Video Game Review: Saga of ‘Alan Wake’ Continues With ‘The Signal’

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CHICAGO – Life for Alan Wake continues to be a walking nightmare in “The Signal,” the first of several downloadable chapters designed to lengthen and enhance the experience of one of the most unique and memorable games of 2010 — the mysterious-and-riveting “Alan Wake.” The chapter is a free download for everyone who bought a new copy of the game and will be available tomorrow, July 27th, 2010. If you bought a used copy and still want “The Signal,” it will also be available for 560 points ($7.00). It’s worth the low purchase price. Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0

Before we offer a brief preview of “The Signal,” a reminder of our opinion of “Alan Wake” from our original review:

“With echoes of the literature of Stephen King, “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” and “Lost,” the Xbox-exclusive “Alan Wake” is a daring, ambitious title that demands your attention. Why? Because while it’s an imperfect title on a gameplay level and I wish I could have tweaked the storytelling a bit, games that try to break the mold and present something this unique deserve an audience.

Alan Wake: The Signal
Alan Wake: The Signal
Photo credit: Microsoft Game Studios

The team behind “Max Payne” have taken years to develop this unusual thriller, a game brilliantly divided into six episodes that play almost like two-hour installments of a TV show complete with “Previously On” segments and full songs that somewhat replicate the feel of credits between them. The structure of the game is one of its most laudable achievements. Instead of the neverending flow of plot in most games, the story of “Alan Wake” has been divided into six episodes with their own arcs, climaxes, and cliffhangers. It’s a brilliant decision that basically creates six mini-games, allowing you to pick and play for a couple hours and leave satisfied until you “see” the next episode.”

Alan Wake: The Signal
Alan Wake: The Signal
Photo credit: Microsoft Game Studios

The structure of “Alan Wake” makes for a perfect title for DLC in that you can merely download a new “episode” of the experience. Ideally, these DLC episodes would expand the experience and not merely play like an epilogue or a deleted scene. And “The Signal” definitely qualifies, even ending in such a way that you’ll anxiously await the next episode, “The Writer,” to be released later this year. You thought “Alan Wake” was over but, in a unique way, it’s just beginning.

Even more than any of the six episodes in the game itself, “The Signal” plays like a nightmare. The action of the game feels familiar and yet somewhat new. The gameplay still features the shine-and-shoot mechanic but the surreal quality of the environments have been amplified. Notably, you’re not running through the woods for an hour. You’re climbing stairs, walking through streets, and even crossing nightmarish fields of lights reaching to the sky. And the gameplay focuses on “word-flashing” as you shine your light on words like “Tools” or “Bridge” to bring the environment to life, brilliantly playing off the idea that Alan the writer has created this nightmare in his head.

Alan Wake: The Signal
Alan Wake: The Signal
Photo credit: Microsoft Game Studios

“The Signal” is undeniably a success, especially when one considers its price point. If there are any complaints, it’s that the episode is shorter than you might expect. Most of the episodes of the game ran close to two hours, where “The Signal” doesn’t even break one and ends somewhat abruptly. It also felt more difficult than the full game, although that could merely be a byproduct of being out-of-practice with the title’s unique gameplay. But I got my ass kicked regularly.

As for the common complaint about collectibles, those return in “The Signal” in a new way with alarm clocks to grab and standees to read. For some reason, the coffee thermoses in the full game didn’t bug me as much as most (partially because of my love for “Twin Peaks” and the reference to that great show within Bright Falls) but the alarm clocks seem a bit too random. It’s a minor complaint though.

I find it hard to imagine that people who played through “Alan Wake” to its riveting conclusion wouldn’t want to download an extension of that experience if just to see how they continue the story after the game’s shocking conclusion (in fact, most people have assumed this would be a prequel…it is not). “The Signal” works perfectly to both enhance the full game and tease the audience into buying the next installment. I can’t wait for “The Writer.”

Check out this very brief teaser before you go redeem your code:

‘Alan Wake: The Signal: The Signal’ was released by Microsoft Game Studios and developed by Remedy Entertainment. It is rated T (Teen). The game is exclusive to the Xbox 360 and available on Xbox Live Arcade on July 27th, 2010. content director Brian Tallerico

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