My First Horror Video Game!

This week I played Alan Wake. It was my first horror video game, and it freaked me the hell out. Before I pissed my way through it, I was looking forward to playing Aliens: Colonial Marines in the future because it looks so awesomely scary. But if Alan Wake made me sweat, I don’t know that I can handle a game based on the Alien franchise.

I have no doubt that Alan Wake is a blast for people who enjoy tormenting themselves with horror. It’s a psychological thriller about a writer (who somehow manages to be a big celebrity) and visits a small town that has shadowy nightmare people (the Taken) who seem to waste away in light — but you still have to shoot them dead. Alan fights them off with firearms, flashlights, flares and flashbangs, running from one light to another to survive.

So without further ado, here’s what the game presents to players:

1. A Suspenseful Story

To sum up the plot of Alan Wake — without giving away any major plot twists or the ending — his wife is kidnapped. His unwritten manuscript is coming to life all around him. He sees himself on TV screens writing this book whose pages he keeps finding all over the place, such as the forest floor… but at first, he has no recollection of writing it. There’s an entire week missing from his memory. It turns out the house he thought he rented isn’t there, and he’s afraid he’ll be tried for murder if he tells the police that he’s been fighting people possessed by darkness. He also collects coffee thermoses.

The story had me intrigued. It plays on childhood fears of the dark and succeeds at being genuinely creepy. The game also has cinematic chapter breaks that make the game feel like a television series — an awesome and eerie touch. Alan’s desperate, confused narration carried me from one haunting chapter to the next, and plot twists kept things interesting.

2. Repetitive Action

While the story is thrilling, the gameplay is not. I’ll admit that I had loads of fun with this game for the first couple of hours. The first chapter was particularly easy to whiz through, and the terror was in not knowing when the shadowy enemies were going to jump out. When it came time to do battle with my limited gear, I broiled bad guys with my flashlight like a pro.

But for a suspenseful game, I felt like I was doing too much fighting and not enough breathless treading, waiting to see what was around the next corner. I wanted suspense, not monotonous pointing and shooting. And I know the horror genre isn’t known for its varied combat, but I at least wanted to pick up an axe or a knife or something. Even the enemies were all the same after a while. Just when I thought I’d hit an unusual one like the bulldozer, they hit me with another one. (Those crows were terrifying, though.)

In my haste to get to the next checkpoint, I didn’t explore enough to collect ammo and batteries in some places. I started failing quite a bit. The more I rushed, the less prepared I was, and the game became proportionally more terrifying for me… or maybe it wasn’t terror. Maybe it was just frustration. It was never possible to outrun enemies, but I could run with them on my tail, as long as I carefully timed my dodges — which are in slow-motion, a very cool touch — so the enemies wouldn’t whittle away my health before I made it to the next beacon of warm, welcoming light.

There was also the issue of the game telling me exactly what to do during the “downtime” between the horror bits. NPCs gave me instructions, and the game let me “Focus” to show me exactly where to go (while Alan repeated what he was supposed to do), in case I forgot in 10 seconds. It made those parts of the game easy, in the same way that a lot of poor teachers assign “busy work” in school.

It was a combat system that worked well enough for the story. It just didn’t give a lot of variety — and for me, varied action is a big part of why I love playing games.

3. A Haunting Atmosphere

Fortunately, this game had enough eerie atmosphere to make up for any lack of combat fun. I’ll admit something here… Alan Wake’s atmosphere had me so on edge that I could only play for short stretches at a time before my nerves made me take a break. When I wanted to unwind with a video game at the end of the day, this was not my go-to choice. I suppose that’s part of its appeal.

Playing this game is like walking around in a Stephen King novel — and it’s obvious that’s exactly what the game designers were going for. Whether Alan’s escaping a possessed clinic, throwing down flares in a garden maze or being attacked by birds at a colossal dam, the nighttime setting is brilliantly rendered. It’s moody. It’s dark. And though I laughed a bit at Alan’s wife for being afraid of the dark at first, I definitely got it by the end of the first chapter.

In Conclusion…

I enjoyed Alan Wake… part of the time. The game succeeded in scaring me out of my wits in places; other parts were a little tedious. I know some people like to take their time with Alan Wake, exploring every part of the forest and town and opening every creaky cabin door. And while I did a little exploring, my favorite locations were the ones that blinded me with light. Seeing the sunrise was incredibly refreshing. I guess that’s sort of the point.

