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when I played Alan Wake the first time around, I immediately noticed the overt homage/pastiche of Twin Peaks on display, which was honestly the main motivation behind me checking out the game in the first place. this time around, I was floored from realizing how much inspiration Alan Wake also takes from House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, even going so far as to include music from that novel's official companion album). reading that book has been a truly illuminating experience for my extremely niche media taste - it's shown up in as a clear inspo in some of the weirdest and wildest places ever since I found out about it.
for this pre-Alan Wake II refresher playthrough, I went into the experience knowing a bit more about this game's troubled development, and, yeah, you can definitely see the corpse of a truly ambitious open world Deadly Premonition-like game just below the surface of the game we got. some people might dock points for that (something something "unfocused" something something "unfinished"), but I gotta admire the talent that goes into not only salvaging a project with that much ambition but also managing to deliver something so unique and atmospheric in the process. seriously, Alan Wake has some of the most stunning ambiance when you're running headfirst into the oppressively gloomy woods, the safety of the light just out of reach, the sentient darkness thundering louder the farther from the light you run... shit's tense, man, and the flashlight mechanics add a great level of anxiety on top of it all.
one of the things Alan Wake does so extremely right is that its primary collectibles, the manuscript pages, are just the game's written scenario in a jumbled order. going off the critical path might reward you with a vignette of what a side character is experiencing off-screen or maybe a snippet of what's about to unfold later in the episode. it keeps you on your toes and gives you a damn good reason for walking off into the spooky side areas full of ghouls ready to ambush you rather than sticking to the safety of the well-lit road.
I also really loved the remaster's addition of hidden QR codes, each of which links to different "visions" of Alan Wake from Alan Wake II as he prepares to write his return following his departure at the end of this game. it adds an extra layer of insane, nonlinear meta-narrative to an already swirling fever dream of a story filled with strange, disconnected elements - and, dear reader, that kind of thing is just the peanut butter to my jam.
yeah, I hear your criticisms, but I am unmoved: this game rocks because Remedy and Sam Lake know how to write cool stories that keep me engrossed and engaged, and sometimes, that's enough. the blinding light of the creative vision on display is enough to eliminate any shadows of imperfection for me. I mean, seriously, this remaster includes a commentary track mode from Sam Lake himself - when was the last time you played a videogame that included developer commentary? that's cool as hell.
one of the most pristinely polished games of 2023. there truly ain't no quality control like Nintendo's in-house studios.
it's a little less "next evolution" of 2D Mario than I would've liked, though. outside of the wonder flower segments (which are less varied than I was led to believe), this feels like the fifth New Super Mario Bros. game. which isn't a bad thing: the original NSMB and NSMBU are truly great games for my money. I guess I just expected something a bit more wackier and unpredictable moment-to-moment, though what's there is still wonderfully delightful.
like any mainline Mario game, it's worth playing just to bask in the decades of legendary industry experience seeping from every pixel on screen.
This review contains spoilers
knew this was gonna be an all-timer the moment when I rocked up to fight Kraven's pre-boss goon squad, fully tweaked out on symbiote juice and presented with something like 40 of the biggest baddest brute bastards that had been giving me hell for the entire first half of this game with their incomprehensible shield and staff movesets, only to immediately activate rage mode and smear those schmucks like paste across the pavement the way a child would smash their action figures together, in about a minute tops, all while Venom's in my ear hyping up the violence like a feral gorilla at wwe superslam
and then, after building Kraven up to be this unstoppable force and immovable object both, roid rage Peter just reduces the fool to a fleshy punching bag while the guy whips out almost pathetically ineffective boss fight gimmicks in a feeble attempt to get even a single hit in on the swirling mass of violence and tendrils that Peter has become, while Venom is all but chanting RIP AND TEAR at this terminal cancer patient with a health bar getting his ass beaten within an inch of his remaining life
and then, after some of the most satisfying and adrenaline-pumping fight sequences of the game thus far thanks to the obscenely overpowered symbiote kit, the perspective shifted and I involuntarily shouted "oh shit" to no one in particular: I didn't just beat the Big Bad, I became the Big Bad. suddenly all of those feeble gimmicks of the previous Kraven fight were actually the best tools in my arsenal as Miles for countering the skittering monster formerly known as Peter that was now darting across the stage and shrieking like a banshee - a creature that I intimately understood could reduce Miles to a fine red mist at a moment's notice if I wasn't tight on that dodge button.
truly one of the most satisfying adaptations of the black suit saga for me. sure, there's some stuff here that isn't perfect, but I fuckin' love Spider-Man, and I even more specifically love Venom, and this game gave me great incarnations of both. can't wait to see how the things they set up here resolve in the final chapter of the trilogy.