I was initially skeptical about the idea of DLC for a game so self-contained and consciously edited as Alan Wake; however, The Signal does a fine job continuing the story as Wake takes a journey through his own twisted psyche. Glimpses of the real world show Alan in the care of Doctor Hartman, giving some indication of the reality behind the nightmare, but the actual story is a twisted recap that meets a bit of self-exploration in the depths of Alan’s mind.
Starting at the Bright Falls diner, The Signal runs piecemeal through the familiar settings of Bright Falls that are now warped and twisted into a dream populated only by enemies and ghostly recreations of the game’s core characters. This allows for a few much needed twists to the combat, plus eerier environments. You also get the return of Wake’s sidekick Barry, who continues to deliver the best lines of the game.
As for the Combat, The Signal builds on the dynamic established at the end of Alan Wake where the flashlight transmutes words into the objects they represent. It’s used for not only resupplying, but also for giving you environmental advantages by triggering explosions and fireworks. Of course, you’ll still end up running away quite a bit or cheating the game physics to avoid the poltergeist enemies. Since The Signal is so heavily combat oriented, the lack of difficulty settings is pronounced. It skews closer to Nightmare Mode than easy, but generous amounts of ammo keep it very manageable.
However the real star of Alan Wake, both in the boxed game and DLC, is the environment. Though the DLC never takes us anywhere new, it’s even creepier since it’s clearly imagined in Alan’s head and the settings move, shift, and reconstruct as you progress. It’s an unsettling effect. You’ll also be privy to Alan’s memories and the insight of his subconscious rendering of Barry whose exquisite comedic timing keeps the episode in step with the dark comedic tone Alan Wake does so well.
As far as negative criticism goes, there isn’t much to say. I wasn’t a fan of the pointless coffee thermos collectables in Alan Wake and in The Signal they’ve been replaced by equally pointless--though apt--alarm clocks. There are also collectable standees of characters in the game, which fit the overall theme well, though I prefer not to break the tension of the narrative by straying off in search of items that are designed to benefit my GamerScore and not my experience of the game.
To its credit, the DLC would have made the original game feel bloated had it been included in the box; however, months after Alan Wake’s release, it feels fresh and is a welcome return to the Wake universe. It also sets up so much potential for future DLC through its manipulation of environments and (literally) imaginative setting. It’s safe to say any Alan Wake fan will enjoy this new episode. Clocking in at about an hour and a half, it’s substantial enough by itself, but leaves you wanting more.
Release date: Available Now