⌚ June 18, 2012
Some projects are useful learning experiences even if they do not succeed. Curious to find out how well a modern Windows game would play in Linux using wine, I tried the mystery adventure game Alan Wake for the PC because its price was relatively low and its premise sounded intriguing. Also, winehq reported success running this game in Ubuntu 12.04, so I wanted to see if it would play in Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit.
What follows are the results of this experiment along with my thoughts on the game itself after playing it to completion.
Installing the Game
There are several ways to install a Windows game from a game disk onto a Linux system using wine, but I used the standard game disk installation by navigating to the Alan Wake media root in a terminal and running,
Wine is usually a hit or miss endeavor, so I was surprised to see that the game installed without errors. The game installs completely with DirectX and the Visual C runtime.
Did It Play?
No. Alan Wake does not play either by clicking the icon on the desktop or by running the executable from a terminal using wine. The game does nothing. It never loads. No title screens or dialogs appear.
Not ready to give up, I consulted winehq page for Alan Wake and reviewed the details.
Others noted that the game requires a modified version of wine 1.4. I was running wine 1.2.2, so this might be the problem. Following these steps, I rebuilt a patched version of wine to test this theory in Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit.
sudo apt-get build-dep wine wget prdownloads.sourceforge.net/wine/wine-1.4-rc4.tar.bz2 tar xjpf wine-1.4-rc4.tar.bz2 cd wine-1.4-rc4 wget dl.dropbox.com/u/6901628/raw3.patch patch -p1 < raw3.patch tools/./make_requests tools/./wineinstall
Compiling wine took about an hour, but it completed successfully. Running the game again in wine 1.4-rc4 prompted for Gecko, which I updated, but the game still refused to run.
Consulting winehq again reveals that their are apparently two versions of Alan Wake. One version runs in Linux, and the other version does not and has a garbage rating. It could be that I have the garbage version.
After trying other ideas and tweaking the wine configuration without success, I eventually decided to consider this project a learning experience and let it go. The game might not have played in Linux, but at least I have an updated wine as a result.
It was time to play the game, so I installed it in Windows XP and let the journey begin.
About the Game
Spoiler Note: Not too many spoilers are given in this review and little information will ruin the plot, but be prepared for a few vague giveaways. Aside from a few game events and some hints to point out likes and dislikes, the story will still be a surprise after reading this review.
Alan Wake is a thriller/mystery story-driven adventure where a man’s wife goes missing in a small, mountain town, and hubby spends the rest of the game trying to find her.
Yes, I thought it sounded interesting too…until I actually played it.
Oh, it’s not all bad, but the more I played, the more disappointed I became for a number of reasons. But let’s look at the positive points first.
Beautiful, detailed, lush environments far exceeded my expectations. Wow! This is one of the most gorgeous-looking games I have seen recently, and it is worth playing just to enjoy the sights.
The mountains, the water, the town, the people–all are created with almost realistic detail. I was in awe and found myself pausing everywhere I went to gawk at the astounding visuals. Impressive. I almost made myself dizzy rotating the camera to absorb the scenery. Even the shadow effects are brilliantly rendered. Yes, the graphics are that good.
My most memorable moment of the game occurs near the beginning when our lovebirds arrive on the ferry. The train crossing the trestle with the town in the background is nothing short of a digital masterpiece. I wish I could take screenshots. The town and its harbor were well laid out. Combine that with the fact that the town is preparing for its local Deerfest, and I could almost feel the anticipation. I especially liked the deer float. Nice touch. Whoever thought of that deserves praise. (Who knew that a giant deer’s rump from a float could be so dangerous later in the game?)
Arrival Into Town
After my initial excitement waned, my next goal was to explore the town. I immediately planned to skip the story and explore the environs upon debarking the ferry. I could barely stand the wait as I imagined the fun I would have walking up and down the streets, reading signs, talking to the locals, making choices, entering buildings for fun, locating hidden items, completing side quests, and other delightful features I have come to expect from today’s games.
I was quickly disappointed.
