Friday, January 26, 2024 07:50 PM

Alan Wake 2 is all over the place

in Video Gaming | Game Reviews by MegaBearsFan

Alan Wake 2 - title

I'll give Remedy this bit of credit: in a world overrun with soul-less, design-by-committee, live-services and vehicles for micro-transaction economies, Alan Wake 2 is a game that actually has a strong creative vision and personality. It follows in the footsteps of Hideo Kojima and Death Stranding by being completely confident in itself and being un-abashedly weird. And just like with Death Stranding, that means that sometimes Alan Wake 2 is genius; other times it's confoundingly stupid and hackneyed!

It's hard even to classify Alan Wake 2 into a single genre. That goes for both narrative genre and also ludic genre. In both cases, it's kind of all over the place. At the most reductionist level, it follows the basic formula of a modern horror game: exploring creepy environments to find keys for doors, fighting monsters as an over-the-shoulder 3rd-person shooter, solving puzzles, and managing a limited inventory. So it's a "horror game", right? In fact, sometimes, it's seriously scary and disturbing. But other times, I'm questioning its "horror" status while I'm laughing out loud to a deliberate joke, or bored out of my mind because nothing scary or particularly exciting has happened in hours. Yet other times still, it's farcically campy or schlocky, and un-intentionally laughable. It's story is ridiculously out there in its concepts and execution, but somehow every beat of the plot is set up and signposted as clearly and obviously as the neon signs that point the player to the next objective in the Dark Place.

Plot twists are signposted more clearly and obviously than the neon signs that often guide the player through levels.

It's also frequently up its own ass. It is, after all, a fictional story about the power of fiction to alter reality (and our perception of reality). It even features the lead designer as a self-insert character within the story. Though surprisingly, he made himself a secondary character instead of one of the 2 playable protagonists. So it's not really about him, but he still found a way to make the entire plot revolve around that secondary character.

In the mind's eye

I feel that Alan Wake 2 is consistently at its best when its sitting firmly in its horror-mystery mode. As such, the opening couple hours of the game really pulled me in and hooked me. The game's main quest and side content are split up into various "cases" for the FBI agent protagonists to solve. There's a mechanic in which the player can retreat into Agent Saga Anderson's "Mind Space", which is an imaginary office room in which she sorts through all the clues she's gathered and strings them together on an imaginary wall in order to fit the puzzle pieces of the mystery together. Each time the player discovers a critical piece of information in the game world, it will show up in the Mind Space's filing cabinet as a new file in a case folder. Putting the clues together in the right way will unlock new lines of inquiry, and can even reveal the next objective.

Agent Anderson can review the known evidence in her imaginary Mind Space office.

Apparently, the actual game doesn't even pause, and continues to play in the background while the player is in the Mind Space. Even though the Mind Space is a full-screen environment, the character can still be attacked by enemies in the "real world". At first, I thought this would be obnoxious, but after the first time I was attacked while trying to re-arrange items on the case board in the Mind Space, I learned my lesson. After that, I actually came to realize that that needing to find a safe, peaceful space in order to let the character think about clues they've discovered (and how to proceed), really helps to emphasize the danger and stakes of the situation.

Arranging the clues in the Mind Space is not very difficult or complicated. It's not like having to solve a person's fate in Return of the Obra Dinn, or anything like that. Most of the time, the process is just going through the motions. Even when there are multiple options for where a piece of evidence can go, the solution can be easily brute-forced without the player having to know anything about what's going on.

The Case Board is an immersive quest log and objective tracker.

Even so, the Mind Space is a creative idea for presenting objectives, quest logs, story summaries, and characterization. The Mind Space at least tries to force the player to have to engage with the events of the story in a meaningful and immersive way. The player has to at least pretend to know how the various events of the story, the characters, and the McGuffins you find all fit together in the broader story in order to progress the main story or side quests.