I would absolutely recommend this game to any fan of horror video games. But I’ve deduced something about myself while playing: If Alan Wake freaks me out, and others say that Alan Wake is not at all the scariest game out there, it means I might not be cut out for horror video games… yet.

As soon as horror films and regular video game boss fights stop making me sweat, I’ll try Silent Hill.

— Ashley

13 thoughts on “My First Horror Video Game!”

  1. If you haven’t played it, I recommend Bioshock. It’s a great game and even though it starts out very creepy, you kind of get used to the creepiness. Alan Wake scares me too, I still haven’t gotten the gall to finish it yet lol.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s scared of the Alan Wake game! Thanks for the Bioshock recommendation, I’ve been meaning to play that one for some time… If it’s the sort of creepy I can get used to, then that might be perfect for me. =)

  2. I don’t know if you’ll really have to be too worried about Aliens: Colonial Marines; if it’s anything like the last one (AvP), it will be stressful, not outright scary (I’m a total gaming chicken, if it isn’t co-op). I even have the special edition of Aliens preordered, yeeeeeh…

    One thing you should try, as the Alien fan I’m guessing you are, is Dead Space. It will scare the bodily fluids out of you, but the influence of “Alien” is something you really have to experience. The rotating amber lighting, the blaring horns, the pipes venting steam, and the overall look and feel of the earlier levels screeeam Nostromo.

    And I couldn’t give you a hard time for not completing it because I chickened out before playing a level I knew contained a massive boss :P

    1. All right, I just put AvP in my rental queue. If I can handle it, I’m going for Colonial Marines, too! Alien is awesome.

      Thanks for recommending Dead Space, I’d forgotten about that one. It looked too scary for me in the past, but honestly I’m ready to give it a go, it sounds amazing. And I like that you mentioned co-op, that might be a great way for me to get into creepier games… a little moral support always helps.

      1. Play AvP as a human to prep yourself. You’ll likely notice that the Aliens attack in fairly predictable ways, lol. Like, the ONE vent. And Dead Space 3 will have co-op, though – from the trailers – the atmosphere is nothing like the first.

  3. Great review! I think I’ve heard of this game, but didn’t know what it was about. As much as I like a good story, I’m too chicken to play horror genre games. I don’t even like watching horror films either. I’m a full on scaredy cat. If there’s more suspense than horror, then I may be able to play. If it’s a game like Silent Hill, then no, I won’t be playing it. I’ve heard it’s pretty damn scary too.

    1. Thanks! I must be like you… I like suspense, but horror can freak me out too much. I’ll admit that Youtube is wonderful for exploring games like that. Next time a game puts me too on edge to finish, I’ll probably watch a walkthrough on Youtube like a movie. It’s totally chickening out, but at least that way I can experience the story and atmosphere a little! Maybe not a good idea if you don’t like horror films, though… =)

  4. I definitely get way too scared to play most horror games! There are actually quite a few good horror Wii games that I have played for about 5 minutes, then a door slams behind me in-game and I have to turn off the system. Alan Wake seems like a game I could potentially play, maybe on the same level as Bioshock. The repetitive action will hopefully take a bit of the suspenseful edge off for me.

    I would also second Xandurse and say I wouldn’t be too worried about “Aliens: Colonial Marines”. Only the first Alien movie was horror-centric, and in the games the franchise has gone for more of an action/blood-bath route rather than play up the horror angle.

    1. Oh I agree, those doors slamming behind you are terrible! Thanks for the advice about Colonial Marines. I’m excited to give it a try, especially if you say it’s more action than horror. Besides, I guess I won’t know what type of horror games I like until I try more of them… even if I can only play 5 minutes sometimes!

      Alan Wake has moments of both action and suspense. The first chapter was pretty suspenseful… the second was too dense with action for me, but maybe you would like that. And since the combat mechanics are pretty limited, there’s not a lot of suspense in terms of who’s coming, how should I take them down, etc. I’d definitely recommend the game to anyone brave enough to give it a try. =)

    1. Thanks for the recommendations! I haven’t heard of Penumbra, so I’ll check it out. It seems like everybody’s mad about Slender right now. It looks really freaky, but I like how different it is. I’m far from hardcore but I can’t wait to try that one!

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