This game allows none of that senseless fun. It has a story to tell, and it will tell it–whether I want to hear it or not. Leaving the ferry launches into a series of cutscenes and preplanned dialogs. There is no exploration. No interaction. No sidequests. No missions.
Alan Wake is a one-way, linear game on rails. You have no freedoms. This is a story-oriented game that guides you along a preset path like a choo-choo train on a track that leads to a single destination without side trips. Everything is decided for you, and if, for some, odd, bizarre, inexplicable reason, you have no clue as to what to do next, the game tells you what to do and where to find your next objective. Where is the fun in that?
The “hero” (purposefully in double quotes) talks to himself to express his feelings during the entire game–as if I care. His thoughts often reveal what to do next even when it is painfully obvious. For example, he approaches a locked gate with a button next to it. He thinks, “I need to find a button nearby to open the gate.” Duh! (Yes, the button opens the gate.) Situations like this occur all the time. There is no need to think when playing Alan Wake.
Turn Your Brain Off
This trend removes part of the fun of exploration. I see this often in many games made today, and this is not a good sign for the future of gaming. What does it say about the quality and patience of the players? Is the youth of today so stupid that it cannot figure out how to press a button to open a gate? Are they so lacking in incentive and patience to look for the key or figure out a puzzle?
I recall playing absorbing text adventure classics from Infocom, such as Moonmist and Deadline, that required time and patience to mull over its intricate puzzles. It took time, but the feeling of achievement was worth the effort. That magic is lost in today’s games, and Alan Wake is no different.
The Story Is First
Repeat together: “Alan Wake is story-driven game.”
This means you guide an unlikable character through a preset path to complete the story. Anyone looking for multiple completion paths in a sandbox environment reminiscent of Fallout 3 should look elsewhere. Do you want to choose witty phrases during dialogs for different outcomes? Too bad. You will not find it here.
All throughout the game I was hoping I would find the point where I could break away from the story to explore on my own since many games usually grant this freedom once enough progress has been made. Given how carefully crafted the game world is, it makes no sense to tie the player down. That break point never happened.
I relish a riveting story in a game, but when the story takes precedence, offers no choices, and overrides my wishes, then the “game” loses its fun. It becomes nothing more than an interactive movie. Earlier games, such as Final Fantasy 6, had engrossing stories, but not at the cost of gameplay.
As a rule for Alan Wake, if something is not in the story, then you cannot do it in the game.
Aside from the impressive graphics, the story is quite interesting and gradually becomes the main motivation for playing. By the time I reached the coal mine in episode 3, I was ready for the game to be over, but I continued playing just to see how the story would unfold.
The plot takes several unexpected twists and turns as our “hero” (always in double quotes) tries to piece together the events and make sense of the mystery. The mystery held me in suspense most of the time as I tried to unravel the plot for myself. It’s not bad.
The game features a manuscript system where pages (conveniently located in the “hero’s” path) reveal extra parts of the story to flesh out the details. This is often used to good effect as some pages foretell future events that you end up playing. This creates a sense of joy or dread at times when you know in advance that a certain character will be killed off. (I found these predictions joyful most of the time: “Good. We can finally get rid of that annoying character!”)
The story is also this game’s weakness. Since it raised an intriguing question early on, I was willing to wade through its entirety to figure out how it would end. But once the mystery was solved, I found no point in a replay other than to collect hidden manuscripts on the Nightmare difficulty setting. Part of the charm of a mystery is figuring out “whodunit,” but once you know “whodunit” the incentive is lost.
I loved how the developers made the game feel fresh and unexpected around every turn. Up ahead might lie a dark path with machinery and you know something is going to happen, but you are not sure what. And then, something you were not expecting catches you by surprise from behind.
No matter where I went along the preset path I was never sure what to expect. The game takes inventive approaches to reduce predictability. I admired the thought and creativity given to producing unexpected surprises. Well done!
