Very few developers take me on an experiential and narrative-driven journey with excellent gameplay quite like Remedy Entertainment. After being generously given a review copy of Alan Wake 2, their ambitious follow-up to the original 2010 horror hit, I can say they do more than retread familiar ground.
The first thing anybody should realize about Alan Wake 2 is that, at its core, it’s still the offbeat, quirky action-horror game at its heart. But now surrounding, enveloping, and pervading its heart is a much more intense, pulse-pounding neo-noir survival horror mystery that still smacks of Twin Peaks influence. It’s fantastic, and you’ll want to let it wash over you.
There’s A Sort of Evil Out There
It’s October 24th, and I’m entering the town of Bright Falls, Washington, a quaint sight to behold on the Pacific Northwest. I’ve seen my fair share of trees, but they feel right at home here. Here is the setting of Alan Wake 2, where you begin your story playing largely as Saga Anderson of the FBI, investigating a ritualistic murder unaware of the observing eyes and looming presence. Beware: the owls are not what they seem. There’s a sort of evil out there. Call it what you want, a darkness, a presence.
I have to be careful not to alienate the non-Twin Peaks fans, but the introduction of an FBI agent and her coffee-loving partner Alex Casey (played by Melanie Liburd and James McCaffrey!) makes the comparisons easier this time around. The first game had lots of nods to the David Lynch classic, but this game feels like it carries the influence of its more mature, superior recent season, Twin Peaks: The Return. Alan Wake 2 is dark, it’s moody, and it’s perilous, without completely abandoning its silliness.
Alan is ready to leave his paranatural prison known as The Dark Place in which he was infamously trapped for the cliffhanger ending in the 2010 original. This Black Lodge analog is a beast of its own, creating incredible visual renditions of an alternate New York City, yet susceptible to transformation by Wake’s every word. Strange terrors are striking Bright Falls and its outer limits, and people are becoming Taken, and when Saga enters town, there are tons of questions, and you as the player set out to answer them.
I’d Never Heard of A Man Who Murdered by the Rules
You investigate the strange occurrences around Cauldron Lake near Bright Falls while piecing together clues. This is where the neo-noir aspect comes into play, blending Saga’s gift for compartmentalization (or is it simply a gift?) with the hard facts, and you as the player are tasked with organizing them. The result is a satisfying Case Wall mechanic, pins and threads included. This is the game’s way of pushing the story forward when playing as Saga, where you’re compelled to move along with the facts as you uncover them for each case.
While there’s a main story, there are several side quests you’ll encounter in the game that, while some seem like collectathons, are entirely conceived based on existing and new lore. There are factors at play in these side quests that got me especially hyped for a Remedy Connected Universe, eager for anything that’s not over-distilled Disneyfied superhero universes. What’s more: it really works. But in many ways, Saga’s Case Wall mechanic might feel like a deviation, while much of her original gameplay is still Alan Wake through and through, but there’s one small twist. Saga’s forced to adapt and understand the world as it changes around her, while Alan is in control, or at least he’s made to look that way.
Wake, meanwhile, gets his time to shine, while also wrestling with The Dark Place, a potential evil doppelganger (again, Twin Peaks anyone?), and some pretty killer actors appearing such as David Harewood. It’s as surreal and nightmarish as when Dale Cooper escaped the Black Lodge, although Alan Wake 2 took a particularly cool twist.
Wake still has light as his central gimmick, but also can alter the world when retreating to his writing room, his equivalent to Saga’s “Mind Place” where he can alter entire pathways and events in front of you along with the Lamp’s abilities to remove obstacles. Don’t have the answers in a room? Go back, and try a different scenario, where you’ll find the area changing, yielding clues of what’s next for you to do.
More aware of his role in determining the outcome of his world’s events as its author, Alan is hounded by the notion that his doppelganger is about to bend reality to commit untold terrors with reckless abandon. But as Sheriff Truman said, “I’d never heard of a man who murdered by the rules.” Despite these premonitions though, you can’t help but revel in just how…cinematic it all feels. Alan Wake is increasingly seen as a man with the abilities of a god, a visionary able to dictate the world’s events, yet the uncertainty of his role leaves him open to being terrorized by other, similarly powerful presences.
