Telling the story of a writer plagued by his own demons, Alan Wake delivered both an enticing story and an innovative gameplay mechanic: the use of light as a weapon. The main game followed Wake's quest to rescue his wife from the darkness, while the first DLC episode, The Signal, chronicled Wake's battle for his own sanity. The second installment, The Writer, expands on the events seen in The Signal, all the while keeping the experience fresh and the story moving forward.
As The Writer begins, Wake has realized what is keeping him trapped in the dark place, but that doesn't mean he has overcome it. After all, knowing is only half the battle. Now he actually has to put that knowledge to use.
Visually, The Writer takes a similar approach to The Signal, reusing familiar locations but twisting them in nightmarish ways so you might feel as if you know them, but nothing is quite as it seems. At the same time, the amount of recycled material is noticeably less here, with at least half of the content spread out over new locations.
One of the most memorable sequences occurs with Wake trapped in an oversized hamster wheel that is packed with rooms from his life. You must navigate through Wake's past at a steady pace if you want to stay level. Go too quickly or too slowly, and you're likely to find that up and down are quite relative.
Gameplay is something of a contrast to The Signal. Whereas that episode has a heavy feeling of claustrophobia and being overwhelmed, here the pacing is deliberate and thought-out. The writing mechanic is once again used to good effect, but words are not littered about as traps. Instead, the words that are presented are all here to help Wake on his way.
Environments are designed in a much more open manner this time around, with a large number of well-laid traps just waiting to be sprung on unsuspecting Taken. This isn't to say that Wake isn't handy with a gun; he is, and there's nothing stopping you from whipping out the shotgun and going to town. For those who like the strategic approach (or a challenge), it is possible to complete a large chunk of this DLC without firing a single gunshot. It's all a matter of being aware of your environment and knowing what to trigger to keep the dark forces at bay.
Plot-wise, The Writer does an excellent job of walking a fine line between answering questions and tantalizing us with more. While there are no major reveals, there are a few hints about what to expect should another game come down the pike. Given that this is the last bit of story content for Alan Wake, the ending is also quite satisfying. Whereas both the original game and The Signal left us somewhat hanging, The Writer provides a satisfying conclusion to this story arc but doesn't conclude the Alan Wake saga. On the contrary, the ending all but confirms that a full sequel is planned.
With only 60 to 90 minutes of story content, The Writer is not a particularly long episode in terms of story, but the presentation is tightly focused and nicely done. Completionists can extend the gameplay time by heading back to search for collectibles. This time around, the hidden items are copies of the Night Springs video game. Whenever you are near one, an abbreviated Achievement chime rings as a reminder to keep your eyes open. The Writer also has the big advantage of not featuring any blatant Verizon advertising.
Offering up a different, but complementary, experience to The Signal, The Writer is an excellent way to cap off the first "season" of Alan Wake. For those who have played through the main game as well as The Signal, it's also something of a must-have. To pass would be akin to watching a season of a TV show and then skipping the last episode or reading a book and passing on the last chapter.
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