Although the “Alan Wake” videogame was very slightly too modern to run on any tech that I owned at the time of preparing this review, everything I’d heard about it intrigued me (Edit: Although I got a more modern PC several months after preparing the first draft of this review, I still haven’t got round to buying or playing “Alan Wake” yet).
So, when I happened to find an online list of novels based on videogames, I was pleased to notice that “Alan Wake” was on there. And, a while later, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of Rick Burroughs’ 2010 novelisation of “Alan Wake”.
So, let’s take a look at “Alan Wake”. Needless to say this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with famous horror writer Alan Wake having a nightmare. When he wakes up, he is travelling to a rural town called Bright Falls with his wife Alice. Alan has had writer’s block for the past two years and Alice thinks that a holiday in a cabin in the woods might help him out.
After meeting several of the eccentric locals and being given the key to a house in the middle of the local lake called Bird Leg Cabin by a mysterious woman that Alan meets in a diner bathroom, they settle into the cabin for the night.
However, much to Alan’s dismay, Alice has brought his old typewriter along with them. After an argument, Alan storms out of the cabin – only for the lights to suddenly go out. When Alan rushes back to the cabin, something pulls Alice into the lake. Alan has a mysterious vision and then wakes up in a crashed car a week later…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling horror thriller novel. It’s kind of like a mixture of Twin Peaks, a Stephen King novel/film and a zombie movie. And, although this novel is a little bit mysterious/confusing at first (especially if, like me, you haven’t played the game it’s based on), it gradually makes more and more sense as the story progresses.
In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re reasonably good. There’s a fairly decent mixture of paranormal horror, psychological horror, ominous locations, mythological horror, gory horror and suspense. There’s also a really good mixture between fast-paced zombie movie style action scenes and slightly weirder psychological horror scenes too. Even so, this novel feels a lot like a horror videogame at times – with dramatic set pieces, mysterious visions etc.. and stuff that probably works slightly better on the screen than on the page.
The novel’s thriller elements are fairly interesting too. In addition to quite a few fast-paced action scenes, this novel also makes good use of mystery and suspense throughout the story too. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of those stories that doesn’t entirely make sense at the beginning, but gradually makes more and more sense as the story progresses.
Although I haven’t played the game this book is based on, it’s not hard to imagine what it is like. Not only does Alan find a glowing tutorial message at one point, but the novel also includes things like a videogame-like weapon progression, a level-like progression from location to location, consistent game-like rules when Alan fights the zombie-like monsters (eg: they are invincible, except when exposed to light) and game-like pacing.
Even so, the story’s meta-fictional elements work really well on the page. Since this is a story about writers and the power of stories, this works excellently in novel form. For example, throughout the story, Alan finds mysterious manuscript pages and several of these are included at the end of various chapters. Not only do they provide intriguing fragments of backstory, but they also occasionally describe later scenes in the story in an intriguingly incomplete way.
In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about what happens to the characters. In essence, the characterisation in this novel is like a slightly deeper version of the characterisation you’d find in a movie or a well-written videogame.
In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is fairly good too. It’s a little bit like the kind of fast-paced “matter of fact” narration that you’d expect to see in a thriller novel and it works really well here. Likewise, thanks to the horror elements, the narration also includes a few descriptive elements too that help to add atmosphere to the story.
As for length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 305 pages in length, it never really feels bloated. Likewise, the story is reasonably fast-paced too. However, the pacing is very videogame-like in many parts of the story. In other words, there are lots of mysterious and/or dramatic set-pieces that almost feel like in-game cutscenes. Likewise, there is a level-like progression between different locations. Even so, when you get used to seeing stuff like this in a novel, it works fairly well.
All in all, this is a compelling horror thriller novel. Yes, it feels like you’re reading a videogame at times, but it’s a fairly good one (not to mention that, unlike an actual game, this novel doesn’t have system requirements 🙂 ). It’s also a good mixture of Stephen King-inspired horror fiction, “Twin Peaks”-style small town weirdness and thrilling zombie-movie style monster action too.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.