The Signal, the first downloadable episode for Alan Wake, was an enjoyable if singularly focused return to Bright Falls. The action-heavy follow-up served as an interesting bridge between the end of Alan Wake and the beginning of this latest and last episode, The Writer, being something of an elaborate setup. The emphasis on combat came at the expense of those surreal moments that made the original so engaging, though, but it was still an enjoyable excursion, thanks to the game's tight shooting mechanics. Now that things have settled down a bit, it's time for Wake to continue on.
If The Signal took care of the "action" in "A Psychological Action Thriller," then The Writer definitely handles the "psychological" and "thriller." With each favoring a particular aspect of the original's formula, the combined releases now come off less as distilled halves and as one long, slightly unbalanced episode. To The Writer's credit, it's less one-sided than its predecessor and, as a result, is both more balanced and engaging. But no doubt to the chagrin of those eagerly awaiting for Wake to meet his fate, The Writer is almost as concerned about providing resolution as The Signal, instead teasing with a future that might not ever be.
After having emerged victorious over the dark in the battle for his sanity, Wake must now not only find a way out of the Dark Place but also reconnect with his lost, quickly deteriorating half. To make it out alive, he will again rely upon the help of Zane, the diving suited writer and prisoner of the Dark Place. This journey will be a bit more out there than before because, while The Signal had some interesting environments, The Writer goes all-out with the surreal: landscapes hover within an undulating abyss, rotating structures play havoc with your sense of direction, and altered flashbacks offer strange, heavily symbolic imagery. There is plenty of combat as well, though less so than before, with only a handful of large encounters replacing The Signal's numerous mid-sized ones. They should be more than enough for most, especially those who want to feel as if they are traveling through Wake's psyche rather than a sea of crazed loggers.
While the previous episode played out like a prolonged fight against the grasping hands of the darkness, this episode feels like a struggle for Wake to regain his composure and get back on his feet. The result is that neither go for much more beyond the immediate, and the result is that there is very little resolution in both, and that's the biggest disappointment. As the swan song, it's hard not to be at least a little let down with (another) cliffhanger. But is that so bad? I'd have to say no, not really, as Wake's adventures within the Dark Place are now so infused with the bizarre that a traditional final act just wouldn't sit right.
The unknowns only add an extra layer of mystery to what has been a true thriller, one that has always had me waiting for what the next reveal. I think the final revelation is that there is no revelation; there's just Wake, alone, eternally struggling to regain his sanity and find his way home. The drawn-out sequence to get to this point is what will irk people the most, having been teased up to the end, only to be teased some more. But that open-ended ending has to be as comforting to Remedy as it is elusive to us: they get to keep Wake in a suspended state until a possible sequel is green-lit or leave him setting off on a new adventure, only without us. Regardless, it was a great ride up to this point, and even though the story progressed only slightly more than in The Signal, and Wake's progress as a whole amounts to little more than he finding himself back at square one, The Writer manages to be a strong send-off to one of this generation's more unique outings.
With Wake left in limbo, I think that I'm as anxious about his future as Remedy is. The Writer might not offer the kind of closure that you want, especially after the quarter-step forward that The Single was, but I think it is as good as can be expected; after all, his story was never one that struck me as truly needing to end, at least in the traditional sense. While The Writer features a similar imbalance as its predecessor, it is also much more centered and focuses more on the psychological aspect, which is what I enjoyed so much in the original. For 560 MS Points ($7.00), it's a great buy for fans and solid end to an exciting first chapter.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)