The Dizzying Smell of Polish

Having clawed my way somewhat out of the pit of resentment I have deep within my soul for games forcing me to “shoot stuff to progress”, I’ve been getting back to Alan Wake. I’m now most of the way through the game and feel like I have a relatively good grasp of “what it’s like” now.

And my goodness it is a polished game.

Not necessarily an interesting game or even a fun game, but a very shiny and well-constructed one. This is true both of the aesthetics of the game and its mechanics. All that polish leads to the surreal experience of playing and playing and remarking repeatedly on how nicely done everything is and then, at the close of a session, asking oneself – and yet, why am I so bored? I’ve written that about three times in the Alan Wake game diary.

The aesthetics can, I feel, be summed up in the delightful portrayal of nature – the spooky forests most of all. Friend Chad and I were discussing the game, trying to express what we liked. Chad noted that the forest floors are beautifully detailed. Bear in mind, though, that Chad does that kind of stuff for a living. Then I racked my brains for a while and said… that I was in love with the way that certain shrubs bend as you walk over them and then spring back. So there’s something going on there.

Mechanically, the game feels well balanced, there’s always a kind of challenging fight around the corner, the set pieces are nicely constructed, the blandly linear path doesn’t feel too blatantly linear, and so on. It’s all there and the game rolls along, and your playing of the game rolls along. But then you realise you’ve been playing for ages and haven’t had an interesting thought (perhaps any thought) in your head for the last hour or two. I’ve never played such a well-made game that’s been so decidedly ordinary. I suppose it could even be that its lack of flaws is making it oddly dull, like a too-symmetrical face?

At any rate, the “must finish game” instinct has kicked in, so I guess I’ll find out what happens “in the end” with the slightly disappointing (but well constructed!) story of the game. I don’t really care, per se, but I’ll roll through it for completion’s sake.

Anything less would be a flaw.

18 May 2011
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