Alan Wake has you traveling everywhere with new twists on old areas. A rock stage in a farm pasture. Traveling in a mine cart across a rickety bridge. The police station. The doctor’s retreat (The haunted house-type light effects during the storm were just plain cool). The watch towers. The gas station. Every locale was meticulously created and felt new and exciting. By providing unique twists on boring environments, the game felt fresh up until the end. This was exceptionally well done, and I was pleased to see this attention to detail.
At the same time, these locations were frustrating because the game refused to let me explore and interact with them at my will. They felt like a tease. Too many times I thought, “Wow. How impressive, I wonder if I can go in/over there and explore it for hidden items. Oh, I guess I can’t. How disappointing.”
And that brings up a consistent complaint I had with Alan Wake: I was more disappointed with what I couldn’t do in the game than what I could do.
Creepy sound effects and special visuals enhance the dangers lurking in the dark. Sounds match their associated causes. For example, walking over wood or rattling chains has the intended effect. Groans in the distance foretell nearby dangers. Next to the graphics and the story, the general atmosphere makes the story feel alive.
The cinematics were the biggest detractors to the atmosphere. Cutscenes are prerendered videos that appear slightly different and seem out of touch with the game graphics. Often, just as I was about to get into the story, a cutscene would appear and pull me out. It would have been more effective if all cutscenes were rendered with in-game graphics for consistency. As a result, it felt like I was toggling between a low quality movie and sharp, detailed game graphics. However, no matter what the game, I find that prerendered cutscenes always ruin the game experience.
Speaking of being pulled out of the game world to face a dose of reality, the game contains models and posters for real life brands such as Verizon, Xbox 360, and Energizer batteries. This no doubt may have sounded like a good idea to the brand owners, but it spoiled the suspension of disbelief. Being immersed in another game world only to find products plugging for real life items ruined the effect and made me more disconnected with the game. Parody brands would have been more fun.
Naturally, in a game like this, we need bad guys. Supernatural bad guys. Bad guys so tough, bullets are ineffective. This calls for weapons beyond flying projectiles. We need…flashlights! (“Powered by Energizer, the battery that keeps going and going. This message was brought to you by…”)
The general pattern of illuminating the enemies with a flashlight to purge them from darkness before filling them with bullets is a unique twist on an old formula. However, it becomes tiring, repetitive, and difficult to do later on when surrounded by swarms of enemies. A flashlight only points in one direction.
On top of that, the enemies exercise strategy by trying to divert your attention to one area in order to ambush you from behind. This strategy seems clever at first until you realize that it’s all they know what to do.
Later in the game, anytime you see an enemy in front, there will always be two behind you. Always. Count on it. It eventually becomes aggravating and tedious. All I want to do is get from point A to point B but these things insist on swarming the “hero.” Shine. Shoot. Repeat.
Well, then, why not outrun them?
You can’t. Our “hero” is so out of shape that he bends over and pants to a bowed stagger after a brief sprint. Pathetic. But even then, the enemies are faster and always catch up for death-dealing blows. Every time I encountered enemies, I had no choice but to fight–even when low on health.
Checkpoints are everywhere, so even if the “hero” dies, he can resume from a few paces back. No big loss, but it is still annoying to be unable to escape from enemies who outnumber and easily overpower our lone “hero.” (I can’t help using double quotes around the word “hero.” I can’t stand this guy!)
On the bright side, the game features a dodge system that, if timed correctly, the “hero” will dodge and miss the attack. In practice, I found this useless since the enemies flank the protagonist and most of them attack from behind, which you cannot see, so you have no idea of when to dodge. The best I could do was to make the “hero” sprint to the next light post–gasping and panting all the way–before getting clubbed to death. And those enemies that throw axes from a distance are downright frustrating and impossible to dodge!
Controls were okay, but they could have been better. The “hero” moved like a truck at times. Jumping onto platforms was tricky, and he often fell to his death because timing jumps was difficult. “Alan Wake ain’t no Mario,” was a recurring thought for this game.
On top of that, he apparently can’t swim. Yes, dear reader, you read right. Even though a cutscene shows him diving headlong into the lake, if YOU try to do that in the game, he drowns, and it’s game over. Say, WHAT?! AT LEAST MAKE THE CUTSCENES MATCH THE GAME PHYSICS!
