Alan Wake nails its story perfectly, but stumbles when it tries to shoehorn traditional game mechanics into the experience. Your flashlight and guns control so perfectly and intuitively that the combat blends seamlessly into the story, never detracting from the atmosphere or interrupting the tension. Rapidly hitting the A button to unlock a door or playing a quick minigame to fire up a generator, on the other hand, does nothing but remind that you're playing a game, not actually fighting for your life. For a story-heavy game like Alan Wake to really work, it has to suck you in and keep you entranced, which is nigh impossible when you're having controller buttons flashed in your face. There are other game-y elements, too, such as collecting thermoses and tuning into radio and TV programs, but these are optional and easy enough to avoid if you favor immersion over achievements.
With its gorgeous mountain scenery, quirky characters and unsettling vibe, Alan Wake feels more than a little like an episode of Twin Peaks, which is not an accident. The entire game is presented like a TV series, with chapters broken into Episodes that end in cliffhangers and begin with "previously on Alan Wake" recaps of the action to date. Sure, it's a gimmick, but it's one that actually helps the game stay potent. Maintaining the kind of horrific atmosphere that Wake is aiming for is incredibly difficult over a sustained period of time; imitating the emotional peaks and valleys that TV episodes create lets Wake control the tension, cranking it up or down as needed to keep you on edge. Wake's TV stylings have more practical benefits, too: The Episode recaps serve as excellent reminders, and Alan's moody voiceovers not only provide clues as to how to proceed, but also remind you what your current goal is.
Alan Wake suffers from a few odd pacing issues, but for the most part its story unfolds perfectly as the game progresses, driving you further and further into the darkness. By the time you find out the truth of what happened in that cabin, you'll be so far in that you'll have no choice but to push on through to the other side. And you won't mind one bit.
Bottom Line: A brilliantly told story, excellent voice acting, and an atmosphere so unnerving you'll sleep with the lights on for a month. If only it came with a bottle of instant amnesia so that you could play it for the first time more than once.
Recommendation: Unless you're allergic to excellent storytelling or have an unnatural fear of pine trees, play this immediately.
Susan Arendt's dog was scared by Alan Wake but she stuck around to protect her mommy, anyway.