Alan Wake's mysteries still linger, months after a pitch-perfect conclusion. Unlike most downloadable add-ons introduced after the fact, the first of two new episodes, "The Signal," comes after the fiction and wisely targets fans who wouldn't care much for standard DLC fare like "Additional killing grounds!" or "Deadlier explosive rounds!" If you just wanted to share a few more words with the imperiled author (and get 250 Gamerscore out of it), here's your chance.
Well, provided you can find him. The man's having trouble finding himself in the town of Bright Falls, which grows even more unstable and incoherent with every step he takes. Once again it's unclear where the world ends and the writer begins, and the developers at Remedy don't waste time before they start shoving reality and fiction into the same space. Their tinkering leads to an amusing spin on the original game's cardboard cutout gag, and more interestingly creates a few challenging scenarios that differ from those in the main game. I think I would have remembered a demolition derby.
Alan Wake's elegant and measured combat isn't altered in The Signal, though it may require some more finesse and patience on your part. You'll reconsider the trusty flashlight once the game essentially tells you, "Hey, watch where you're pointing that thing!" and again when it drops off a few literal exploding barrels with a wink and a nudge. You'd be impressed by the added layer of environmental interaction if you weren't freaking out about this video game that just started talking to you.
And you'll get annoyed when it comes close to asking, "Can you hear me now?" As much as The Signal succeeds at expanding the story and Alan's violent vocabulary, it fails to join the discussion on the main game's faults and somehow manages to have the most distracting instance of product placement yet. It's "The Signal," as in the GPS signal on your VERIZON telephone. I know this because it falls face first into the camera in slow motion.
I can forgive that (somebody's got to pay Remedy if America won't), but there are a few other issues that still outstay their welcome. The intrusive HUD still can't be dimmed or disabled, and the game insists on littering the environment with unnecessary collectibles -- this time they're ticking alarm clocks. At least those coffee thermoses had the decency to stay quiet.
Leftover complaints aside, it's worth noting that you should keep flare gun ammo handy until the final segment. Otherwise, you can expect to endure an irritating, chaotic bout with respawning enemies and obnoxious objects clobbering you from all sides. (You'll be Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.)
If you bought the game new in a territory where Xbox Live is officially supported, you won't be wrestling with the question of value -- you can get The Signal for free on July 27, once you input the included code. Are these 90 minutes worth $7? I'm going to say "yes," if only because Alan Wake's skewed atmosphere and briskly paced story -- the stuff that drew you to it in the first place -- extend into the DLC. The difficulty isn't as tightly controlled, but once the licensed song (another inspired choice!) signals the end, you'll be eager to see what's next on the verizon.
This review is based on review code provided by Microsoft. "Alan Wake: The Signal" will be available on Xbox Live on July 27 for 560 MSP ($7) and is available for free to those who purchased new copies of Alan Wake.
Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons; see: Alan Wake review.