Most reviewers of this game neglect the absolute importance of one of the very early scenes and I’ve written this review to bring everyone’s attention to this quiet, but powerful moment.
Let’s dive right in. The game starts and you’re in a nightmare–there’s a lighthouse–you’re in a car–you hit some guy with your car!–he’s evil!–you run to the lighthouse–THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE LIGHTHOUSE!
Then your wife wakes you up and calms you down. You were only dreaming. You’re fine.
Alan and his wife are on a ferry, headed for a cabin in the woods of Maine. They’re going there on vacation so they can get away from their stressful lives.
Alan walks around on the boat for a few minutes. Eventually, Alan’s wife says to him “Let’s act like we’re on vacation.”
Now here we have to stop. Because up to this point it seemed like you were on vacation. So why are you “acting” like you’re on vacation? Are you just pretending to be on vacation? Why are you pretending?
I’ll summarize the plot of the game following this crucial moment very simply:
You will spend the rest of the game trying to find out if you were on vacation or not.
There will be shadow monsters that are very scary and unoriginal in their conceptual design. The shadows will control many things! Like backhoes! And pipes! And sometimes even back-woods axe-murdering hillbillies! It will all be pretty dumb.
You will wake up in a car a week in the future. That will be a real curve ball.
You keep finding pages from a book Alan wrote–but they describe what’s happening around you! Weird! What’s weirder: Alan Wake is supposed to be a world famous writer but he writes like a middle schooler who wears black clothes to be “dark” and really digs Steven King…..WHAT COULD THIS MEAN.
All the while, the game will try to convince you that you’re trying to save your wife. The completely underdeveloped character who, in her mid-thirties, is afraid to go in a house in the middle of the day because she’s “afraid of the dark.” So you, as Alan, explore the house for her, finding the generator to turn on the lights (while sunlight literally pours in through the windows). Her first order of business when she enters this shining supernova of a house is to take off her pants.
All of this stuff is going to try to throw you off. Don’t let it. The wife you love even though she acts more like a whining, pantsless child; the spooky possessed construction machines; the piss-poor attempts at fiction that Alan reads in a gritty “I’ve-seen-the-horrors-of-the-world-and-I’ll-never-be-the-same” sort of voice–all of this will try to divert your attention from the one true question:
WHAT WERE THEY DOING THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Were. they. on. vacation. or. not.
Practical review material: This game looks at vacations and questions their reality in a way I’ve never seen before. Now, whenever I leave to go somewhere on vacation, I’m haunted by the fate of Alan Wake. Was he out there to take a break from real life? Was he out there to start a new life? Where did the vacation start and the normal life end? Were they one in the same?
We will never know. All we have are these mysterious words from Alan’s wife. The only words that matter.