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Alan Wake 2 Review – Into the Light, 13 Years Later

Not for you if:

  • You don’t like spooky games
  • You don’t like slow games with puzzles and exploration
  • Your PC isn’t made by NASA
10

The original Alan Wake is something of an anomaly. Remedy Entertainment, the team behind the beloved Max Payne games, set out to create an open-world horror game. This was the first prototype for Alan Wake, a 2010 third-person thriller published by Microsoft. 

Unfortunately, it launched on the same day as the original Red Dead Redemption and paired with its Xbox 360 exclusivity, it didn’t sell well. A few DLCs and a spin-off game later, Remedy Entertainment’s Creative Director Sam Lake officially announced that its sequel is dead

Flash forward to 2023, and the video game industry has changed dramatically with subscription services, various gaming launchers, and live service games. Alan Wake 2 was made possible thanks to Epic Games and their publishing program, which previously also funded Alan Wake Remastered in 2021. And on October 27th, 2023, fans were eager to finally find out the fate of one of their favourite characters. Is this the dream come true that so many of us had hoped for?

TL;DR

Alan Wake 2 isn’t the game Remedy planned to make after AW1. It’s a game heavily influenced by True Detective and the Resident Evil 2 Remake. It succeeds at revolutionising the survival horror genre while also giving answers to questions fans have been eagerly waiting for for 13 years. It’s a AAA journey into madness that pushes the boundaries of video game storytelling and shows what the team at Remedy is capable of.

Story – Trapped in a Nightmare

Alan Wake 2 picks up the story 13 years after the first game. When Alan disappeared at the end of AW1, the world had moved on. Urban legends about his disappearance started to appear in Bright Falls. The FBC (Control) created a monitoring station near Cauldron Lake to look for signs of supernatural events. Everyone who knew Alan coped with his disappearance in their own way. 

The story picks up with a series of murders in Bright Falls, committed by a cult worshipping Alan’s books. Two FBI agents come to Bright Falls to investigate the crimes, only to find pages from a manuscript written by Alan Wake all around the town. Alan Wake 2 is a direct continuation of the first game–it’s also a product of Remedy’s growth and development as it takes inspiration from various media. 

True Detective’s first season has been cited as a major influence, as well as the Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4 remakes. This becomes clear the moment you begin playing the game and realize just how dark, eerie, and unwelcome its world is. While Alan Wake 1 was a horror-lite, Alan Wake 2 is a deeply unsettling survival horror game without a compromise.

Gameplay – A Tale of Two Protagonists

Despite being called Alan Wake 2, this isn’t Alan’s story exclusively. You start the game as Saga Anderson, an FBI agent who comes to Bright Falls to solve a series of murders. While you’ll gain control of Alan after a few hours, the game does something unique with the progression. 

You can freely swap between the two characters at different points in the game and play their stories out of order. However, to unlock the ending, you’ll need to complete both campaigns. The split between the two is 50/50. Both characters are fun to play, and their stories are equally captivating and mysterious.

The biggest addition to Alan Wake 2 is the Mind Place/Writer’s Room. It’s a mental space that both characters use to gather clues, look at collectables, upgrade items, etc. You can access this place anytime, move around it, review notes, and plan your next move. Thanks to SSD hard drives, accessing these places is instantaneous, but the game doesn’t “pause” when you do it. 

Similar to Elden Ring, you’re still vulnerable, so you need to do it in a safe space. Just like in Resident Evil, you can save your game and access your storage in Break Rooms, special safe havens in which no one can harm you. Alan Wake 2 uses a Silent Hill-style map where different doors, items, and points of interest are automatically marked for you, making exploration fast and enjoyable.

Slow and Steady Journey into Darkness

Compared to Alan Wake, Quantum Break, or Control, Alan Wake 2 is an extremely slow game. In the first hour of the game, you’ll come across one enemy, and it’ll be a while until you fire your weapon again. Each movement your character makes also takes time, just like it would in real life. Reloading your weapon, healing, opening doors, and other actions, all take a second longer than you hope they would.

And as enemies surround you, you’ll have to make quick decisions on what to do next. Despite the slow nature of gameplay, Alan Wake 2 has a very enjoyable pacing. Maps are not too big, and collectables are never too far away. Every collectable also adds to the game’s narrative and has meaning. Saga and Alan rely on very different weapons and items to survive their journeys. The game also uses a Resident Evil 4-style inventory system, so you’ll have to manage inventory space to use every slot efficiently.

Ammo is always short, and you’ll need to be careful how you manage your resources. In Alan Wake 2, taking down a regular enemy will take several bullets, so it’s sometimes best to run away and rethink your approach to a situation. While there is no crafting in the game, Alan Wake 2 features rudimentary weapon upgrades, which are simple but welcome.

Alan can also manipulate his environment by “writing”, altering certain events or scenes to match what he needs to escape The Dark Place. It’s a neat little feature that fits very well with his role as a writer, and you’ll enjoy going over different scenes with different writing ideas as you play through his campaign.

