getting as it should be cheap now to buy new. Remedy have said that they aren’t making a sequel right now as it didn’t make enough money so every penny that they get counts. I hate it when good shows are cancelled after the first series.
Available on Xbox 360 and PC
I was lucky enough to get the limited edition collectors set which comes in a case that looks like a book and included the soundtrack and “The Alan Wake Files” – a 144pg book that includes a short story written by Alan Wake and compiles the FBI dossiers investigating the events in Bright Falls.
Something to read on the toilet.