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In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Andy savours Alan Wake's Lynchian influences.
America s Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but there s also something haunting and mysterious about those dark woods and forested valleys. This landscape inspired David Lynch when he created supernatural soap opera Twin Peaks, and ultimately Finnish horror game Alan Wake.
Remedy s love of Lynch has been apparent since the Address Unknown theme park in Max Payne 2, but Wake is its most overt homage to his work. Like Twin Peaks, the game uses a place of stunning natural beauty to tell a grim, twisted horror story, and it s this contrast that makes Bright Falls such an evocative setting.
You arrive by ferry, in a disarmingly peaceful introduction to the small town and its picturesque surroundings. The fir trees and foggy mountain peaks are realistic enough, but Remedy s take on the geography is exaggerated. It s almost a caricature of the region: what you imagine it looks like, rather than the reality. The valleys are a little too deep, the mountains a little too steep.
Alan Wake began life as an open-world game, and there are still traces of it. The tallest mountain in the region can be seen from most places, which helps you keep track of where Wake s journey is taking him. Brief driving sections let you travel long distances, giving you a limited taste of what the game could ve been like had Remedy kept to its original vision. Access the game s built-in free camera, pull back, and you ll see that the whole world is always there, but that you re confined to a relatively small corner of it.
Wake s travels take him to the Oh Deer Diner, a homage to Twin Peaks Double R, and Cauldron Lake, which is based on Oregon s stunning Crater Lake—seen recently in Jean-Marc Vall e s wonderful film Wild. Other landmarks include the historic Bright Falls Coal Mine, the Sparkling River Estates Trailer Park (most likely inspired by Twin Peaks equally rundown Fat Trout Trailer Park), and the Bright Falls Dam. It s a quintessential slice of rural Americana, albeit one haunted by shadowy, murderous ghosts.
Remedy is based in Espoo, Finland, but the team spent a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest, taking reference photos and getting a feel for the geography and climate.
We drove about 2,000 miles around it for a period of almost two weeks, says Saku Lehtinen, art director. We went to places like Astoria, a very typical Pacific Northwestern coastal town, where the movie Ring was made. We went to North Bend, where Twin Peaks was filmed, which is just outside of Seattle. The story in Alan Wake has fantastic elements, but it has to be rooted in reality.
It s a naturally exciting setting, says writer Mikko Rautalahti. It s also something you don t see in games a lot. We wanted wide open spaces instead of corridors and underground complexes. The nature there is beautiful and rich, but it s also perfect for a horror game. Take those deep, dark woods, add something weird and horrible lurking there, and you re all set.
Remedy even went as far as using NASA star maps to make sure Bright Falls s night sky was accurate. Night is a big part of Alan Wake, and you spend much of the game traipsing through foggy, moonlit forests. Remedy s proprietary Alan Wake Engine is, even now, stunning to look at. The way the cold, pale moonlight shines through the swirling mist is really atmospheric. The weather effects are superb, with trees swaying in the wind and forks of jagged lightning lighting up the sky. Creating their own bespoke tech delayed the game for several years, but the results are still spectacular.
Alan Wake is a flawed game. The handful of enemy types makes combat repetitive and frustrating, and it s often stiflingly linear. But, for me, the setting makes up for its shortcomings. The Pacific Northwest is a place we rarely get to visit in videogames, and Remedy captured its essence perfectly. A sequel to Alan Wake was in the works, but was cancelled so the team could start work on Xbox One exclusive Quantum Break, so it s unlikely, sadly, that we ll ever visit Bright Falls again.
But with Twin Peaks returning to television screens in 2017, perhaps that would be the perfect time for Remedy to revisit its town and continue the story of troubled horror writer Alan Wake.
Alan Wake took his sweet time to arrive on PC from Xbox 360, but went down well once he did. The game quickly hit the top of the Steam charts and Remedy said it recouped its development and marketing costs within two days of release. Alas, though Remedy planned to make a sequel, it's not actually going to happen. But over at Polygon you can at least get an idea of what was in store, in the form of a prototype video which Remedy created to pitch Alan Wake 2 to to various publishers, including Microsoft.
Microsoft, it turned out, was looking for something different. "Quite quickly our discussion about Alan Wake 2 turned into something else and that something else turned into Quantum Break, which was great and very exciting," Remedy writer and original Max Payne face Sam Lake explained.
The 13-minute video features quite a bit of gameplay, but Lake described it as "more like a mood piece," setting the stage for the famed fictional writer's deeper descent into the world of darkness, which he's now more properly equipped to face. And even though the sequel wasn't made, the video wasn't a complete bust either: Some of the elements on display, like the Birdman, actually found their way into the stand-alone expansion Alan Wake's American Nightmare.
Though Alan Wake 2 is seemingly lost in limbo, Lake left open the possibility that it could happen some day. "I would love to do that... it feels that time has only refined the ideas of what the sequel would be, which is great. It's almost, in some ways and on some level, that all of this extra time to think it about it has made it tastier and more exciting," he said. "Only time will tell."