My Rig Doesn’t Judge
Speaking more on the cinematic aspect of this game, this is one of the coolest integrations of live-action I’ve ever seen, keeping it around just long enough before it feels kitsch in a bad way. In a neo-noir game, it feels similar to those niche point-and-click mysteries with high-quality FMV visuals as their primary gimmick, while pulling you back to the game at the right moments. It feels like you’re gazing into multiple worlds, yet all the worlds are focusing on the events unfolding in the game, as they shape reality around them. It’s gorgeous in a cinematic sense, before even going into the technical aspects.
You might have noticed from the footage released for Alan Wake 2, that the game is shockingly, beautifully rendered. This is thanks in no small part to NVIDIA DLSS 3.5 in the case of my system, allowing ray reconstruction, enhancing ray-tracing further by replacing hand-tuned denoisers in favor of the NVIDIA supercomputer-powered AI network that’ll produce superior image quality and keep performance strong. Images bounce off puddles more clearly, reflections are crisp, and you’ll experience a truly next-gen offering while sacrificing far fewer frames.
But beyond the technical aspects, you won’t need jargon to experience other aspects of Alan Wake 2’s beauty. The game already has amazing color grading, but when worlds begin to collide, you see rich crimson-to-maroon hues projecting menace and danger as well as excitement lurking around the corner. The game also introduces a surprising gore mechanic which, while at times impressive, can look a bit hokey when you’ve unleashed all hell and taken off their entire torso’s layer of skin, only for them to still be kicking. But given that it can handle that on top of the other impressive visuals, my rig doesn’t judge.
I Don’t Wanna Talk. I Wanna Shoot.
For those enticed by one other genre aspect of this game, yes, there’s still plenty of action, as it remains a third-person shooter. I’d argue it’s less of a central element than in the first game, which is overall a good thing. But for those who say “I don’t wanna talk. I wanna shoot” you might find there are more prolonged periods of exploration. This might seem subdued or even boring at first, but once you realize it’s building tension akin to Mulholland Drive before pulling off a predictable jumpscare that still gets you, you realize the Alan Wake 2 stays lively even outside of combat.
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I think of this from time to time in how the game told me early on that if you entered the Mind Place or opened your map, it doesn’t place nearby enemies on timeout. You’re still vulnerable, and I got hit with a violent jumpscare when an enemy started stalking me while I was checking my map.
This is where the game’s minimalistic UI serves to enhance immersion, where you’re forced to check a paper map in your mind to get your bearings. It feels great as a survival horror mechanic but might drive more casual players away. However, the game is relatively easy even on Hard Mode, so don’t let it deter you. Some of the boss fights, even just conceptually, are wild to behold.
The Verdict: A Damn Fine Video Game
Alan Wake 2 is an ambitious, shockingly loaded, and intense sequel. It’s clear why Sam Lake considered this to be his passion project. Lake, along with Kyle Rowley, has successfully directed a tremendous game, with particular highlights being the visual storytelling, the visuals themselves, and the deliberate nature of Alan Wake 2’s gameplay.
Another shoutout this game deserves is the soundtrack, where I felt a bespoke serenity while completing each segment. I half-expected one of the tracks to be “A Violent Yet Flammable World” by Au Revoir Simone, and yes, that’s another Twin Peaks reference; the point is that the ending themes for each part are sublime.
Everything, down to the puzzles, feels appropriately placed. That’s before even acknowledging the gorgeous cast of actors involved in the project and the truly compelling story that unfolds for Alan as well as Saga, who each gain an interesting presence in Bright Falls and the world beyond. It doesn’t feel like the most satisfying combat, and it’s rather easy to beat, but this is also exactly what I wanted and more from an Alan Wake sequel. It is also the best original horror game of 2023 by a wide margin, and a damn fine video game overall.