‘Alan Wake: The Signal’ (Xbox One) review: Illuminating a dark, twisted story

First DLC for ‘Alan Wake’ proves illuminating — kind of

I adore “Alan Wake.” I hate its ending.

Yeah, I get it. Some stories aren’t meant to be cleanly wrapped up; they’re not supposed to be cut-and-dry. Sometimes, a viewer/reader simply has no other option but to interpret a work’s “conclusion” as he sees fit.

But it’s not that aspect of “Alan Wake’s” ending that’s upsetting. Rather, by the time I completed the game and saw what awaited Wake after combatting the Dark Presence and his own twisted imagination, I felt that something was missing, that a piece of the plot was removed.

Well, now I know what happened to it: It was stripped out of the main game to form the first of two pieces of downloadable content. “The Signal” DLC doesn’t answer everything — in fact, it even introduces more questions — but it does move the game’s ending along in a way the main title didn’t.

“Alan Wake: The Signal” (reviewed here on the Xbox One from a free copy that came with purchasing Remedy Games’ “Quantum Break”) continues almost immediately after where the main game left off, picking up its tense if convoluted narrative of darkness and imagination and the unnerving combination of two. And though Wake was able to achieve his main goal by the end of “Alan Wake,” it was clear that not every mystery had been solved, not every question answered (or even decently explained). “The Signal” moves us one step closer to figuring out those outstanding conundrums.

While in the main game it was more than hinted at that horror author Wake (voiced by Matthew Porretta) may be insane, slowly slipping into the dark recesses of his hyperactive mind. “The Signal” does away with any such subtlety, instead just going full speed with having the crazed side of Wake’s psyche running the show. As we control the sane version, we have to battle demons both real and imagined in a nightmarish other world that can’t seem to make up its mind on how it wants to screw with us.

For those who played the main game, you’ll notice some similarities in both level and enemy design, though both tend to be a bit darker, somewhat more twisted here. The darkness continues to exert its influence, corrupting the townfolk of the tiny Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls (which is implied to be in Washington). But the environment, while more dangerous in general than in the main game, offers much more interactivity. Explosive options, as bright as your live-saving flashlight and crafted to look like entries from one of Wake’s books, abound as you face hordes of enemies, allowing a variety of methods of progressing while not having to use all of your limited ammunition supplies. Basically, just be on the lookout for solutions that don’t involve firing your shotgun.

Story-wise (warning: some spoilers ahead for the main game), Wake still is trapped by the Dark Presence, held captive under Cauldron Lake. He’s not alone, though, as he gets help in his quest to escape. Of course, the possessed Taken stand in his way, not to mention his more insane self ranting about the dangers that seem to instantly materialize as soon he shuts his mouth. Oh, and sidekick/talent agent/comedic relief Barry is back. Take that for what you will.

In the end, to say too much more would ruin the plot of the 90-minute “Alan Wake: The Signal” DLC. It’s just as zany and mind-boggling as the main game, but the madness is taken up a notch. Great writing will keep you interested as you fight with your gun-and-light combo, and there are even some little places to explore if you feel adventures. But a warning: Watch out for those TVs; they’re out to get you.

Four “Stop attacking me with my own words!” stars out of five.

“Alan Wake” review

Editor’s note: This Xbox One-compatible digital copy of the Xbox 360 version of “Alan Wake: The Signal” came with my purchase of “Quantum Break,” another Remedy release. As of this review, the only way to play “Alan Wake” is to buy a copy of the physical Xbox 360 version; no other version seems to be available for sale.

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