Alan Wake: The Signal Review

"This is not a gun. It is a tool in a logical process of elimination." Thomas Zane speaks these words to Alan Wake, but he might as well be saying them to the person behind the controller, as this first DLC episode reveals the beginning of a drill-down to coherent truth and plot resolution that will apparently be completed in a torturously discontinuous, TV-series fashion. For the low, low price of FREE for those who purchased the game new, however, the two-hour extension to the narrative is a can’t-miss, or perhaps why-miss, experience, even if flaws in combat and narrative delivery remain.

Remedy Entertainment continues to take an entirely different approach to videogame storytelling in The Signal, which may feel awkward to some who are not accustomed to the style. Continuing right where the disc-based campaign left off, and instantly treating eager players to a taste of clarity and explanation regarding Wake’s predicament, this episode sets forth a single goal and stays true to its course throughout. Once the credits roll, however, a cryptic cutscene and a very tangible sense of progress presented in the episode’s final minutes leave players starving for more.

Alan Wake: The Signal

The Signal exhibits its most impressive tricks early on; a wonderfully disorienting, shifting world introduced in the first few scenes feels underutilized as the episode continues, and the floating, typewritten words that tie together Wake’s supposed authority with his helpless reality (first seen in Episode 6 of the main story arc) lose their novelty and impact due to prevalence throughout the episode. These contradictory effects prove that it’s difficult to impress an audience that has come to expect the unconventional, but the episode’s fairly rapid pace and truncated length do well to mask those feelings and limit empty play time.

The lack of on-screen manuscript pages is a welcome change this time around, those being replaced by more frequent television sequences and varied in-game events, but combat somehow feels more oppressive and less enjoyable for about half of the total playtime. The other half is actually refreshing, as players will encounter new and somewhat tactical ways to dispatch foes via the environment and the aforementioned floating words, but many of the larger fields of foes are best overcome simply by running through to the next warm bath of very safe light. Otherwise, the way that enemies materialize behind Wake can become quite frustrating, especially since it seems to happen more frequently than in the disc-based campaign. Because the camera doesn’t always shift to notify the player of newly approaching foes, getting overwhelmed by repeated backstabs happens more often than one would hope. Still, if combat is approached from a survivalist’s point of view rather than a soldier’s, it is altogether manageable.

The Signal provides players a welcome understanding of Alan Wake’s strange existence and leads the narrative to new places, even if some of those places are sadistically kept just slightly out of the audience’s reach. The episode presents combat with touches of both progress and regression, but its short length refuses to let players linger in either the best or worst of what it has to offer. Of the two, though, The Signal does feature more "best" than "worst," and is absolutely a must-play for anyone who’s completed the initial release, as it extends, clarifies, and complicates the game’s narrative — just what Wake fans are looking for.

4 out of 5


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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