In "The Writer," the final downloadable episode for Alan Wake, developer Remedy faces a problem that creeps in at the climax of any thriller. With the air cleared of mystery, there's much less impetus to march through the forests of Bright Falls in search of obscured answers. Remedy reaches for the carpet now, taking hold of its reality-with-a-twist setting before twisting it some more, until the world hangs upside-down.
And what a trip it must have been for the level designers, who can carve a path through Alan Wake's unhinged imagination, fully ignorant of gravity and (pfft!) practicality. The surreal environments in The Writer aren't wild enough to become totally incomprehensible, but offer a sense of shock and bewilderment that I haven't felt since my journey through the main game. The objects and places you'll encounter all hold significance to the story, and come as a warped reminder of your progression in Alan Wake. (And no, that boat floating in the sky isn't some weird glitch.)
The absence of realism also leads to some of the most creative combat in the game, with Alan's vocabulary materializing to take the spotlight in almost every fight. The restrained gunplay and crowd management is still there, but the numbers are stacked against you this time, high enough to encourage the use of a few devastating environmental hazards. You'll be pleased to note that Alan Wake can't call for help, either -- for once, there's no sign of Verizon.
A clear improvement on the previous downloadable add-on.
The presence of collectibles scattered throughout the world still feels like an unnecessary pandering to expectation, even though some of the complaints must have filtered through to the cheeky folks at Remedy. Is there any better parting commentary than making you rifle through your video game for ... video games?
The Writer is a clear improvement on the previous downloadable add-on, The Signal, in almost every way. The level design blends well with the fiction and restores the feeling of surprise that you don't often find in an epilogue. And though this episode does not provide ultimate closure, it's the right place to stop and take a break from Alan Wake's story. Wouldn't want the man to get typecast.
This review is based on final code provided by Remedy Entertainment. "Alan Wake: The Writer" will be available on Xbox Live on October 12 for 560 MSP ($7).
Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons; see: Alan Wake review.