Alan Wake 2 is developer Remedy’s Entertainment’s magnum opus. In the close to 28 years of their existence, the legendary Sam Lake and his team at Remedy have been honing their work creating very unique games with a particular style to them. While initially known for their excellent work with their two Max Payne games establishing their bona-fides as a studio with great third person shooting mechanics (and them introducing legendary mechanics like bullet time), they certainly have become known more for their storytelling chops and stylings, wearing their filmic inspirations on their sleeves as seen with their recent games like Quantum Break and Control.
But it’s their 2010 cult classic Alan Wake (originally released as an Xbox 360 exclusive the same day as a certain popular cowboy game from Rockstar Games, and recently remastered back in 2021) that cast a bigger light over the studio’s emerging storytelling creativity the most. Using the “Twilight Zone” and “Twin Peaks” inspirations, Remedy used Alan Wake to create a sharp horror tone poem commenting on the nature of writing and storytelling. While it certainly was a fun action game with some horror trappings and a creative shooting mechanic, it’s certainly the presentation and the story where Remedy shone the brightest, showing their emerging storytelling creativity. It’s certainly a franchise they absolutely wanted to do a follow up on over the past 13 years, as all the easter eggs and narrative connections from their subsequent games made it known.
Two years since the reveal of the long awaited sequel, Alan Wake 2 is finally here. And in the biggest surprise of all, it both elevates the storytelling ideas of the original while taking advantage of every lesson Remedy has learned with all their previous games to deliver their masterpiece, and a new benchmark for storytelling in narrative third person games.
CHAPTER 1 : SAGA
Picking up 13 years since the end of the first game. Alan Wake 2 follows the story of FBI Detectives Saga Anderson and her partner Alex Casey (who has the face of game director Sam Lake), who are dispatched to the setting of the first game, Bright Falls, Washington, to investigate a series of ritualistic murders that have been happening in the wake of the disappearance of famous writer Alan Wake and many others in the area. Through her investigations, Saga finds herself tangled in an intricate supernatural story orchestrated by Wake himself, who has been trapped over the past 13 years using his writing skills to fend off his evil doppelganger, “Mr. Scratch” and find ways to escape his captivity in the perennial “The Dark Place”. There is more to the story, but it’s worth experiencing it for yourself.
Whereas the last game was a semi fast paced action game with horror elements, Alan Wake 2 completely goes the opposite way and fully embraces its aspirations as a survival horror game, with clever storytelling that drives the entire experience from beginning to end. Through a split narrative that lets you follow the investigations of Saga Anderson as she untangles the complicated web unfolding at Bright Falls, while also letting you take control of Alan Wake as he survives the psychological torture of being trapped in “The Dark Place”, Alan Wake 2 is one of the more successful attempts at a dual protagonist narrative I’ve seen in recent times, justifying your time spent as Saga Anderson in a way that still makes the game feel entirely like it’s about it’s title protagonist.
CHAPTER 2 : NIGHT SPRINGS
It helps that the gameplay stylings for both characters have their own focus to make their sections feel different from one another. As you play as Saga, most of the time you’ll be investigating your environments as you piece together the mystery surrounding Bright Falls through clever and entertaining detective work that hearkens back to the Rockstar Games’ cult hit L.A. Noire. The game is confident enough to let you go through extended stretches of detective work where the storytelling and atmosphere does a lot of the heavy lifting as it immerses you in its intricate tale before unleashing enemies on you.
Through a clever mechanic called the “Mind Room” that you can access at any point, it takes the idea of using a “menu” and makes it its full playable space where you can profile different suspects, string together all clues you learn that helps you figure out what’s going on as a well as providing you one of the best representations of inner monologue that keeps it strictly a game. It takes’ Remedy’s penchant of taking us inside the main character’s mind to the next level, and is extra immersive as a result.
While Saga’s side of things is about pushing through the horrors emerging in Bright Falls, investigating your way through the intricate mystery and fighting the monstrosities that eventually emerge, the tone and emphasis of Alan’s side of things is a clever opposite. While inside The Dark Place, your goal as Alan completely takes away any semblance of power fantasy and makes you fight for survival as you untangle the different psychedelic manipulations of this cursed place, either through insane tonal shifts or through Alan’s own written prose.
As a game built for this current generation of consoles that have access to an SSD, Alan Wake 2 is one of the better showcases of a game outside any first party showcase that uses the technology at hand to enhance its storytelling and gameplay moments, with Alan’s sections clearly showcasing that as you use the power of his storytelling via his version of the Mind Room called the “Writer’s Room” to manipulate your environment in real time and changing it immediately on the fly. Without fail, the more Alan learns of his environment and manipulates it through his writing and untangles what’s in front of him, the more terrifying the game gets.
CHAPTER 3 : HELLSCAPE
When I mentioned this game fully embraces its survival horror aspects, I mean it. If you remember the hopelessness of playing through the early Resident Evil games prior to the action turn of Resident Evil 4, Alan Wake 2 feels like a modern extension of the spirit of those old survival horror games, down to the atmosphere, the resource management and the combat. Whereas the first game could really let you get away with playing it a lot like an action game to the detriment of the tone it was pursuing, there is no similar power fantasy set up in this sequel.