And in fact, the entire game is about the interplay between the audience and the fiction. For most of the story, it's about the ability of fiction to re-shape people's perception of reality, but as the game goes on, it becomes more and more about the audience's ability to shape or re-shape the actual fiction. It emphasizes that any creative work is made up of both the voices of its creator(s) and also the interpretation and reception of the audience. This has always been true, with all forms of fiction and story-telling, but it's even more true with video games.

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Control - title

I kept hearing good things about Remedy's Control, but I never got around to playing it. For some reason, I was thinking it was an XBox exclusive. Maybe it was a timed exclusive? Anyway, it showed up as one of the free PSPlus games of the month a couple months ago, and I downloaded it to play over the summer. I kind of regret not having purchased it, since it's a pretty good game with a lot of neat and innovative ideas, and Remedy is a smaller studio that could definitely use the money and deserves the support, especially considering that Control was released as a mid-budget, mid-price, $30 release ($40 for the new Ultimate Edition). I'll probably buy it as a gift for a friend at some point, so that I can support the studio for making a quality product.

In any case, consider this a recommendation: if you haven't bought and played Control yet, please do so. It's definitely worth checking out, especially if you like a game that will give you a substantial challenge. It's available on the next-gen consoles, but if you're like me and haven't been able to secure a PS5 yet, then it's also available on the previous-gen as well. It won't have the fancy ray-tracing and other advanced graphical effects, but it played well and ran mostly smoothly on my PS4 Pro. The only technical issue I had was long load times and a temporary freeze whenever I unpaused the game. No big deal. The game is tough, but it wasn't so overwhelmingly difficult that I was stuck constantly staring at the long load screens.

Spectacle action worthy of The Matrix

Control is certainly a spectacle to behold. Every fight feels like it has the bombast of the climactic lobby shootout in The Matrix. Nobody is running up walls or doing slow-motion kicks, but the player (and enemies) can levitate, bullets are whizzing past, furniture is getting thrown around, loose paper and stationary is flying everywhere, and chunks of the walls are being ripped or blown off. At the conclusion of each fight, the environment is completely trashed, and it looks fantastic. Even on the PS4, the level of detail is impressive.

The aftermath of every battle reminds me of the lobby shootout from The Matrix.

There's also a surprising amount of expressiveness in the combat mechanics. I can go in and just shoot all the enemies as if this were some basic cover-based shooter. Or I can use telekinesis to barrage the enemies with the clutter in the environment. I could even run in with the shield up, attack with the "melee" psychic push, then dodge around, managing my energy like the stamina bar of Dark Souls. Even within one of those broad play-styles, there's a handful of support abilities that can be used to varying effects. I can haphazardly throw any old object at enemies with telekinesis, or I can specifically search out objects that might explode and do larger amounts of damage to be more efficient. I can mind-hack an enemy and turn him against the other enemies to act as a damage sponge and spread around my DPS. There's a surprising amount of options here, especially considering that first impressions make Control look like just another run-and-gun shooter.

By midway through the game, the challenge had started amping up to the point that I wasn't able to rely on simply shooting every enemy with the pistol anymore. Doing so was still possible, but it was difficult. I started using all of my psychic abilities in many encounters, and I was rotating through all of my available service weapons based on the situation. Even the abilities and weapons that I initially thought were garbage (such as the shield and the pierce weapon) started getting regular use against certain enemies or in certain situations. I even learned to spend time scanning the environment for particularly destructive telekinesis objects.

Abilities and weapons that I had initially dismissed as "garbage" were getting regular use later in the game.

This was a far cry from my recent experience with Resident Evil Village, in which I was able to breeze through a vast majority of the game by just shooting everything in the face with the pistol or shotgun, and never had to utilize the more diverse tools and environmental opportunities at my disposal, because using them was more trouble than they were worth. No, here in Control, I am using everything! In fact, I even had a viewer pop up on my Twitch stream and comment that he had never bothered using the shield, but watching me use it against the Distorted made him realize that he could have been using it in his playthrough to save himself a lot of frustration and respawns.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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