Alan Wake Is Better With Friends
As you silly American-types celebrate your late Thanksgiving, I think about a couple of the things for which I’m thankful – namely, friends and video games.
A person’s reaction to something can enhance your own reaction; showing someone a scary movie and watching them jump can be just as fun as you getting startled yourself. This is why my roommates and I play horror/suspense games together. We sit down on the couch in the living room, pull up blankets, and give one person the controller. For Alan Wake, I got to be that person – and the whole of Alan Wake was improved because I played it with my friends.
I want to describe for you a single scene in the game. It’s not particularly spoilerish, but it does occur fairly far in, so you may want to stop reading if that bothers you.
A lot of Alan Wake has you walking through the dark, trying to find your way to the next streetlamp that will help light your way and protect you from the encroaching darkness. This ‘darkness’ is both literal and figurative, and it makes people more evil and murderous than usual – which is why they’re chasing you through the forest with hatchets, chainsaws, and guns. It’s tense, somewhat repetitive, and usually quite somber. The plot takes itself seriously, and to good effect.
We are heading towards a farm where a couple burned-out rock stars had made their home and left something that would help us (or so Alan was told). At the beginning of the chapter, we were separated from our friend Barry and are hoping to rejoin him there. As we rush through a decrepit cornfield, a cutscene interrupts us. There’s Barry: “Al, run! Incoming! There’s too many of them!” He stumbles, and is soon surrounded – but a flash of light reveals a dragon that, raising its head, spews fire out destroying the enemies while an epic 80s guitar thrashes through the silence. We’ve found the stage – and thanks to a convenient bolt of lightning, it’s running on its own. We walk between the pyrotechnic sparklers up the stairs to the stage as more guitar pumps through the old amplifiers.
This is our only chance. To survive the huge horde of baddies chasing us, we’ll have to take our places on the stage and use the pyrotechnics and spotlight to our advantage – the bright lights will dispel the darkness that protects the baddies, and then I can kill them more traditionally (with bullets).
Barry takes up his place at the light board, Alan takes his place on the stage to fend off the oncoming horde, and this song plays in the background.
Epic doesn’t even begin to convey it. A game that had been so solemn and serious had just turned into an epic fight on-stage with hordes of baddies closing in but being beaten back by fireworks; all to an 80s style power ballad. It was amazing; and it was bloody tough. Because I was playing on hard, I needed all the help I could get: this is when my roommates pitched in. Tim pointed out ammo stores as Colin reminded me that I was low on ammo; Brittany’s terrified squeaks warned me that a baddie had gotten a little too close for comfort.
As the song continued, I grew lower on ammo and higher on panic; there were so many of them! Tim pointed out the ammo store at the front of the stage, and I ran for it, hoping to get in and out before the baddies could get in a good swing.
Something to note: most of the controls for Alan Wake are pretty intuitive, but I always had trouble with the “pick up” button on the XBox version – for one reason or another, I kept thinking it was “A,” when “A” was actually “jump.”
Of course, this meant that as I ran towards the front of the stage, I started mashing “A” so I could grab the ammo. The room gasped as Alan went jumping off the stage and we all realized my mistake. The horror turned to awe, however, as the screen went very bright: the song was ending, and as you’d expect at the end of any epic rock ballad, the sky lit up with flames and fireworks and anything else you’d want from an 80s metal pyrotechnic show. The huge bright lights and explosions were enough to insta-kill all the remaining baddies: instead of jumping into a sea of angry bad guys, I had just stage jumped at the end of the song to a background of lights and explosions.
I let out the breath that I’d been unintentionally holding, and the room erupted in applause. Alan and Barry had survived – and been completely epic in the interim. It was one of those moments where you want to turn around and say “DID YOU SEE THAT?” and gush with someone who knew that had just freaking happened. It became a shared experience, a moment made more awesome because other people witnessed it.
Now I know it can be really tough to watch someone play a game – if their play style is different than yours or if they’re just bad, the experience can become frustrating on the whole. However, I promise it’s possible to find a middle ground or just relax about the whole thing. If you can find a balance, it can make a game really great. Having my friends there with me turned a game with arguably dull and repetitive gameplay into a jumpy, scary, overenthusiastic party – and made an epic moment un-freaking-believable.