Alan Wake: a case study about game saves
A few days ago, I started replaying Alan Wake. Why ? Because it’s a really good game; I enjoyed it and I wanted to replay it, but mostly because I hadn’t played it in Nightmare mode, which is the real way to play this game. Of course, this point is subject to debate but I consider that if you do not have access to the whole content of the game, then you’re playing a limited mode. I will not spoil the game in this article, I will merely describe gameplay mechanics and its saving system. For those who have never played the game, its main character Alan Wake is a writer and you will find some of his manuscript pages in the game. In Nightmare Mode, the game is harder and you can find more pages. I played the normal mode during my first play-through and I was disappointed when I noticed what I missed. Since enough time passed, I decided to replay the game in Nightmare mode.
I had forgotten about how horrendous the saving system was: there is none! The game is only composed of checkpoints! It’s also divided in narrative arcs called Episodes that you can replay at-will but even if this is a nice idea, it is not relevant to this article. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoyed this game. Sam Lake is an amazing writer and Alan Wake’s story is a prime example of a perfect structure and captivating narrative. The gameplay and its rhythm are well balanced and renewed enough that it doesn’t become boring. Alan Wake is a great game that deserves to be played. You should probably go buy it. Anyway, it’s good but its checkpoint system is terrible.
A brief summary
If you’ve not yet read my previous article about game saves you probably don’t know how much I hate checkpoints. They are an insult to decency, beauty, art, and anything good that humanity has ever achieved; they are atrocious.
Checkpoints deprive you from any choice regarding your saves. You cannot stop your game unless a developer authorized you to do so. You cannot explore possibilities without being afraid of the consequences. Isn’t that cheating? Well let’s take RPGs for example: what if you’re hesitating between two stat upgrades. No, you cannot experiment. What if dialogue choices are ambiguous? Too bad, Bobby’s dead now.
Ok, let’s admit that my examples were abusing the saving system, which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing. What if your little brother wants to play your game? I guess he should buy his own copy…and his own computer…
Alan Wake’s case
So what is wrong with Alan Wake’s checkpoints? Isn’t it just a choiceless corridor game? Well, a lot of them are terribly placed. Why? I guess Video Game studios have budgets and therefore, don’t necessarily have the time to test every checkpoint. The reason doesn’t really matter. The “why” isn’t important: it’s just annoying, and it’s actually the game’s main defect.
What’s wrong then? First ammo; near almost every checkpoint you have a small container that has some ammo or consumables. You need to reach the checkpoint, then open the container, then take its contents. At some checkpoints, if you move very slowly, you can open it from a special angle and take its contents before entering
Cinematics, scripted sequences, and dialogues : all of those happen often after checkpoints and before hard fights. And sometimes, a bad camera angle during a fraction of a second is enough to get you killed, even in normal mode.
But guess what? I was playing in Nightmare Mode, which, as I said before, is mandatory if you want access the whole content. Some enemies move fast, some can kill you in two hits while needing more than a magazine to die. So you just need to follow the npc (or just run alone) for 30 seconds, listen, then take the ammunition, then come back to the npc waiting in front of its door, wait for a minute for the scripted dialogue, then start the fight, die, and retry.
All of this could have been avoided with a decent saving system.
Remedy, I love you, but please, stop using checkpoints. It makes dying painful, it makes your game less fun, it prevents my little brother from making his friends want to buy your game, and it kills kittens.
PS : Shadowrun Returns
By the way, one of my favorite games of this year also had checkpoints as its main defect. Well, will have had checkpoints as its main defect, to be more precise, because Shadowrun Returns, which was my main reason for writing my previous article about game saves, is going to have a proper saving system with its first DLC so right now, I don’t really think there’s anything that could stop you from buying it, except maybe insanity.