FHM awoke in a daze. Blackness, thick and cloying, suffocated the room. Choked the life and the light out of it. He turned on the lamp, gets out of bed, and puts on some trousers. He smiled softly at the space where his girlfriend used to lay. Today was the first day of the rest of his life. Today was the day he was going to interview Oskari Hakkinen, Head of Franchise Development at Remedy Entertainment, the people who made Alan Wake for the Xbox 360.
They were releasing it on PC, almost two years later. He had some questions. He was hoping Oskari would have some answers.
He walked out of the door of his South London flat, clouds slipping slowly past against the grey sky. His lighter flared for a second, igniting the cigarette cupped in his hands, and he set out. Why wait so long to release it on PC? What was the deal with American Nightmare, the Xbox Live game released next week? He had to find out. That was his job, after all.
Before him, on the street, lay a sheet of manuscript paper. He picked it up and read the title aloud to himself: “FHM's interview with Oskari Hakkinen for Alan Wake.”
This didn't make sense. He hadn't written it yet. This was all feeling weirdly familiar. He felt the dark creeping in again, and drew hard on his cigarette so the end flared, to dispel it, to send the shadows running like rats. Shame it wouldn't work, but he couldn't have known that.
On the way to the tube, he found another page. Locals stared at him from doorways. Maybe they knew what was going on. Maybe, like him, they didn't. He read it under his breath this time so as not to arouse suspicion.
It talked about Ozz – that was the name Oskari went by – chatting about himself. “I'm in charge of franchise development,” he said, “I take care of our products and sort things out with other companies. Like the Max Payne film, although that wasn't my proudest moment.”
FHM thought back as he stepped on to the tube. The Max Payne film wasn't his proudest moment either, and he didn't have anything to do with the production. He was ashamed to be seen watching it in the movie theatre.
This guy must have some pretty big demons to fight, he thought, as the doors closed behind him, sealing him in.
The lights in the carriage went out with a bang, leaving FHM in pitch blackness. No-one screamed. In a strange way, it was scarier than the alternative. He pulled out a torch from his bag and shone it around, but the place was empty. Empty aside from a dark presence stood at the far end of the train, clutching the handrails, leering at him.
“You'll never make it, FHM. You'll never make it all the way to Central London to have a go on Alan Wake's American Nightmare, a standalone Xbox Live Arcade product – not strictly a sequel, mind, but that's definitely not ruled out - that deals with the protagonist's ongoing battle with madness and dark forces in a refreshing but familiar way. You hear me? NEVER.”
With sickening realisation, FHM realised that the creature wore his face. It stepped toward him, raising a bloody axe, but as he shone his torch it cowered away from the light. He had an idea.
He was going to fight back.
FHM walked out of the tube onto bustling Oxford Street, and found another page laying on the pavement, like the breadcrumb of some sadistic Hansel and Gretel. He looked it over.
Would it explain the gaps in the narrative? The barely-resolved cliffhangers? The way that pages are shuffled together in an almost random order? It didn't.
Maybe Ozz would have some answers. He strode onwards, towards his final destination, as the wind whipped under his coat and chilled him to the bone. Something was following him, he thought, just out of the corner of his eye. Something dark and terrible.
The office was stuffy and warm compared to the February streets outside. Ozz sat on a black leather sofa, grinning like he knew something FHM didn't. Well, that was true, at least. That was the reason for the interview.
FHM asked about the game, and the release on PC. “We've always wanted to put it out on PC,” said Ozz, “and it was originally a PC and Xbox 360 title. But... the stars weren't aligned, and it didn't come to pass. We've got publishers now, and we're going ahead as fast as we can. But it's not just a simple port. We wanted to do justice to it. We've improved the graphics, and we're offering Stereoscopic 3D and three-screen support.”
What was this about “the alignment of stars?” Did it have anything to do with the mysterious papers and the dark figures FHM was encountering? The manuscript pages felt hot, bundled up inside his coat, as though they were waiting to get out.
But could Ozz be trusted? There was only one way to find out.
FHM threw the papers down on the coffee table and demanded to know what was going on. It was a desperate gamble, but it was all he had.
“We're also releasing American Nightmare for Xbox Live, which carries on Alan Wake's story. Even though he's trapped in The Dark Place and can't escape, he's found a way to use his writing to effect the real world by acting through old episodes of a TV show he used to write called Night Falls. There's a demo available too – about half an hour long - which will let players see if they like the game before they buy it.”
FHM thumped the table in frustration. Why wouldn't he explain the manuscript? Why was no-one listening to him? And was that PR bloke possessed by dark forces, or was he just having a bad hair day?
He didn't know. He never would.
Walking out of the office, FHM found a final note on the ground. “Alan Wake is available for download on Steam today, and if you haven't played it already, you probably should. The blend of focused storytelling with an innovative combat mechanic remains as engaging today as it was almost two years ago when it was originally released – and seeing as it comes with both of the DLC packs, it's not bad value for money, either.”
That sounded like something he'd write, although there weren't any bad jokes in it, so maybe it wasn't. He read on.
“Alan Wake's American Nightmare is available for download on 22 February, and it's pretty good too.”
Where were these notes coming from? Was this the last one? What did it all mean? FHM slumped onto his knees and cried out at an ending that was perhaps a little weak, but didn't really mar the otherwise neat storytelling. Which was ironic, really, he thought.