Alan Wake 2 review – A monstrous sequel well worth its 13-year wait
Alan Wake 2 is a miraculous sequel. Honoring every imaginable plot thread we’ve been tangled up in over the 13-year wait while charting new territory through a bold genre pivot, Remedy has once again cemented itself as one of the industry’s most creative, ambitious, and consistent studios.
Thirteen years ago we first visited the quaint yet eerily familiar town of Bright Falls. A town where everyone seemingly knew each other, nothing was quite what it seemed, and mystery lurked around every dimly lit corner.
Since the ocean-sized cliffhanger ended the first chapter, Remedy has admittedly tried time and again to get a sequel off the ground. In some instances, these ideas were stopped at the drawing board, where in other cases, full gameplay demos were brought to life and later leaked online. It’s been a trying journey for devs and fans alike, but after all this time, it’s almost as though it couldn’t have happened any other way.
We needed those demos to fall short. We needed Remedy to go back to the drawing board. We needed time to pass so the perfect follow-up could come into the spotlight. The version of Alan Wake 2 we finally have in our hands is without question the very best version of an Alan Wake sequel you could possibly deliver.
The Finnish developers have again proven themselves as a studio with no equal in the medium.
Alan Wake 2 – Key details
- Price (Standard Edition): $49.99 USD (PC) | $59.99 USD (Console)
- Developer: Remedy Entertainment
- Release date: October 27, 2023
- Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X | S, & PS5
Alan Wake 2 trailer
Return to The Dark Place, discover a nightmare
The last we saw of Alan Wake, he was trapped in The Dark Place. Trying to write his way out of hell, Bright Falls became the site of another Altered World Event (AWE) as we learned in Control.
Enter Saga Anderson and her partner Alex Casey, an FBI duo looking into recent disturbances in the area. Exactly where things go from there and how these characters all connect is best discovered on your own. Remedy has been extremely careful with its marketing to avoid specific story beats. To delve into further detail here would be to ruin your experience.
Despite being framed as a direct sequel to Alan Wake, however, it’s worth knowing ahead of time this is effectively the next chapter in Remedy’s broader universe. It pushes everything forward, not just Wake’s specific journey. Thus, if you haven’t played their previous works, especially Control, but even the likes of Quantum Break and Max Payne, there’s a great deal here that will go over your head. Do yourself a favor, and brush up on your history in order to enjoy all that Alan Wake 2 has on offer. It’s well worth your time.
In the first Alan Wake we played as Alan Wake and Alan Wake alone. This time around, the narrative is split into two halves. On one side, we’re back with the writer and his flashlight. On the other, we’re in the shoes of a conflicted newcomer. With the ability to swap between these characters at certain junctures, players can progress Saga’s side of the story first, or Alan’s, or alternate between each chapter as they please.
Although we had our qualms going in, after all, we’re here to learn about the past 13 years of Alan Wake’s life, not anyone else’s, Saga Anderson more than earns her presence in this sequel. Portrayed by Melanie Liburd, Saga is genuinely one of the best new protagonists of the generation. A well-crafted mystery of her own backed by an utterly mesmerizing performance at times elevated her half of the story over even the titular character.
And of course, the way these halves become intertwined and meticulously unfurl is another masterstroke from Remedy. Keeping even one side of this convoluted story in play would be a herculean effort in its own right. To delicately balance them both, ensuring all key characters have their moments in the sun, is almost an incomprehensible task on paper. Yet it’s executed here to perfection, delivering on every plot thread while never losing sight of the irreverent charm the studio has become synonymous with.
Remedy’s Connected Universe grows darker
While the first title certainly had its odd frights, Alan Wake 2 is a full-blown horror game. There are moments that will make your skin crawl. There are jump scares that will properly shock you. And some of the subject matter is quite bleak, to say the least.
How Remedy handles this genre pivot is again simply brilliant. As the story progresses you come to learn why it had to be this way. You understand why The Dark Place is, well, so dark. You see how it manifests throughout Bright Falls and beyond, impacting the environment and its inhabitants just the same.
And when Remedy’s trademark subtleties are added into that horrifying equation, it mixes into an endlessly delightful thrill ride.
In a place where nothing is quite as it seems, you’re left jumping at shadows. In murky basements where everything is still, the quiet humming of a distant character keeps you unsettled. In chilling forests where, even in broad daylight, you’re questioning if that one tree just moved, the deep breaths of your character keep tensions heightened.
As a standalone experience, the game Remedy has crafted here would stand tall as one of the finest examples of a modern horror in our medium. But when twisted together in their ever-growing mystery, with connective tissue across decades of other stories, it all mounts into something even greater.
Light can only help so much
Of course, the evolution isn’t just limited to the story. Gameplay is leaps and bounds ahead of the first Alan Wake, in more ways than you might think. First, there are the improvements made to the traditional third-person shooter structure.
Wearing its inspirations on its sleeves, as Remedy’s games often do, there’s no denying Alan Wake 2 borrows heavily from The Last of Us Part 2, and why wouldn’t you? Namely, the cadence of the game’s more open-ended exploration matches the rhythm of that in Naughty Dog’s latest title. Opening cupboards and draws to find resources, wandering through overturned bedrooms to find notes on the ground, it’s all very familiar here and executed just as well as it’s ever been elsewhere.
