All good things must come to an end and so, with the release of its final story expansion, one of the most exciting and innovative video games in recent memory performs its final encore, takes its bow and brings a spectacular show to a close. So, with the long-teased AWE expansion now available on digital storefronts, was it worth sticking around for?
AWE (informally known as the Alan Wake Expansion) was anticipated as DLC made specifically for long-time fans of Remedy Entertainment. Those who have waited years for another dose of the developer’s 2010 cult hit Alan Wake would finally see the prolific author return in a crossover with Remedy’s biggest triumph to date, Control. Well, the results are in and anyone hoping for either a substantial continuation of the Alan Wake story or some closure on the loose threads at the end of Jesse Faden’s story is going to be pretty disappointed.
The expansion kicks off when Jesse encounters the screen-consuming spectral form of Alan Wake who prompts her to journey to the Federal Bureau of Control’s Investigations Department. This is one of only a handful of appearances by the author in the DLC. During his appearances, Alan will narrate his ongoing work or struggle with his mental anguish at the situation he was left in at the end of his own tale, but inevitably add very little to Jesse’s quest.
Upon arriving at the Investigations Department, Jesse will find a once busy department abandoned and in disarray owing to the escape of a deadly monstrosity once kept prisoner in the area. There are plenty of collectible documents and recordings that flesh out the history of the Investigations Department as well as the fallout of the incident surrounding Alan Wake at Bright Falls, and while this is interesting dressing, there’s not a lot of meat. There’s no real story advancement for Alan Wake and no real character development for Jesse – she feels more like an avatar as opposed to a real person than ever before.
It transpires that the creature that wrought destruction on the Investigations Department is Dr Hartman (no, not the one from Family Guy). Hartman, once consumed by the dark presence from Alan Wake, then later warped by Control‘s The Hiss now takes a hideous form that looks like Slender Man as imagined by a porcupine. Owing to his unfortunate history of being consumed by otherworldly entities, Hartman is ultra-sensitive to light, but invincible in darkness. This is what makes AWE great.
The encounters with Hartman that take up much of AWE’s four to five hour play time inject the feeling of true horror rarely present in Control‘s main game. When Jesse is locked in near pitch black room with this shambling (but also teleporting) terror, the player feels a frantic need to seek shelter in any source of light available, lest the creature grab Jesse with its spindly arms and drain the life from her.
The only way to be free of Hartman is to solve puzzles, usually by finding power sources, hurling them into the correct socket and hitting a switch to bathe the room in light and cause the now weakened monster to flee to a new area. While the power source puzzles could be considered one of the more mundane parts of the main game – a breather in between the action – trying to work them out with Hartman breathing down your neck and his beatable but still threatening minions at your back changes them completely, making these puzzles an urgent stress that only heightens the horror.
Outside of the Hartman confrontations and easter eggs, the other notable crossover from Alan Wake present throughout the game are slimy globs of darkness that sometime block your path which you must destroy by exposing it to bright light.
This darkness provides little in the way of gameplay changes, proving to be a minor and forgettable inconvenience, but does provide entertaining visuals due to both the mesmerising crackles, pops and explosion of light as the darkness succumbs and the sight of Jesse – who seemingly hasn’t held a thing except her gun since she gained telekinesis (though wouldn’t we all do the same?) being accompanied by a floating lamp like some companion AI you’d find in futuristic shooters.
At first glance, other changes are relatively minor when compared to the previous expansion, The Foundation. Jesse receives a new upgrade for her service weapon that allows it to launch sticky grenades, there’s one new enemy type and the expansion brings seven new side-missions, most of which are pretty weak – three are janitorial tasks just like those given by Ahti in the base game and one just asks you to copy and mail three letters.
The biggest change comes in a side-mission that tasks Jesse with finding an arcade cabinet. While you may expect a short 2D mini-game to stem from this, what you’ll actually find is a new horde and survival mode. Complete either of these and you’ll unlock challenge mode versions of horde and survival, the ability to replay the Ashtray Maze or any boss battle and the addition of a boss rush. So AWE essentially adds a whole host of new features, but just does it in the most Control way possible.
As expected, the audio work in AWE maintains the high standard already set, most notably in the urgent, tribal drum beat that accompanies the Hartman encounters, making these battles with a near-invisible, almost invincible monster even more intense.
The only small disappointment is that we didn’t get a return performance from Old Gods of Asgard. It’s understandable that it may not have been worth having Poets of the Fall revive their viking-loving alter egos for the sake of a DLC expansion, but seeing as the band were a beloved presence in both Alan Wake and Control, providing some of the most unforgettable moments in each game, it would have been nice to get one more show.
AWE may not be the closure or continuation that most fans of either Control or Alan Wake were looking for, but for anyone looking for one final dose of Control in their lives, it’s an exhilarating adventure with a creative new twist on the game’s mechanics. By introducing an iconic, oppressive enemy the game becomes a true horror experience and makes the expansion something new and exciting while the new areas and modes ensure that the expansion retains the adrenaline-fueled action that made Control a must-play.
When Langston tells Jesse that Hartman is physically hurt by light and starts suggesting light sources she can use as weapons, he is actually listing things used in Alan Wake by the titular hero and his companions.
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