Alan Wake 2 feels like the game Remedy was created to make
Alan Wake 2: The Dark Place is set to come out later this year. This week we saw an entire mission and more, but is the protagonist’s return worth the decade-long wait? Here’s what we thought.
After a presentation of Alan Wake 2 earlier this week at Gamescom, I asked Remedy’s Sam Lake a question. “Why is now the right time for Alan Wake to return?” The franchise, at least as standalone games, has been dormant since 2012. While it’s been connected to the world of Control, fans have been waiting for over a decade for this sequel.
“This was the first time we succeeded in getting it made”, Lake joked at the demo presentation, which took place in a lovely indie cinema in Cologne. “We’ve been trying through the years.”
“Looking back at those pitches and concepts that we created, I am really, really happy none of them got made, because that meant that this got made now. We could not have made this game earlier.”
Now that I’ve seen over 40 minutes of Alan Wake 2 myself, I have to say, I think I’m happy Remedy didn’t make the game until now either. What I saw was both bewildering and bewitching, and I’m certainly enticed for more.
While we didn’t get to see all of the beginning beats of Alan Wake 2, what we saw from a story perspective, which was a live-action cutscene and a complete mission, was puzzling. However, with the way it was presented, it’s very clear that even if I had seen the opening uncut, I’d still be as lost. This is all by design.
See, Alan Wake is having a rough time as his mind appears to be split. There’s a lot going on here from the first game, such as Alan being stuck in the titular Dark Place contending with the Dark Presence, and an alternate version of himself called Mr. Scratch.
Alan is once again affected by amnesia, or at the very least, long periods of time that he doesn’t remember. This means he ‘wakes up’ in situations where he doesn’t know how he got there.
This comes to a head when Alan wakes up to find himself just about to go on a talk show. However, it’s not clear if all of this is real, is influencing reality, is contained in the Dark Place, or is something else entirely. This sequence also blends in-engine gameplay with live-action portions, which Remedy Entertainment has become so enamored with. However, this is easily the most seamless and impactfully that the developer has weaved it into their presentation.
After stumbling through the interview, insisting he hasn’t written the book he’s promoting, he enters a nightmare world. This time it’s a run-down urban cityscape rather than the mysterious lake from the first game. This place seems intent on tormenting him with his past, as well as uncertainty about what he can be sure is real or not. This is a game designed from the ground up to put you on the back foot, unnerving you by letting you lie with an uncomfortable truth: you’re lost, and the world you’re in is out to get you.
Into the Shadows
Alan Wake 2 feels distinctly like a Remedy game. Even more so than a game like Control or Quantum Break, both of which had a sci-fi sheen to them. Instead, Alan Wake 2 feels like a return to the developer’s deepest roots. Maybe even more so than the original game, I got strong Max Payne 1 and 2 vibes here.
This is far more survival horror than I was expecting. In fact, Remedy even called out the recent Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes as inspirations after the showing. This is a game that’s far darker than anything Remedy has put out recently. It feels grimy in a way those old Max Payne games did. It has this haunting, underlying feeling of threat permeating from every pore. It’s not subtle either, this world is out to hurt Alan Wake, but the nature of what and how are obfuscated. It teems with that hair-raising feeling of being watched, except Remedy has concentrated that feeling to an extreme potency, and just ordered a round of shots all for you.
The Shadows from the first game make a return here as the main enemies. These figures, which waft in and out of being perceptible add to this coiled tension of threat dripping out the game. Perhaps because it was a presentation and not hands-on, it was hard to gauge exactly how they acted, but the Shadows for the most part appeared content in just watching you, but as an ever-present threat. Most of the time Alan would shuffle past them, but from time to time they’d spring into action and attack. It created this really uncertain tension of when they would pounce, but you know they always could at any moment. It’s an uneasy feeling, and one the game has harnessed like a paintbrush.
Alan makes his reality
However, Alan is not defenseless. His light and gun combo from the first game returns. If a Shadow does spring into action, he shines a light on it, until the person underneath is made flesh. At that point, they are susceptible to bullet damage. However, leaning into the survival horror nature, you won’t have enough bullets to take on all the enemies you encounter. No, these are defensive tools, not offensive weapons.
The most impressive mechanical changes are how Alan can move and change the world around him. Firstly, Alan now has a little light with him. He can use it to shift between realities. Say, an entrance he knows is there, has been paved over. He can flip the switch on the light and find the opening in the other eorld.
His other reality-bending power comes from his ability to rewrite his situation. This time around the developers have made the whole ‘manifesting a reality he’s writing’ an active part of your time in The Dark Place. As Alan explored the labyrinthian train tunnels, he’d find a collectible that acts as a stand-in for his ‘inspiration’. As he picks these up, he can return to his ‘writing room’ and we rework situations with new insight. Perhaps that crashed train that you can’t get past, you can rewrite to be burned out and without doors. This allows you to crawl through, albeit through a train car full of burned and ashen bodies.
This does open questions such as, how open-ended is this? Why doesn’t Alan rewrite everything in his favor? Is there usually just one solution? Do these rewrites have a lasting impact and change the broader story, or is it just to get past obstacles? Right now I don’t know, but it remains a fascinating idea, making Wake’s ability as a writer a tool for players to use.
The game Remedy was destined to make
Both of these mechanics are technically impressive as the world you exist in morphs to your actions and discoveries. However, they both have excellent thematic purposes that feed into broader ideas of this wretched place and Alan’s skills. While he talked about being a writer in the first game a lot, it wasn’t an active mechanic. Now, Remedy has found a way to introduce that aspect of the character into the game in a seamless way. Both that and the light feed into the overriding uneasiness of what is real, what isn’t, and what is blending between those two states.
This kind of confusion and sense of being lost could become frustrating in the hands of developers not as assured of their prowess as Remedy. However, despite it being so unnerving, it all remains deeply enticing.
That’s the sentiment I left that theatre in Cologne with. Alan Wake 2 is equal in its allure and its threat. A potent mix of horror and cerebral detective story, all tied up by masters of the medium. The form is as important as the story here. Remedy, from what I’ve seen, is taking its learnings since the release of Alan Wake 13 years ago, and wrapping it up with the technical and artistic flair they’ve become synonymous with. This feels like it has the promise to be the quintessential Remedy Entertainment game. It runs rich with the DNA of the developer’s history and has the feeling of being the game it’s been building towards for 21 years.
Alan Wake 2: The Dark Place will release on 27 October, 2023.