I was late to the party with Alan Wake; though I listened to discussions about the game on G4′s Feedback and Game Informer’s The GI Show during the summer of 2010, I didn’t make the plunge until later that year, when a friend gave it to me for Christmas. So far, I’ve completed only four episodes of the game’s initial six (like I said, laaaaate to the party), but I’ve enjoyed the crap out of its paranormal thrills, satisfying combat, and heavy focus on story. My favorite part, though, is one that hits me particularly close to home: Alan Wake‘s rural, Pacific Northwest setting, Bright Falls.
I’ve lived in Montana for about 21 of my 24 years on this planet, and there are enough similarities between my mother state and Bright Falls to give me deep feelings of comfort each and every time I play Alan Wake. Having lived my whole life around pine trees, roughshod mountain paths, and downhome, small town values, I find little mementos of home around every corner, whether it’s the cozy log cabin on Cauldron Lake, or the local greasy spoon, the Oh Deer diner, whose interior reminds me of so many similar restaurants around the Seeley Lake area. Bright Falls reminds me of what I love about my area of residence, despite the over prominence of demented, possessed killers on the loose ’round every corner (in Alan Wake, mind, not Montana), and after playing so many games set in New York or Los Angeles analogues, setting foot in Snoqualmie, Washington feels oddly liberating.
Yes, I realize Alan Wake is basically a video game tribute to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a TV series also about an out-of-towner investigating paranormal happenings in a quaint, almost too-chipper Pacific Northwest town. Bright Falls’ startling resemblance to Twin Peaks‘ titular town is merely another part of Alan Wake’s efforts to recapture the show’s design and appeal; note the game is also structured episodically, like a TV series. Still, I’m not sure if Remedy realized what a breath of fresh air Bright Falls would be in modern gaming when development for Alan Wake commenced sometime in
the 1950s 2003. Perhaps not everyone feels overloaded by the glut of post-apocalyptic cities, snowy outposts, and dense jungles found in today’s modern action game, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to play in such a rarely-explored, specific setting, especially one so close to my heart.
Bright Falls isn’t just a catalyst for my nostalgia-fuelled gaming tendencies; it’s also constant, concrete boon to Alan Wake‘s atmosphere. Just as Resident Evil capitalized on the terrors of being alone inside a dark, empty house, Alan Wake hangs its hat on the fear of the unknown in nature, when fell beasties can spring out from behind a tree or appear from the mist with little warning. The use of road flares and hunting rifles in the game’s main arsenal, all mainstays of backwoods Montana communities similar to Bright Falls, help give Alan Wake‘s armaments more of a distinct flair (heh) than the typical subset of pistols, submachine guns, rocket launchers, etc. Heck, even the game’s overly-friendly locals and idyllic-looking businesses add a small sense of vague unease to the proceedings.
If I’ve oversold the game’s setting in this piece, I hope it’s not to the detriment of everything else that makes Alan Wake wonderful: I love its taut atmosphere, episodic structure, and the “crapcrapcrapcrapcrap” nature of watching your flashlight die while a big goon with a scythe bears down on you. For me, though, Alan Wake‘s expertly-chosen Pacific Northwest locale is easily my favorite thing about the whole game. Bright Falls is like when a famous band shouts out the name of the crowd’s home town onstage; it’s a small gesture, one that no one but the locals will appreciate, but makes all the difference to the little guys living there.