With the original Alan Wake having come out over a decade ago, the fact that it would someday get a sequel wasn’t really something most fans of the game would imagine, considering the game’s middling sales and the fact that, at the time, horror titles weren’t doing as well as they are these days. Thankfully, the game has since achieved cult status, and with the success of Control, Remedy could revisit Alan Wake with a sequel.
To boil Alan Wake 2 down to just a AAA blockbuster survival horror third-person shooter does quite a disservice to the title, more so than most other games out there. The real strength of Alan Wake 2 lies less in the nuts and bolts of its mechanics and more in how it chooses to tell its mind-bending story.
Alan Wake 2 is a competent game to play. I never found myself annoyed with the core combat, for example, and the resource management for the flashlight as well as the scarcity of ammo definitely did quite a bit to add some tension to fights. Enemies don’t exactly go down in a single shot, after all, and you’ll have to juggle between different enemies by keeping them away from you with your flashlight, while at the same time trying to take them down with well-aimed shots. While enemies can feel like bullet sponges, it never really feels out of place, since you’re essentially fighting beings corrupted by an otherworldly force.
"The jump scares don’t really add anything to the game’s atmosphere or story."
There’s a limited amount of weapon customization offered, with upgrades for your weapons being available once you find enough Manuscript Scraps. These scraps are scattered all over the game, and offer minor upgrades, like increased ammo or more damage. There isn’t going to be any upgrade you find that radically changes the way you take on combat scenarios, unfortunately.
Right off the bat, Alan Wake 2 gives off a vibe not too far off from classic TV horror shows. You’re put into the shoes of FBI agent Saga Anderson (and later on Wake himself), who has come to the town of Bright Falls to investigate a ritualistic murder near Cauldron Lake. Alan Wake 2 brings in quite a few interesting references to the first game; the victim in question is FBI agent Robert Nightingale, who mysteriously disappeared a few years ago.
Eagle-eyed players will notice that the timeline for Nightingale’s disappearance matches up quite neatly with the events of the original Alan Wake, and there’s quite a bit more going on in Cauldron Lake than you first realized. Things especially come to a head when you try and autopsy Nightingale’s corpse, only for the Sheriff to disappear while trying to hand you some manuscripts, and Nightingale’s corpse coming to life to kill you.
"When it comes to its horror, the game’s atmosphere and writing does most of the heavy lifting."
While there’s a lot going on in the story, especially in the game’s first few hours, Alan Wake 2 never feels like it’s rushing through its story beats. There are plenty of quieter moments where you’re left alone with your thoughts as you try and explore the game’s several creepy environments. The story in Alan Wake 2 is an absolute joy to try and figure out, especially since it’s framed as an investigation by the FBI rather than just a bog-standard action-adventure game story with cutscenes.
One of the two protagonists of the game, Saga Anderson, has quite an interesting ability which is tapped into to help explain more of the story and anything else of importance that might be happening around you: her Mind Place. Essentially a room in her mind where she can walk around freely, the Mind Place lets you read manuscripts you might have found, revisit the game’s live-action TV shows and ads, listen to some of the title’s music, and most importantly, try and figure out the game’s story.
As Anderson continues her investigation into the death of Nightingale and the Cult of the Tree, she finds clues that help guide her to the next objective. These clues can be deciphered in the Mind Place, where the player can help answer questions posed by the game with some of the evidence they find in the wild. Anderson can also tap into her uncanny deductive abilities to try and profile certain characters in the game, learning more about them, and even going as far as deducing where, for example, you can find a heart that works like a key to continue further down the rabbit hole of Nightingale’s death.
"Saga Anderson has quite an interesting ability which is tapped into to help explain more of the story."
While it’s presented as if it were an investigative tool in the vein of something like L.A. Noire, the case files in the Mind Place are essentially just a fancier way of tracking missions, giving the player hints about their next objective, and learning more about the game’s characters and settings. It’s the presentation that really sells the Mind Place as an interesting place to spend some time to figure things out. The whole “room” could have just been a menu and something intangible would have been lost with that decision.
When it comes to its horror, the game’s atmosphere and writing does most of the heavy lifting. The Cult of the Tree feels like a legitimately spooky crew to fight against, and even early game puzzles that involve a hole in a sign and a human heart are creepy in just the right ways. Sadly, Alan Wake 2 also makes use of jump scares that, at the best of times, feel completely unnecessary, and at worst, made me outright laugh out loud. The jump scares don’t really add anything to the game’s atmosphere or story, and more often than not, are just there to either hide the fact that a boss is teleporting away from you, or to just startle you every once in a while.
Visually, Bright Falls and its surrounding areas are just downright gorgeous. Alan Wake 2 is a great looking game, and Remedy wasn’t afraid of showing off just how far it has come, especially after Control which also looked beautiful. Some of the vistas presented in the game are just downright surreal in how amazing they can look. For context, I played through the game using its Performance setting, which managed to keep a steady frame rate while still looking reasonably good. The Quality setting kicks things up a notch visually, especially with how the game uses its lighting, but unfortunately, the frame drops were ever-present, especially if there’s too much stuff involved.
"Visually, Bright Falls and its surrounding areas are just downright gorgeous."
While Alan Wake 2 is a fantastic standalone title in its own right, players familiar with the original Alan Wake will find a lot to love here. It picks up the story quite naturally, despite the large gap in time, both in the game’s story as well as in the real world, and the gameplay is definitely not holding Alan Wake 2 back this time around. For newer players, I would at least recommend checking out some story summaries of Alan Wake if playing the game isn’t possible. While the story does make sense on its own, those familiar with the setting—even those that only really played Control and its AWE DLC—will find plenty of smaller details that end up making the whole experience more enjoyable. These aren’t just cool callbacks either; the Federal Bureau of Control is a presence in Alan Wake 2’s story, and the game’s world feels richer for it.
Alan Wake 2 is a great horror game. Its use of its environments to create atmosphere is fantastic, and unlike the original Alan Wake, the core gameplay is fun too. The story, while fairly complicated, is told quite well not only through the use of cutscenes and conversations, but also through the rather inventive Mind Place, where players can put together clues and read through notes themselves, ultimately coming to the same conclusion as Saga Anderson. The eponymous Alan Wake’s involvement in the story is also incredibly interesting, especially thanks to the expansion the game’s setting saw with Control. Alan Wake 2 is bound to be enjoyable for not only fans of the horror genre, but for anyone that enjoys a good third-person action game with spooky elements and gorgeous visuals. Of course, the Twin Peaks and X-Files vibes certainly help as well.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Fun combat; Enthralling story; Interesting characters; Gorgeous visuals; Excellent atmosphere.
Jump scares don’t add anything to the game, combat system is too simplistic in its mechanics.