When we hear the word 'narrative' we reach for our red pens. Any mention of a game havin an 'engaging story' usually means interminable, inescapable cut-scenes, pointless plot twists and manual padding stories. But as our first real chance to see who Alan is proved this story isn't just intriguing, it's integral.
The game unfolds like a US TV series, with chunks of calm between ratings-grabbing cliffhangers. So the proceedings open with a brief clip showing Alan heading to the sleepy town of Bright Falls after a series of disquieting dreams. The writer, haunted by the memory of his missing fiancÚ and finding his nightly terrors taking over his life, leads us into the darkness. But while this storyline provides the structure, complete with climactic events and string crescendos, what sits between pre-planned plot is essentially freeroaming. So in this opening episode Alan wandered through town using his torch to explore the darkened cabins of this quiet corner of Washington State. And through interaction with locals, observation and a few audio prompts over a largely HUD-free screen, Alan then learns of his next mission and, eventually, the town's secrets.
While much of the mechanics behind Alan Wake remain in shadow, what is clear is that the technical triumphs of this wholly real-time world haven't overwhelmed the tug of the emotional. When other games talk about dabbling in the psychological, they mean only the loosening of the sphincter through cheap shocks. By contrast, Alan Wake uses Remedy's (and by extension, Havok's) grasp on technology to ferment and fuel both your paranoia and the paranormal. So while Alan's torchand- gun combo illuminate the dark corners, even the day feels menacing - while it's really one of the 360's three cores moving those leaves in the breeze, you can't help but suspect something far more sinister...
An intriguing narrative, astonishing scenery and an emotive atmosphere, but how does it play? What about the episodes, the action, the fun? There's still a lot of questions to be answered.