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Benchmark Check: Alan Wake in Review

Florian Glaser (translated by James Morgan), 02/28/2012

Afraid of the dark? Around nine months after the Xbox 360 version, Remedy releases the mystery thriller Alan Wake once more, this time for the PC. We have tested whether the technology can keep up with the competition and how demanding the game is on hardware.

The unusual action title from Remedy, the founders of Max Payne, is definitely not for everyone. In contrast to the usual Call of Duty or Battlefield games, you won't find explosions every other second, nor will a tank nor a building be blown up in your face every five paces. Instead, the third-person thriller concentrates much more on its story and its characters.  

Description

Just confused or insane psychopath?
Just confused or insane psychopath?

The story, which is told in episodes, is about Alan Wake, a mentally unstable author, who treats himself to a holiday with his wife in the picturesque Bright Falls. At the beginning of the game it's clear that not all is right for the protagonist. For example, in the first chapter there's a dream sequence in which the crime-author flees from an unknown power. 

Further into the game, Remedy skilfully mixes between (allegedly) real- and gloomy nightmare sequences. In doing so the game becomes thoroughly action-packed. The highlight: the mysterious enemies only take damage when Alan Wake has dazzled them enough with his torch. Only then can he effectively call upon his weaponry (revolver, shotgun etc.). Another nice idea is that his heath can be regenerated when he's near light sources such as street lamps.

Strengths

Both Max Payne games inspire Alan Wake with a brilliant atmosphere. This begins with the lighting: whilst light blues, yellows and browns dominate by day, during the night landscapes are shrouded in dark blue and black tones (with the odd light source). Remedy has done extremely well with the portrayal of light and shadows; the game literally draws you into the screen. 

However, it's not just the lighting that turns heads, as the high depth of vision impresses time and again. Remedy has created wonderful panoramas that could have come straight from a postcard. For this reason we can forgive the game for the slightly dated textures and the not-so-modern character models (reasonable face animations/relatively few polygons). 

If you look closely and thoroughly explore the levels, you'll discover not just a load of mysteries and details, but also various allusions to other Remedy games. Max Payne fans will have a number of "Aha!" moments. For example in Alan's apartment you'll find manuscripts next to a box of painkillers with well-known quotes, such as "late goodbye" and "the sudden stop at the end".

The generally very gloomy atmosphere and the frequent monologues are also hallmarks of the developer. Through the constant suspense ("What exactly is going on?", "Am I crazy?", "What is real and what isn't?") the game successfully creates an intense feeling of danger that verges on paranoia. In terms of the atmosphere, the mystery thriller orientates itself amongst other survival titles like Resident Evil or Left 4 Dead. The common ammo shortage and the intelligently-placed scripted sequences take it one step further in mesmerizing the player and evoking a feeling of inferiority.

Weaknesses

Unfortunately the action sequences are relatively repetitive. Although the innovative approach (first dazzle your opponents, then shoot them) breathes fresh air into the genre, battles quickly become monotonous. Alan Wake can't withstand many strikes and there isn't an open saving system. When you've finally got the knack of it, the fights nevertheless become rather boring. In addition there's a weak variety of opponents and a modest AI. As we "only" completed the first two chapters (around 3-4 hours), we can't give a decisive testimony. The same goes for the at-first routine quests that are seemingly conceived according to the motto "walk here, then walk there". The not quite perfect handling and high linearity of some passages should also annoy some gamers. 

Having said that, we would recommend the game for fans of the genre. Remedy has created a nerve-wracking story with an extremely interesting protagonist. When it comes to the narrative, only very few competitors reach a similar level of quality (for example L.A. Noire). Max Payne fans shouldn't pass up the game because of the many references and parallels. On a scale of 0 (awful) to 10 (perfect), we would give the game a good score of 8.5.

Benchmarks

So now to the important part, as at the end of the day we're not a gaming magazine. As the first nightmare passage has nifty tracking shots, we chose the beginning of the "Nightmare" chapter for the basis of the benchmarks. In each case the tool Fraps was started from the moment the character can move forwards. As soon as Alan jumps off the wooden jetty we ended the recording (length: ~40 seconds). The following video illustrates the benchmark sequence more precisely.

Settings

The game's console past is only partly noticed. The game doesn't only offer modern effects like SSAO, but also various graphics options and three different presets (Low, Medium & High). Anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are even present, which aren't always the norm. Another plus-point: you can change the graphics settings directly during the game, no external tool or reboot necessary. If you like complete control, you can just use the individual slider.

High Preset
High Preset
Medium Preset
Medium Preset
Low Preset
Low Preset

For the measurements, the three presets came into play in each case. Whilst the textures remain more or less the same, there are clear differences in the lighting (compare image 1 and 2) and in the draw distance (compare image 2 and 3). At low settings, far-away objects are replaced by lower-resolution and often pixelated variants with fewer polygons (for example notice the house and the mountains in the background). The lack of anisotropic filtering is also clear for the worse.

At medium settings Alan Wake looks rather tidy, yet the complete atmospheric package only comes at high settings. The graphics quality is, unfortunately, never phenomenal. Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3 have in parts substantially sharper textures.

High Preset
High Preset
Medium Preset
Medium Preset
Low Preset
Low Preset

Results

Alan Wake needs a rather strong notebook graphics card. With an entry-level GPU on the level of the HD Graphics 3000 you can forget the game outright. Even when using the low preset, low end models only reach around 10 fps (1024 x 768). By contrast, mid-range graphics cards like the GeForce GT 630M get on reasonably well with the low preset.

A resolution of 1366 x 768 and medium settings can only be achieved by a Radeon HD 6770M or a GeForce GT 555M. Maximum settings and a resolution of 1920 x 1080 only run well on absolute high-end graphics cards like the Radeon HD 6970M.

Benchmark Chart

Verdict

Altogether the hardware requirements are above average. Many multimedia notebooks reach their limits, whilst some desktop-replacement notebooks struggle. With that said, Alan Wake cuts a good figure in terms of visuals, and you should at least have a strong mid-range graphics card in your notebook. In terms of content, the game has been a joy, as the mystery thriller pleasantly differentiates itself from the monotony of the action genre thanks to the creative narrative style. In case Remedy develops a sequel, a bit of variation wouldn't go amiss - in particular during the battles.

Test Systems

Many thanks to the company Schenker-Notebooks (mysn.de), that provided us with several devices:

  • Schenker XMG P501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GTX 560M, GTX 580M, Radeon HD 6970M & HD 6990M, 8 GB RAM)
  • Schenker XMG A501 (Core i7-2630QM, HD Graphics 3000 & GeForce GT 555M, 8 GB RAM)
  • Schenker Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M, 4 GB RAM)
From left to right: Schenker XMG A501, Xesia M501 & XMG P501
From left to right: Schenker XMG A501, Xesia M501 & XMG P501

The following devices were also involved in the benchmarks:

  • Acer TravelMate 7740G (Core i5-430M, Radeon HD 5650M, 4 GB RAM)
  • Asus UL50VF (Core 2 Duo SU7300 OC, GeForce G210M, 4 GB RAM)

With exception of the UL50VF (ForceWare 295.51) and the Xesia M501 (ForceWare 285.90) in each case we used the ForceWare 285.62 and the Catalyst 12.1 respectively as GPU drivers.

Visit our list of games for more benchmarks and graphics card information.

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Benchmark Check: Alan Wake in Review
Author: Florian Glaser, 2012-02-28 (Update: 2012-05-26)