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Deja Review: Alan Wake (PC)

Xav de Matos, @Xav

We're of the firm opinion that your time is too precious, too valuable to be spent reading a full review for a game that was already reviewed many, many years ago. What's the point of applying a score to a game that's old enough to be enrolled in the sixth grade? That's why we invented Deja Review: A quick look at the new features and relative agelessness of remade, revived and re-released games.

Alan Wake's development tale was almost as troubled as the ordeal faced by the game's titular character. After a long creation process, which included ditching a PC version that was always planned, Remedy's first original title since 2003 failed to light up sales charts (despite critical praise).

For fans of Wake's story, its inability to reach 'best-seller' status raised fears of an end to his fiction. Developer Remedy Entertainment defied that notion, announcing Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which is set to hit Xbox Live Arcade later this month. Retaining rights from Microsoft -- its original partner in Wake's release -- Remedy finally made good on its promise to bring Wake to the PC, and Alan Wake's second-printing does little to disappoint.

Gallery: Alan Wake PC (2/16/12) | 8 Photos

What's new this time around? Alan Wake's PC debut could have easily been the paperback version of its original Xbox 360 release -- meaning the same old thing, but crafted with less attention for a quick money grab -- but the game looks and feels far from a thoughtless port. Alan Wake's story is identical to his 2010 tale, save for the inclusion of both DLC packages released post-launch on the Xbox 360. The major differences here are on a technical level, which PC players will appreciate. There are a slew of tweaks available for players, including quality settings for volumetric light, Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA), level of detail distance, a healthy field of view slider, and more. That's a lot of PC heavy terminology, but what it all means is that Alan Wake on PC is gorgeous, with plenty of room for visual customization. It's not a complete overhaul, but it's a much better looking experience. There are also Steam Achievements and Steam Cloud support. Considering Remedy outsourced development to the Finnish indie studio Nitro Games, I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

With everything maxed out, the game looks better than I remember, though there are still rough areas. There are instances of objects -- usually trees -- flickering in the background, for example. Other issues from the Xbox original are also included, such as character faces looking like awkward marionettes. Also, the game's cutscenes are compressed quite heavily, which makes for jarring transitions from the smooth PC graphics. In fact, it appears that Alan Wake's cutscenes were directly lifted from the Xbox 360 version as Microsoft Game Studios is listed as the publisher, even though Remedy self-published this version digitally and Nordic Games is distributing retail versions. Another clue? Microsoft Game Studios was re-branded as Microsoft Studios in in mid-2011. (We've asked Remedy if they were under contractual obligation to keep these details the same on PC.)

One of the biggest options for the game is also the simplest: the ability to turn off the interface overlay. Looking back at my review for Alan Wake in GamePro Magazine, I recall having trouble with being immersed in the world thanks to the bright heads-up display. Objective text stuck to the screen, wasting valuable real estate. It was clunky and sullied an otherwise outstanding product. Turning it off on PC pushes the experience back into the dark, helping players focus on the eerie world around them.

How's it hold up? I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Remedy's troubled novelist. I maintain that Alan Wake's complete, episodic story was one of the best released in 2010. It had the ability to answer just enough for players to be satisfied, yet leave haunting questions unanswered. Though the PC version's mouse and keyboard control worked wonderfully, Xbox 360 controller support is probably your best bet, since Alan Wake was originally crafted for it.

If you've already stepped through Alan Wake's horrific tale of loss and sacrifice -- along with the two DLC packages released on Xbox 360 -- there isn't anything new here. The game's staying power has always been an issue, even with a "Nightmare" difficulty setting unlocking upon completion of the game. Vets of the story have seen (or read) it all before. Those new to Wake's trials and tribulations, however, are in for a treat. The game also includes a number of bonuses: Alan Wake's outstanding original soundtrack and video commentary.

Alan Wake was, and still is, a marvelous piece of fiction. If you're one of the many people that missed his first printing, the new edition of Alan Wake's story is something you must explore.

This review is based on the PC version of Alan Wake provided by Remedy.

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