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There’s nothing like a developer that’s fully in its stride.
Remedy, the studio behind excellent single-player narrative games like Quantum Break and Control, and currently helming a remake of its seminal Max Payne series, feels like it’s finally at the point where the technology of video games has caught up with its ambitions.
The result is Alan Wake 2, an excellent survival horror game that uses mixed-media in ways which are groundbreaking in gaming, and tells an engaging mystery story befitting a prestige HBO miniseries. There’s also a large helping of weirdness and sequences you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t see them with your own eyes.
While the third-person-shooting doesn’t quite keep up with the true benchmark setters of the genre, everything around Alan Wake 2, from the writing, the performances, the huge amount of scares, and the technology powering the game, is hugely impressive, and way beyond what many would expect from a sequel to a cult game from 2010.
The Poet and the Muse
Speaking of 2010, in typical meta-Remedy style, you begin the game as FBI agent Saga Anderson, investigating a cult murder, that you soon realize may be connected to Alan Wake, a writer who disappeared in 2010.
It’s now 2023, and you and your partner Alex Casey (played by Remedy creative director and Max Payne’s face, Sam Lake), have to get to the bottom of the cult’s schemes. However, it doesn’t take long for things to become significantly more supernatural, as Saga discovers a connection to Wake, who is still alive, only stuck in what seems to be a parallel dimension, referred to as The Dark Place.
In this Dark Place, Alan is trapped, writing the manuscript for a novel that Saga is discovering in her world. Not only that, but Alan can affect The Dark Place by discovering new plot points and re-writing the world around him to escape, all while being pursued by The Scratch, a dark entity that stalks Wake.
Alan Wake 2 tells parallel stories that let players jump between each character at specific locations. During our playthrough, we generally played a mission at a time for each character, but broadly, there’s a non-linearity to how you approach the game.
The biggest gameplay difference between the two is that Saga’s half of the game is much more of a detective story. She’s talking to people and gathering clues, all of which can be worked out in The Mind Place, a mental retreat wherein Saga can place her clues on a board.
Wake, on the other hand, predominantly uses his Mind Place to change the world around him via plot points. Both sides also do their fair share of fighting, with third-person shooting not unlike that of the recent Resident Evil remakes, but not quite as smooth.
In fact, it’s when the shooting starts that Alan Wake 2 hits its only real stumbles. Enemies are frustratingly dense, meaning you’re unloading tons of ammo on what seem to be basic baddies. The game’s also unforgiving in terms of Alan and Saga’s health. You have to manually heal which takes a while, and not only that, but your health bar is fairly small, so it’s easy to get yourself into difficult situations.
Champion of Light
Like the first game, light is a huge factor. Enemies take more damage when they’ve been exposed to a trusty flashlight, and flares and propane tanks become gold dust in the dark, dank woods around Bright Falls and the surrounding area. The combat encounters may not be sparkling, but they are well-paced. Rarely did we feel like we were being bombarded by waves and waves of enemies stopping us from getting back to the excellent mystery.
What did occasionally stop us was genuine fear. Alan Wake 2 is much more of a horror game than the first, with jumpscares and an overwhelming sense of dread lurking around every corner. It’s scary enough being in the dark woods, alone, but when your flashlight suddenly stops working and you can just about make out a shadow between the trees? Horrible stuff.
It would be so easy for the game to lose track of all its threads, especially when playing across two dimensions, but Alan Wake 2’s story, thankfully, remains strong throughout. There’s an incredibly creepy feeling from the second you start the game that persists throughout.
“What did occasionally stop us was genuine fear. Alan Wake 2 is much more of a horror game than the first, with jumpscares and an overwhelming sense of dread lurking around every corner.”
Why is this strange band following both Alan and Saga across the timelines? Why does Saga’s partner have the same name and face as the star of Alan’s novels, Alex Casey? Why does everyone in town act like they know Saga when she’s never been here before? What connection does the game have to the wider Remedy-verse?
All these questions are satisfyingly resolved, and there’s plenty the game wants you to go digging for for an even clearer picture of the world.
Alan Wake 2 is also a technical marvel. It feels like a game at the absolute cutting edge of gaming in multiple facets. Firstly, the game’s loading times are virtually non-existent, as is the time to travel between the real world and the Mind Place, all of which is done at the touch of a button, anywhere you want.
This is a game that uses a lot of real-life footage of actors, which in most games is a gamble that ends up just highlighting the disparity between in-game models and the real thing, but Alan Wake 2 completely gets away with it. There were multiple points where I was sure I was watching footage of real humans, but it was just the game.
Obviously, a game that has a central mechanic around light is going to revel in modern graphical tech, and Alan Wake 2 pulls no punches.
Herald of Darkness
It’s important to not that we ran into some significant bugs during our time with Alan Wake 2, which were primarily around us not being given the option to speak to certain characters. There are moments when this is required to progress the story, and we walked around aimlessly before realizing it was just the game not giving us the option. Thankfully, this was fixed with a reload, but it’s still not great.
The game’s also strangely particular about how close you have to be with certain objects in order to interact with them. You’ll likely find yourself opening a supply crate and mashing A to pick up the items, only to realise when you run away that you’ve left behind those precious shotgun shells.
These issues fall away when Alan Wake 2 is at its best. One early mission in particular, that we’ve been sworn to secrecy not to mention in detail, left us absolutely gobsmacked. To have the confidence to put something like this mission, this early into the game, is just flat-out inspiring.
Remedy is having such a good time, and you can feel it in every inch of Alan Wake. That’s not even to mention the heart-on-sleeve reverence for Remedy’s native Finland that is all over the game too. You get the feeling that the development team put absolutely everything they wanted into the game, and then some more (really, you have to play Alan’s fourth mission: it’s outstanding.)
The decade-long outcry for a sequel to Alan Wake has been answered and answered incredibly. Alan Wake 2 is the result of Remedy’s evolution as a studio since the first game was released. Everything it learned from the live-action elements of Quantum Break and the non-linear exploration and storytelling of Control make Alan Wake 2 a giant of a sequel.
Remedy has at least four more games in the pipeline, and at this point, we wouldn’t be surprised if it manages to tie them all together, too. There are gameplay annoyances in Alan Wake 2 that stop it from topping the survival horror charts on those terms alone, but the narrative and technical achievements Remedy has managed here feel beyond what’s being done at any other studio. Long may it continue.
Massively confident, often groundbreaking, and full of surprises, Alan Wake 2 is Remedy at its very best. The shooting isn't stellar, but Alan Wake 2 is otherwise a horror thriller that shouldn't be missed.
- Excellent storytelling
- Visually spectacular
- Genuinely scary
- Witty, weird and wonderful writing
- Shooting can be clumsy
- Occasional bugs