The Signal is the first of several planned downloadable episodes for Alan Wake. While it is a free download with a voucher included with new copies, those who opt for the used route will have to spend 560 MS Points ($7) to continue Wake's adventure in the Dark Place. It is also a post-original episode, meaning that you should not start it until you have finished the full game. With that said, for those who have the $7 and were left itching to get back to Bright Falls, The Signal is well worth the asking price.
Seeing as how the episode picks up directly where the original game left off, there isn't much I can say in terms of the story. If you've finished the game, then you know what's happening; if not, then I don't want to spoil it for you. Needless to say, The Signal does not extend the story much further beyond the game's ending, but it does give you an idea of what happened to Wake after the he found himself trapped in the Dark Place. So the episode isn't meant to give a resolution so much as to build the tension for upcoming releases. It also gives a better idea of what Zane, Wake's helper from the original story, went through during his many lost years. The Signal is more about Wake fighting back insanity, trying to keep his grip on reality so he can break free of the Dark Place.
There, I think that was sufficiently general enough for all parties. For returning fans, The Signal will primarily appeal to those who really dug the combat. It's a bit of a letdown that the story doesn't progress in the slightest, but the refocusing of it to one of an internal struggle should bode well for future episodes. But to battle back the madness, Wake will have to do a lot of fighting. A lot. I enjoyed the combat in the original, so I don't mind too much that this is an action-centric episode, as nothing has changed in The Signal - all weapons and items return. In fact, much will be familiar to fans as the primary locations and encounters are those from the original. Wake is in a sort of haze as he sees phantom memories and townsfolk, who shift in and out of his reality, complete with creepy voice distortions. But the Dark Place isnt quite the same this time, as it shifts and turns to keep him from finding the signal, a means of escaping. It's an interesting twist, and provides for some great visuals (the town being ripped apart) and gags (banter between Wake and phantom Barry).
While I was happy to get back into the world, there's no doubt that those who were more into the base game's exposition and mystery will be left wanting some any clarity. I was a little bummed myself, though I trust Remedy will ultimately deliver with the follow-up episodes. So this might not be an episode for everyone particularly those who prefer the "psychological thriller" in "psychological action thriller" especially with the little story there is relayed in some not-so-subtle full-motion video clips of an erratic Wake, in particular his eyeball shooting back and forth, which is as pleasant as it sounds. Still, it portends an exciting conclusion, and there's never a wrong time to break out the old flashlight and shotgun combo.
Despite it having only been a month or so since I've seen Bright Falls, it was nice to be back. The episodic nature of Alan Wake handles The Signal wonderfully, by simply sliding it under the Downloadable Content menu and treating it like an ordinary episode. The only hitch is in which aspect of psychological action thriller that is emphasized. For as tantalizing as the ending of Alan Wake was, The Signal does little to move the storyline further, instead realigning it to focus on Wake literally battling himself for his own sanity. It's an interesting twist that certainly left me eager for the next episode, but some clarity would've been nice.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)