Although it's currently still under review embargo, Microsoft's PR reps have said that talking about and previewing the first episode of Alan Wake (360) is fair game. So, although certain elements of it have been labeled "hush-hush", I can still spill a little…
With the game having been so long in coming, I'm sure that most of you reading this are already quite familiar with the premise—but just in case: Successful fiction writer Alan Wake has contracted a serious case of writer's block and decides to take a trip to a remote, woodsy location in "Bright Falls, WA" as a way of relaxing and getting back into his groove. Almost immediately after arriving, Alan's wife is kidnapped and a mysterious evil presence makes itself known by possessing local townsfolk and turning them into shadowy homicidal killers.
The first thing that struck me was that the environmental work is fairly impressive. The woods look convincing, and the mountainous, rural location is believable. Having personally lived in Washington in an area not unlike the game's setting, I can say that things felt "right". The devs did a great job in capturing the land. The work on light/dark effects is also rather striking in certain areas.
In terms of how the game plays, Wake definitely sports a very marked action bent. When the possessed townies show up, Alan must first de-shadow them with his flashlight, stripping away the protection granted by the evil force. Once that's done, they're susceptible to standard firearms and can be taken out with a few shots. Standing in pools of light (under a street lamp, for example) refills Alan's health, and spare ammunition and batteries are available in good supply. I suspect that some players may be caught off-guard by the Uncharted-like emphasis on action, but the flashlight/gun mechanic is easy to grasp and adds a nice level of tension since enemies can't be defeated until they've been properly illuminated.
I'd like to say more, but anything else worth talking about at this point would probably be viewed as off-limits. If you're still curious about the title and want to know more about what to expect, I think it's fair to say that if you mashed up Twin Peaks + Alone in the Dark: Inferno + Uncharted you wouldn't be too far off…
In other games news, I'm extremely sad to report that I have officially stopped playing Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth on DS. If you take a quick glance to your right, you'll see that the original Phoenix Wright is on my "top ten of all time" list, and deservedly so. In large part, its ranking is due to Edgeworth himself, and the masterful way Capcom wrote him. Upon meeting him in the first game, he seemed so cutthroat and relentless. Contrary to that first impression, over the course of the game it's revealed that he has an unyielding sense of honor which eventually leads him to become almost an ally of sorts. I had high hopes after hearing that he was going to star in his own title, but the end result has been bitterly disappointing.
The level of writing isn't nearly as sharp and witty as it has been in the past—though to be fair, the Ace Attorney series has been on a downward slope since #1. Besides the dialogue, the cases Edgeworth finds himself involved with aren't compelling at all. I would literally start getting sleepy after just a few minutes, my fatigue causing me to play at a glacial pace, taking a week to get through what would normally take me an afternoon. It was a hard decision to quit since I've played through the previous four titles, but each one has been worse than the last and this is just the last straw. I never thought I'd say about and Ace Attorney title, but I quit.
Finally, the PSP Mini scene has been heating up a bit lately. That particular section of the PSN store has seen fairly regular additions over the last few weeks, and the quality of the releases has certainly been improving.
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me raving about Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. Incredibly cute and funny, the player takes on the role of a delusional vampire whose Princess has been swiped. Tracking down the culprit, this vamp double-jumps his way up long vertical stretches in the pursuit of various creatures in his realm. There's really not much more to it than jumping and trying to string together combos by not touching the same platform twice, but it's incredibly addicting and very well-done. I enjoyed it enough to complete it 100%, and I really can't remember the last time I could say that about a game.
Other Minis that have caught my eye include Freekscape: Escape From Hell, Normal Tanks, and Retro Cave Flyer. I haven't had much time to spend with any of these, but what little I saw of each leads me to think that they will be worth checking out in detail. If you've got a Minis recommendation of your own, leave a comment and let me know!