Low Replayability, At Least For Now

On launch, Alan Wake 2 doesn’t offer much in terms of replayability. While you can experience the story non-linearly, the ending stays the same. There are no New Game+ or additional modes for you to try out at the moment. However, Remedy has committed to delivering a plethora of DLC content in the coming months, so these worries are only temporary.

For console players, Alan Wake 2 is also very player-friendly with its achievements and trophies, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time doing obscure or difficult tasks. It’s a rich narrative experience that’ll take you 20-25 hours to complete, depending on how thorough you are in exploring its world and lore.

Visuals – Survival Horror Never Looked So Good

Alan Wake 2 uses Remedy’s internal Northlight engine, built for real-time lighting simulation. Used in games like Control, the Northlight engine continues to showcase just how good video games can look–with the right hardware.

The game’s two primary settings–rural Pacific Northwest and a dream-like New York–are ideal for what the engine was built for. Whether you’re exploring the woods and mountains surrounding Bright Falls as Saga or sneaking through the streets of Alan’s New York, you’ll always be amazed by the game’s visuals.

To blur the lines between game and reality even further, Remedy decided to rely heavily on live-action cutscenes. These range from Remedy’s classic comedic ads to delirious visions Alan is experiencing while escaping The Dark Place. Surprisingly, there are very few visual bugs present at launch, and the game will only become more stable with future patches.

Ambitious Visuals Also Bring Technical Issues

While Alan Wake 2 features gorgeous visuals, it comes at a high price on both consoles and PCs. We reviewed the game on the PlayStation 5, where the quality mode uses FSR 2 to hit 2160p at 30FPS, with an internal resolution of 1270p. Performance mode features 1440p, targeting 60FPS, and an internal resolution of 847p.

The game heavily relies on upscaling to provide players with a sharp image, but the bigger the TV you play on, the more obvious this will be. Alan Wake 2 uses motion blur and film grain to mask said upscaling, but the game’s visuals can become quite blurry, especially during fights with multiple enemies, during rainfall, or during chase scenes. On consoles, this game would benefit greatly from a mid-gen refresh in the form of a PS5 Pro and an Xbox equivalent.

On PC, the game is very demanding, especially if you plan on using Ray Tracing and target 60FPS or above. It’s a game that’ll continue to look great for years to come, thanks to Remedy’s Northlight engine, but in its current form, it’s a diamond in the rough.

The game oozes with atmosphere but at a high cost, especially on consoles and older GPUs.

Audio – Creepy and Unnerving in All the Right Ways

True to its genre, Alan Wake 2 is an unsettling masterclass in sound design, especially if you play it with surround sound or a good set of headphones. You’ll always be on edge when going through forests with Saga or New York’s streets with Alan, unsure whether someone is following you or if you are truly alone.

Weapons also pack a punch and sound powerful, whether you’re firing a pistol or using a flare gun. In this aspect, PlayStation 5 and PC versions benefit from haptic feedback, which simulates using different weapons and items very effectively. The game features a cast of actors Remedy has worked with in the past, including Matthew Porretta, James McCaffrey, and Sam Lake himself.

They all do a wonderful job bringing their characters to life, and the writing makes them all sound like believable human beings. Speaking of writing, Alan’s manuscripts are also read by the wonderful Matthew Porretta, just as they were in the first game. Alan Wake 2 is a Remedy reunion when it comes to the actors, and it’s a joy to see and hear them all together in such an ambitious project.

Audio design especially shines in Alan’s campaign as you escape the mind-bending Dark Place.

Redefining How Video Game Soundtracks Are Made

Remedy has taken a very unique approach to creating the soundtrack of Alan Wake 2. This move was both a creative and a business decision after Alan Wake 1 temporarily disappeared from digital storefronts due to music licensing issues. Remedy reached out to prolific Nordic artists like RAKEL and Poets of the Fall to create brand-new, story-related songs for Alan Wake 2.

These songs play at the end of each chapter, the same as they did in Alan Wake 1. The difference is that this time, they are tailor-made for each chapter and contain small hints and easter eggs directly related to what’s going on in the game. The whole soundtrack enriches the player’s experience, not to mention the various radio shows, Alex Casey monologues, and other collectables you’ll find throughout the game.

Conclusion – Should you Play Alan Wake 2?

In many ways, Alan Wake 2 is an anomaly in the video game industry, just like its predecessor. It pushes the boundaries of survival horror video games by heavily relying on live-action multimedia, slow-burning gameplay, and deep connections to Remedy’s other games.

Fans of the original Alan Wake finally get to experience the next chapter in this story, while newcomers get to enjoy an amazing game inspired by Resident Evil 4. Remedy has also announced a series of free DLCs and paid story expansions that’ll arrive throughout 2024, so we have plenty to look forward to regarding new content.

The only caveat is that its visuals are very demanding if you’re on PC, and you’ll also have to get the game on the Epic Games Store. Alan Wake 2 took 13 years to step out into the light. We can only hope that Alan’s next adventure won’t take as long to make. It’s now available on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series consoles.

Rastislav Filip

Posts published: 45

Professional copywriter, full-time nerd, and a loving husband. Loves playing JRPGs and story-driven games, binging TV shows, and reading sci-fi/fantasy books. Probably writes content in his sleep.