Alan Wake, like most creations from the reliably excellent Remedy Entertainment, needs no introduction to many gamers. Even among the vast swath of gamers who never owned an Xbox 360 and missed the game entirely, there are plenty who are aware of the game and are intrigued by what they’ve heard. It’s one of the few games that transcended its platform back in 2010, and still finds its way into many “best horror game” and “hidden gem” lists to this day. Now, PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 owners can finally play the game on their respective platforms. Except now the game has been touched up dramatically and makes good use of much more powerful hardware.
Wake is a successful author, known for his works in horror and thrillers. He also has his share of character flaws that drag him down personally despite that inner darkness elevating him professionally. Until now, when Alan Wake finds himself in the midst of intense writer’s block and on the brink of an identity crisis. The story begins when his wife, Alice, has whisked him away from his problems to a quaint little town; Bright Falls, tucked away in the wooded hills of Washington. As soon as they get to their cabin though, the charming picturesque Bright Falls quickly becomes anything but. Before the couple has unpacked their car, Alice is taken by a mysterious darkness that seems to envelop the whole town while also spawning delirious, corrupted versions of the townsfolk who, inexplicably, want Alan dead. On top of that, it seems that Alan’s most recent unfinished manuscript is the catalyst for it all as events he hasn’t even finished drafting up are coming to life right before his eyes in Bright Falls.
"Of all the games that harken back to those sorts of inspirations, Alan Wake is still among the best."
The fact that Remedy has openly invoked Twin Peaks, Hitchcock films, and The Shining as inspirations for Alan Wake over the years should surprise nobody, as the game regularly pays homage to these and other influences in the thriller and horror genres across all mediums. Of all the games that harken back to those sorts of inspirations, Alan Wake is still among the best, though. The bizarre town itself being so developed to the point of feeling like its own character certainly elicits similar feelings to the supernatural adventure through Twin Peaks, and the individual characters’ more sinister sides and horror overtones of the general story incite similar vibes that you’d get from a novel.
Yet, none of this is done in a way that feels excessive, despite those influences practically oozing out of the game’s pores. Perhaps it’s the complete dedication to – and clear-eyed adoration for – those ideas that lets them live in the body of this game in such an organic way, but regardless, and most importantly, Alan Wake is very much a trip into darkness worth taking whether you get the references or not. Much like the many excellent works it’s inspired by, the story here is expertly told and full of strange happenings that beckon your mind to get to the bottom of. By today’s standards, some may argue that some of the voices are a bit stilted, including the protagonist himself, but considering the tone of this game, and how it regularly aims to make the audience uncomfortable in small subtle ways, I’d say the story and characters hold up perfectly. It still communicates the exact same vibe it did 11 years ago with enigmatic mystery and pitch perfect uneasiness.
How it plays is most likely where you’ll notice the game’s age. The simplicity of wearing down the many shadowy figures that pursue Alan with light, then blowing them away with your weapon of choice still instantly clicks into place as a fun-but-harrowing experience, but it’s still held back a bit by somewhat wonky dodging and tree branches obscuring your vision a bit more than they should. Managing ammo for guns and batteries for your flashlight usually isn’t hard to do as both resources are relatively plentiful, but you’re still rarely comfortable with your stock of either. It also throws a few wrenches into the combat with weapons like the flare gun that can bail you out of a pinch.
"The simplicity of wearing down the many shadowy figures that pursue Alan with light, then blowing them away with your weapon of choice still instantly clicks into place as a fun-but-harrowing experience, but it’s still held back a bit by somewhat wonky dodging and tree branches obscuring your vision a bit more than they should."
Despite its couple of nuisances, Alan Wake’s combat still successfully blurs that line between controller-gripping horror and stylish action in a way that only Remedy seems able to, so fans of either genre – new and old – will likely enjoy the moment-to-moment action of Alan Wake because of this timeless balance Remedy has given it. It also helps that this new version runs much better on new systems, which makes navigating through the game’s dicey moments that much more fluid. Making good use of the DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers also adds a bit of current-gen spice to the combat. Aside from combat itself though, Alan will also be collecting pages from his manuscript and other items as well as talking to an eccentric cast of Bright Falls townsfolk. All of which steadily flesh out the story and clue him in on where to go next to ultimately save his wife.
The visuals of Alan Wake are moody and effectively dreary in this remaster. The blues and greys that defined the original game are even more pronounced here, and go together well with the remasters’ enhanced character models and environmental effects. Shadows are more dynamic and just about everything seems to have a higher level of detail, so Alan Wake Remastered is not just a simple up-res of the original game. While the base PS4 is stuck at a 1080p resolution and 30 frames per second, The PS4 Pro and PS5 both offer 60 frames at 1080p and 4k respectively.
The corresponding Xbox consoles are similar, although the base Xbox One doesn’t quite hit 1080, but rather sits at 900p. All of these versions look great as they all feature the game’s new-and-improved textures and smoother performance. That said, I think the crushing blacks of the original version added a bit more to the shadowy atmosphere than the cleaner, more evenly lit remaster does generally. Although the remaster shows off the higher resolution and sharpness of Remedy’s texture work better. Neither approach is necessarily better or worse, but I could understand why more ardent fans of the original might be a little disappointed by the new look in some areas. Especially with shadows and darkness being so central to the game thematically. I would definitely categorize that as a minor grip, though, even at its worst. The general thrusts of the artistic design still more than effectively convey what they aim to. While the facial animations and general gameplay is unlikely to fool anyone into thinking it’s not a ten-year-old game, it’s also readily apparent why this game deserves the remaster treatment, and that leaving it on Xbox 360 island forever would have been a terrible injustice.
"The visuals of Alan Wake are moody and effectively dreary in this remaster. The blues and greys that defined the original game are even more pronounced here, and go together well with the remasters’ enhanced character models and environmental effects. Shadows are more dynamic and just about everything seems to have a higher level of detail, so Alan Wake Remastered is not just a simple up-res of the original game."
Sound design seems to have been mostly left alone for the remaster and that’s probably for the best. The voice acting and understated music are outstanding as they are, and fit right into place just as well as they ever did. The punchy sound effects that Remedy has always been known for still pack an appropriate wallop during gunfights and other high-octane sequences, so no complaints there either.
It’s hard to have much of a problem with Alan Wake Remastered in any department. Unlike a lot of games from the seventh generation, Alan Wake’s characters, story and gameplay have mostly withstood the various test of time. And with this remaster’s aggressive technical improvements, it manages to, for the most part, play like a game you’d play today – especially on current gen systems. The inclusion of the original game’s two DLC expansions adds several hours of gameplay and further sweetens the pot for its already-friendly price tag. The unsettling characters and slightly old-school feel of the combat might not be everybody’s cup of tea in 2021, but for all the players who might appreciate that sort of thing, especially those who missed Alan Wake back in 2010, this is a must play.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Timeless setting and story; Suitably improved visuals; Tight gameplay still holds up wonderfully; Inclusion of DLC adds several hours of content.
Arguably over-aggressive lighting improvements take away from the original’s atmosphere a bit; Combat can be dragged down by obscured vision.