I thought I could simply swim to other side to avoid the long, winding path. But, nooooooooo. He drowns the moment his tender toes touch water. The game demands that you take the long way because the story calls for it. What a disappointment. Why is it that Mario can swim on an 8-bit NES console, but Alan Wake, on a high end system, cannot?
All of the characters were annoying, and I cared for none of their personalities. The protagonist, Alan Wake, is short-tempered, has little control over his own emotions, feels the need to always understand everything before acting, needs to be in control, henpecked by a wife who keeps him on his leash, lacks humility, is blunt, lacks tack, behaves like a two-year-old when upset, and has a penchant for swear words when circumstances do not go his way. A typical American. It is impossible to empathize with something/someone like this.
His wife is no better, so I was glad to see her removed from the game early on. Personally, I cannot stand females like her either in real life or in video games, so I couldn’t care less about saving her and had no desire to do so.
I tried my best to push her into the lake, but the game wouldn’t let me. It’s not in the story. She’s one tough cookie, so it’s surprising she goes missing. Why is it that the game lets me take down chainsaw-wielding maniacs and possessed bulldozers capable of wrecking buildings yet I cannot push a defenseless female into the lake? What gives? Oh, that’s right…it’s not in the story.
The most I could do to torment her was to leave her alone in the dark and let her scream in desperation. Surprisingly, that was one of the highlights of the game. I sat back, relaxed, and listened to her panic in the dark just for fun. Heh, heh. At least she suffered in the end, so was happy. I really, really can’t stand her.
In addition, the story is riddled with more cliched characters of similar temperament who seem to be popular with American audiences. The bully FBI agent. The female-ruled police force. The crazy doctor. The crazy lamp lady who nobody takes seriously. The overzealous diner gal. The over-protective war veteran. The list goes on. Thankfully, some of them get killed or removed, so that’s a relief.
Barry was probably the most tolerable character in the game due to his comic relief. (I loved the part where he danced on the rock stage with his arms swaying in the air while I fought for dear life. His witty remarks were funny. Nice touch.) Too bad I couldn’t play as Barry since his part in the game looked to be more fun than controlling an uxorious writer. Who wouldn’t enjoy running around wrapped in Christmas lights?
I would have much preferred to explore the luscious game environments instead of dealing with these all-American nuisances, but sadly, the game refused to allow self-guided exploration because it’s not in the story.
Was the Game Scary?
No. Absolutely not. Given the combination of annoying characters, Americanized modernism, redundant battles, predictable enemy tactics, trite dialog, bad language, lack of freedom, and in-game advertisements of real-life products, I could not become immersed in this game world.
Too many grating issues existed, and I was more disappointed and disgusted than anything else. For truly creepy games, pick the Japanese-made games like Siren or the original Silent Hill. The Japanese know how to get inside your mind and scare the pants off of you.
The Greatest Annoyance
My biggest complaint with this game is how American it feels…and that is not a compliment.
The characters are blunt, rude, belligerent, unlikable, and possess the “I’m always right” attitude typical of Americans. Profanity and bad language are the norm, but then again, Americans love their profanity seeing as how almost every American-made movie or game nowadays has some form of bad language in it. Is this necessary? Can’t we have a clean game for a change? Pac-Man was a hit without any bad language, so it can be done.
Also, Alan Wake is divided into episodes that make the game feel like an American TV series, and I absolutely detest American TV programs. They feel so shallow and insubstantial in addition to being cliched. Even the script in the game feels like something I heard many times before.
Alan Wake acts like a spoiled (American) toddler and runs away saying stuff like, “Give me time to sort things out” and such. Sort what out? Are your communication skills that lacking? How many movies and shows have already used lines like that with predictable characterization? Apparently, American stories demand this kind of blowout behavior. It gets tiring. Can’t writers think of something more original?