Movement has been dialed back to feel significantly slower, and enemies at normal difficulty have become significantly spongier and tough to bring down, especially with the nerfing they have given to the flashlight mechanic from the last game where you could passively expose a “Taken” enemy by aiming the flashlight at them. This time, you have to be clever at using flashlight blasts to fight enemies, and if you get too trigger happy chances are you might get screwed for later when you exhaust your resources. It’s the typical resource management that can make survival horror games very stressful from moment to moment, but gives you the greatest satisfaction when you are able to survive a skirmish. And if you feel like playing a tough as nails survival horror game is not up your alley, the game does include a “Story Mode” difficulty you can switch to on the fly that does dial down enemy sponginess and increases some resource pickups that gets the game to feel closer to the experience of the first game (but still with a semblance of difficulty to it).
Not only is the gameplay tone downs from its predecessor what makes “Alan Wake 2” such an excellent survival horror game. This is legit one of the scariest, most unsettling games I have had the pleasure to play. Even with the lack of anything truly monstrous, the way the game uses quick cuts at the most random times to really unsettle you at every moment is the kind of thing I have to give a “not for the faint of heart” warning. The way this game manipulates you when you least expect it either through Saga’s investigations and mind readings or Alan’s psychological gauntlets at the Dark Place, “Alan Wake 2” definitely pushed my fear tolerance to the absolute limits, and it’s made the better because of it.
CHAPTER 4 : BENCHMARK
The survival horror aspects of Alan Wake 2 are increased tenfold by the game’s masterful presentation. This is an absolutely gorgeous game from every pixel you see on the screen, and Remedy uses the quality of its presentation to enhance the storytelling at hand with some of the greatest style of any game so far this generation. Every lesson learned in presentation since the days of Max Payne all the way to Control have all been implemented here, and even questionable storytelling techniques like the Quantum Break split of in-game storytelling and 20-30 minute live action TV episodes have found newfound purpose on Alan Wake 2.
It creates a pitch perfect balance of in-game storytelling and live action FMV sequences that are cleverly interspersed through your gameplay sequences that keeps the game entirely engrossing, stylistically cinematic, while never forgetting that it’s a goddamn videogame. It allows Remedy to self indulge in every trick they have learned, and instead of coming off as fart smelly as it easily could have, it just makes the entire experience of this game even more special. The game really is about the nature and power of writing and storytelling, and the techniques employed to tell said tale have risen to the occasion to properly tell it. How the presentation and storytelling come together in many places (like the fourth chapter in Alan Wake’s side that will go down as one of the year’s most insanely clever, memorable moments) elevates this package to a new level. And those song needle drops after dramatic moments? chef’s kiss
As for the game’s technical merits, this was something to be concerned about heading into release considering how the studio’s last big game, Control, performed at launch back in 2019. Thankfully, the launch state for Alan Wake 2 was of significantly better quality at release, even with some minor issues that included audio lip de-sync. From a visual and quality perspective, on the PlayStation 5 version I played for this review, the game was consistently rock solid, with very few framerate problems to note. I played the majority of the game on the Quality mode as the pace of the game and the presentation was such that I wanted to experience it in the highest fidelity possible, and the game had perfect frame pacing to boot.
But if you are a stickler for wanting to play the game at a higher framerate, and don’t mind slightly fuzzier resolution and more notable jaggies, the Performance Mode is absolutely rock solid, and the game still looks gorgeous enough to transcend any issues. And if some of the screenshots I’ve seen of the PC version are any indication, if you have a machine that can handle it, my God does the game feel like a current benchmark for visual quality for this generation.
Are there any issues with Alan Wake 2? There are a few worth noting, but nothing to really worry about. I absolutely adored the game’s slower pacing as it plays more into the detective nature of the story, but I can imagine for some people, something of this kind of pace may not be to their liking. When I said enemies can be spongy, I mean it, which can sometimes make enemies take too many rounds for my liking to go down which can feel aggravating in more intense areas like Alan’s sections.
There’s also few times where you may get turned around and confused as to what you need to do, which sometimes required going back to the Mind Room/Writer’s Room with no indication that was what was needed to progress. It can sometimes make you hit some points when you are going in circles trying to figure some things out, especially with nothing during normal play guiding you to where you need to go. People that hate handholding will absolutely adore this element, but keep in mind this may lead to some frustrations to those that need slightly better signposting.
CHAPTER 5 : MASTERPIECE
In reality, those are tiny quibbles over the monumental achievement that is Alan Wake 2. It’s clear Sam Lake and company had some pent up creativity for what they wanted to do with this sequel that they have been wanting to unleash over the past 13 years, and that creativity just shines through with what will be known as the studio’s crown jewel from here on out.
From every angle you can imagine, from its clever storytelling and cinematic stylings to its excellent survival horror aspects, Alan Wake 2 absolutely sings. You’ll scream. You’ll be engrossed. You’ll feel inspired. It’s a piece of work that transcends its existence as a videogame, and the most clever marriage of different storytelling mediums I’ve seen in a high-budget video game. For anyone thinking of how video game storytelling can still evolve in great and creative ways, Alan Wake 2 has set a new benchmark. In a year that has delivered as many excellent games as 2023, Alan Wake 2 joins the upper ranks as one of the most inspired of this generation, and the wait for a follow up already feels unfair. An absolute masterclass.
You can find Seasoned Gaming’s review policy here