As I said in the ending credits, I think Alan Wake had all the ingredients to make a much stronger game, and most of the major systemic flaws were a result of a few key mistakes. Here is what I’d do to re-edit the game:
- Alan needs to shut his mouth. His calm, soothing delivery during monologue exposition was completely at odds with the idea of “thriller”, “horror”, “action”, or whatever this game was trying to be. It was also at odds with the character they eventually establish: A hot-tempered jerk. His warm instruction to the player undercuts both the mood of the game and the identity of the protagonist. And speaking of Alan’s personality, the story needs to…
- Establish Alan sooner. The scene with him waking up and taking painkiller at the start of Chapter 6 was a lot more revealing than the one where he comforts his wife in the dark. I know that the latter had key exposition in it: It showed his wife being afraid of the dark, it showed the clicker, and it established that they did have a healthy relationship at some point. We needed both of these scenes for the Alice plot to have the proper emotional weight. I think we could make room for both of them in the first act by getting rid of…
- The opening tutorial. This took way too long to introduce what was basically a few very simple concepts. It screwed up the mood. This whole section could be cut and the gameplay elements could have been introduced later when they were needed.
- Combat taunts. Cut them all. Combat taunts in general are usually a bad idea. If we really needed to have them in the game, they should show up a few times in the entire game, not in every single fight. This goes beyond Alan Wake, but as games move closer to photo-realism and aspire to be quasi-movies, they need to realize that repeating combat taunts is no more acceptable than having movie characters recycle dialog. And speaking of the enemies…
- Remove 75% of the enemies in the game. I say this without having experienced the combat in American Nightmare. From what Chris has said, it sounds like they fixed the combat by embracing the action-shooter elements. That’s not wrong, but I’m trying to make the case here that you could fix this game without creating additional content, and I think it would be cheating for me to ask for the greater foe diversity of the DLC.
Instead, I’m going to suggest that the game should be more about uncertainty. If we wanted to keep the game the same length we could make 1/4 as many foes, but have them take longer to fight when you do encounter them. Maybe that would only make players want to run away more, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. It was often more expedient to run away from foes in Silent Hill 2. (I use SH2 as an example not because it’s the greatest scary game ever, but it is the most widely praised and the closest to this one in terms of mechanics.) Running away can be even more thrilling than fighting, if done properly. And speaking of the fights…
- STOP TELEGRAPHING ALL THE FIGHTS WTF WHY?!? Beyond the tedious combat, the meandering story, the idiotic taunts, I think the thing that bugged me most was just how mechanical the fights felt. The slow motion. The camera swing. The music cue. The flashlight burn sound. Bang! Bang! Bang!
Imagine an action movie where they used the same camera cut, the same music cue, and the same sound effects for every. Single. Fight. And imagine that all fight scenes lasted exactly the same length of time and all the fights were the same distance apart.
Mix it up. Every fight should be a little different. The player should never think, “It’s about time for a fight now. Yep. There it is.” And they should never, ever feel, “Okay. Fight over. I should be safe until I get to the next obvious arena.”
There was that one moment in the game where you enter a cabin and you see a taken walk by the window. You don’t fight him. It’s just the game messing with you. We need way, way more of that. We should see taken moving around in the distance. See them milling around a shed, but when you get to the shed they aren’t there. This will create unease and doubt.
Give the player the illusion of choice. (Obviously real choice is better, but remember I’m trying to fix this game through editing.) Take one of those sections of woods where there is a huge worthless expanse of foliage off to one side of the path. Make the road fork, so the player has to choose which way to go. Make both paths drop down to the same one-way area (to avoid them going in circles) and let them wonder what was on the other road.
Some players will go back and check before dropping down. That’s fine too. This isn’t perfect and some players will still complain about these false choices, but this will at least give the player a tiny bit of slack in the exploration leash so that your railroad tracks aren’t so obvious.
We can argue about which flaws were the worst, but I stand by my assertion that they had everything they needed for a really smart and interesting game. I was sorry to see so many great ideas buried under so many basic problems with combat and pacing.
Thanks for watching.