Alan Wake exemplifies many Americans I have observed in real life. Why play real life in a game? I would prefer to see likable characters who display humility and temperance and possess rational thinking abilities and good listening skills instead of the itchy, impulsive “I’ve-gotta-be-in-control-because-I’m-an-American-and-Americans-are-always-right” attitude.
To make matters worse, the story in Alan Wake (as well as many American stories whether they be books, movies, or games) are lacking in substance. American stories of today seem geared for the quick thrill rather than lasting quality, and Alan Wake’s story falls into the quick thrill category. (The ending is also short and lackluster, typical of many American games. Do Americans not know how to write a satisfying conclusion?)
Comparisons With Japanese Games
Alan Wake is typical of many modern American games: beautiful graphics, but lacking in everything else. Style over substance. My original interest in playing this was because I thought it would be an engrossing horror/mystery game similar to Sirenreleased for the PlayStation 2 a few years ago.
I was disappointed, but I also see the differences in attitudes between the American and Japanese cultures through games like this. Americans value flash over substance, while Japanese value substance over flash.
For example, Siren, though it had frustrating controls and tended to be extremely challenging at times, was brilliant and truly Creepy with a capital C. It offered multiple paths, storylines that crisscrossed, interesting characters (many of whom were likable and displayed better emotional stability under pressure than those in Alan Wake), and plenty of free roaming exploration with different outcomes. Siren was so gripping, it could induce nightmares. Halfway through Siren, I was completely immersed and already planning what to do in the next replay to get all of the endings. Siren had substance.
Alan Wake, on the other hand, was made with clearly different values that reflect the values of the players and those of the developers and American society in general. The graphics are gorgeous and the story is decent, but there is little substance and zero replay incentive. There is also little to explore, and the script is filled with trite American expressions. Apparently, American game characters cannot think beyond rehashed TV scripts and movie references.
Siren contained puzzles that made you think, while Alan Wake’s “puzzles” were obvious and offered immediate gratification. Nothing is more thrilling than arriving at the solution of a perplexing conundrum after pondering its mystery. No such enjoyment exists in Alan Wake. Why is this? Perhaps Japanese players possess a higher intelligence than Americans? After all, developers produce games for money, so that means they need to produce games people can play.
Whatever the reason, Siren kept me glued to its world and replaying it many times–something Alan Wake did not achieve.
Even though Alan Wake does not play in Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit with wine 1.4-rc4, it was worth the try. Experimentation often leads to increased knowledge whether or not the experiment was a success. This is one of those experiments.
The game itself was another matter. I didn’t realize how many times I used the words “disappointment” and “American” in the same article, but those two words describe the Alan Wake game perfectly.
On the bright side, Alan Wake is not a complete disaster. It features jaw-dropping gorgeous graphics wrapped within a twisty story, and it’s worth playing for these reasons alone. But if you are hoping for a suspenseful horror game in the vein of Japanese trauma-inflicting masterpieces like Siren or the original Silent Hill–games that mess with your mind and make you clutch your precious Teddy Bear for comfort, then look elsewhere.
Given the care and attention to detail the developers put into the game environment, Alan Wake had the potential to offer so much more. However, its one-way path, annoying characters, tedious battles, cliched dialog, lack of freedom, and American annoyances make this a play-once-and-forget-about-it game. Had this taken the sandbox, free-roaming exploration approach and offered interactive dialog with likable characters minus the rude American attitudes and profanity while providing multiple replay possibilities, then this probably would have been a creepy masterpiece. ‘Tis a pity.
Above all else, the most tragic point is that I really did not have much fun playing Alan Wake. It started with a bang, but gradually lost its sparkle. In the last two episodes, I had grown tired of the linear, predictable gameplay and rushed through it only to see how the story would end. There is little replay incentive. Once you have played the game once, you have seen everything and you know how the mystery ends, so what’s the point?
Sadly, the gameplay takes second place to the story. It felt as if the developers wrote the story and then added clunky gameplay as an afterthought.
In short, Alan Wake is good-looking American disappointment.
What Matters Most
Did I have fun? Not much. Would I play it again? No. Favorite feature: The graphics Greatest annoyances: The characters, bad language, and lack of freedom