In terms of combat alone, there are also key differences between the two halves of the game. From the enemies you face to the tools at your disposal, they’re similarly paced yet uniquely framed. Saga has her powerful crossbow, capable of downing an enemy in a single well-placed shot. Alan has his lamp that can change the environment at the press of a button. These elements keep the experience fresh through the full 20-25-hour ride, a much deeper game than the first chapter.
Though we’d be lying if we said every change was for the better. In the original Alan Wake, you dispatched foes by first breaking their ‘darkness’ shield. Shining a light on them dwindled this barrier so you could then follow up with any firearms on your person. There was a balance here unlike any other third-person game on the market. Alternating between a gentle touch of light and focused beams while keeping an eye on your battery level remained a constant juggling act. There was a charm to it that hasn’t been replicated here in the sequel.
Rather than manually honing your light to deplete enemy shields, the process has now been simplified. A single press of a button focuses your light on a nearby target and instantly wipes the darkness away. While it’s far from terrible, we have certainly lost something here by pivoting away from the classic system.
The Mind Place – A delicious innovation to make even Dr. Lecter proud
Though while third-person combat has evolved in Alan Wake 2, so too has something else. Something you might not have ever considered needing an evolution.
For Saga Anderson, she has her Mind Place. Alan Wake has his writer’s room instead. These are two sides of the same coin, effectively serving as an evolution of in-game menu systems. Rather than navigating through lists of options and pages of text, this innovative dots all the same information around a living, breathing, 3D space.
Much like a standard menu, however, there’s no barrier in between. At the touch of a button, with zero loading to speak of, you can seamlessly swap to either the Mind Place or the writer’s room. Regardless of where you may be in the sprawling world, these locations are always on standby. It’s one of the best uses of new-gen hardware and a truly genius step forward for the medium as a whole.
As you might expect, there’s plenty to do here in these evolved menus. On Saga’s side of the equation, her Mind Place is where she pieces together the case. Suspects, locations, evidence, they’re all pinned on her case board as you go, always tying plot points together while giving you a clear picture of what your next step should be at all times.
On Alan’s side, in the writer’s room, this is where the troubled author can go to completely change the story he currently finds himself in. Without spoiling anything, think of his sequences as being made of LEGO sets. By heading back to the writer’s room and plotting out a different course for a given sequence, he can change pieces of that LEGO set to alter the environment, open new pathways, and deliver new narrative twists.
By interacting with characters, finding new areas, and devising new possibilities, changes for the story are always just around the corner, letting you mix things up on the fly thanks to this brilliant, seamless innovation.
This sequel can be a monster
Unfortunately, with a game this ambitious, a few things are bound to go wrong right out of the gate. While we did encounter a fair share of frustrating problems in our first playthrough, they are admittedly all issues that can no doubt be resolved with patches in the months to come. It’s another example of where playing a game at release is suboptimal, much like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor earlier this year, which took months to rebound on console.
First is the topic of performance. Playing on PS5, the game held up quite well considering its genuinely mind-boggling visuals. No two ways about it: Alan Wake 2 is up there as one of the best-looking games money can buy today. On par with Horizon Forbidden West, for our money.
Though with such a dazzling game, the hardware running it can occasionally feel the weight. In a few particular scenes, hitching became a real detriment, while in other locations, especially at certain times of day, the frame rate simply couldn’t keep up, even in Performance Mode.
Next, we have a more impactful issue, one compounded by the infrequency of save points. While Alan Wake 2 does have an auto-save feature that comes into play every once in a while, you’re often left to manually save when you find break rooms out in the wild. Given these break rooms are few and far between, if anything goes wrong, you’re left backtracking a fair amount. When things are out of your control, it can obviously be rather frustrating.
Take, for instance, the few times the game’s menus bugged out on us, forcing us to reload a previous save in order to progress. Or the occasional examples of falling through the map, again forcing us to replay a decent amount.
On top of the unintentional quirks, the package is also limited at launch. Beyond the bugs that will inevitably fixed in due time, core content is just flat-out missing on day one. Photo Mode, New Game Plus, and Nightmare difficulty should all be considered essential components but instead, we have to evaluate the product without a good chunk of its future value.
New Game Plus is especially vital given the game’s conclusion. Currently without it, if you want to continue exploring, tough luck. Your only choice is to start the game over, and as a 20-25-hour experience, that’s no small feat.
Ultimately, these gripes will all be quashed in the weeks and months to come. But in assessing the day one experience, there’s no denying the lack of these core features and early issues is certainly felt and thus, must be factored into your decision to purchase.
Remedy remains a cut above the rest
Despite the early hiccups at launch, none of it is damaging enough to hinder the sheer excellence of Alan Wake 2. No matter the technical quirks, you simply can’t deny the marvelous achievement of this follow-up, a near-perfect sequel in every sense.
Diving back into The Dark Place 13 years on from the cult classic came with some lofty expectations. Avid fans have been theorizing what it all means for over a decade now. Rest assured, Remedy made the wait all worthwhile in the end, giving answers while also giving plenty of new questions for us to all chew on, though hopefully not for another decade this time.
The Verdict – 5/5
Circling back to everything that made the original shine while adding not only new gameplay innovations, but captivating new characters marks a bold step forward for the series, for Remedy, and the industry at large. Alan Wake 2 is a towering accomplishment that will keep you hooked from start to finish and leave you with a little darkness you’ll be thinking about for years to come.