It starts with a vision. A man at a desk clacks away at a typewriter. He has summoned Jesse Faden here, to the elevator. He mentions the Investigations Sector, and as he writes, a new button marked with those words appears on the elevator’s control panel. Jesse presses it and the elevator doors slide shut with what the writer calls “practiced bravado.” The elevator descends into the darkest floors of the Oldest House. It is here that Jesse will begin her search for the man with the typewriter. His name is Alan Wake. He’s a writer.
Control’s AWE Expansion is allegedly a DLC for Control, but in many ways it’s also a sequel to Alan Wake, Remedy’s 2010 love letter to Twin Peaks. The title plays into that. While AWE is an acronym for Altered World Events in Control, it’s also works as Alan Wake Expansion, which is really what AWE is. AWE is most impressive when you’re familiar with Alan Wake (the game, not the character) and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. If you’ve only played Control, you’re going to have a much harder time understanding what’s going on. You’ll get a quick introduction to the characters that appear and are mentioned here – Wake himself, Thomas Zane, Dr. Emil Hartman, and Alan’s wife Alice – and the game does its best to fill in the gaps with collectibles and dialogue, but you’re only really going to understand the significance of what’s happening if you’ve taken a trip to Bright Falls.
"Jesse has inadvertently freed Dr. Hartman, now a horrifying monster disfigured by both being consumed by the Darkness from Alan Wake and possessed by Hiss, and it’s up to her to make sure he doesn’t escape the Investigations Sector and murder everyone in the Oldest House."
Like the rest of Control, the expansion’s narrative offers more questions than answers, though what we do get is pretty exciting if you’re a fan of our unlucky writer. The story is pretty simple: by unsealing the Investigations Sector, Jesse has inadvertently freed Dr. Hartman, now a horrifying monster disfigured by both being consumed by the Darkness from Alan Wake and possessed by Hiss. Wake calls him The Third Thing, and it’s up to Jesse to make sure he doesn’t escape the Investigations Sector and murder everyone in the Oldest House.
The expansion is divided into the three main areas of the Investigations Sector, each centered around a unique Altered World Event. The first two are an interesting mix of interesting puzzles and combat encounters that both farther expand upon the history of the Federal Bureau of Control while explaining things like why the FBC has the Apollo 14 lunar lander stored in what is essentially an underground bunker.
As you explore the Investigation Sector’s depths, you’ll run into Hartman. Remedy builds to his reveal slowly, letting you catch glimpses of his monstrous form before revealing him to you fully. Fighting Hartman is unnerving. His ability to teleport means that any time you don’t see him, there’s a good chance he’s behind you, and seeing him across the room one second and right next to me a moment later never failed to make me jump, particularly given how horrifying The Third Thing is. I was always ready to dash away at a moment’s notice and his appearances kept me on edge throughout the DLC.
"Many of the encounters with Hartman are more puzzle than boss fight, tasking Jesse with staying in the light long enough to move a power core, flip a switch, or traverse an area."
Most of the times you’ll encounter Hartman, your only option will be to run, staying in the light as much as you. Like all things possessed by the Darkness, he’s invincible in the dark. Many of the encounters with Hartman are more puzzle than boss fight, tasking Jesse with staying in the light long enough to move a power core, flip a switch, or traverse an area. Remedy finds a nice balance of tension and the fun of navigating the puzzle here, and these encounters were some of my favorite parts of the DLC.
Unfortunately, AWE never incorporates light as well as Alan Wake does. Part of me expected Jesse to get a new weapon that doubled as a flashlight, but that never happens. Instead, she uses her Launch ability to pick up conveniently placed lanterns to burn the Darkness away. It works fine, but it can cause issues when you have to put the lanterns down. Launch is more of an attack than a way to telekinetically lift things, so activating a switch means throwing the lantern across the room first. Compared to the way light was used in Alan Wake, it’s not very interesting.
That’s not to say that Jesse doesn’t get any new toys. Surge is a sticky grenade launcher with an option for delayed detonation that’s equally adept at dispersing large groups as it is dishing out punishment to bosses. AWE also introduces arcade machines, which allow you to replay side mission bosses, tackle time trails, hold of a horde of enemies, and blaze through a boss rush. They’re fun little additions if you’re looking for something extra or aching to revisit previous content. There are also side quests, though they’re mostly minor tasks from Ahti, the FBC’s janitor, who wants you to clean up some mold, light up the darkness, and save a few plants. The ones dealing with Altered World Items are better – I particularly liked the one with the train – but if you’ve done the ones in the main game, you’ll know what to expect.
"By now, Jesse has clearly embraced her role as the FBC’s director, but mostly that means she seems pretty nonplussed about everything from The Third Thing to the events of Bright Falls."
Remedy has also added some welcome quality of life changes, including more control points, soft checkpoints in harder encounters, and an Assist Mode that lets you tweak the game to make things easier. You can adjust incoming and outgoing damage and even make Jesse invincible. It’s a welcome accessibility option for those that want it, and a good way to tone down tricky segments or just blow off steam.
These things come together to tell a pretty engaging story, especially if you’re a fan of Alan Wake, while expanding mystery of the Oldest House. By now, Jesse has clearly embraced her role as the FBC’s director, but mostly that means she seems pretty nonplussed about everything from The Third Thing to the events of Bright Falls to the fact that she might just be a character in Alan’s story. I get that Jesse’s seen and done a lot; it just feels… odd that she isn’t more surprised or curious about what’s going on. Similarly, AWE itself feels less like the ending of Control and more like something teasing something much, much bigger…like Alan Wake 2. I’m not against that, but I do wish the game was tied a bit more strongly to the core narrative.
I also ran into a couple of technical issues during my run. There were several times where parts of Jesse’s model went missing entirely, or appeared with holes you could see through, which made fighting more difficult. I fixed this by reloading my save or making it to a cutscene, so it wasn’t too big of a deal. The second one, however, was. About halfway through the DLC, I encountered several error messages informing me that the game wasn’t saving properly. I tried several things to fix it, but the error persisted. Things were going well despite this – I could die and restart at the last control point – until I died in a particularly bad spot.
"AWE is a good expansion, but it’s definitely built for a certain kind of fan. The kind who realizes that all of Remedy’s games are connected and are excited for callbacks to a game that released a decade ago."
The game spawned me outside of an encounter I’d completed, but from the looks of things, I hadn’t solved the puzzle that went along with that encounter yet. When I went to do so, I was unable to interact with anything in the room. That meant I was stuck. I couldn’t progress, nor could I backtrack to a previous area. Everything I needed to interact with to continue was broken. The only answer was to restart the entire DLC from scratch – which meant deleting my save file. Luckily, I had a backup. Had I not, however, I probably would have had to restart the entire game. I don’t think most people will encounter an error like this, but I mention it because it’s a game-breaking bug. If I hadn’t had to complete this review, I probably would have stopped playing AWE then and there.
Technical issues aside, I really enjoyed AWE – until the final fight against Hartman, which is incredibly difficult. Hartman regains health every time the lights go out, and the longer you take to get them back on, the more health he recovers. The catch is that Jesse’s energy doesn’t recover in the dark. If you come to a power core that you need to lift and you’re out of energy…tough luck. Go wait under a light for it to recharge while Hartman continues to heal. Combine this with The Third Thing’s ability to teleport, summon more enemies, drain Jesse for health should he grab her, and kill you in about two hits, and you have a boss fight that feels more like a victory by attrition and luck than a test of your skill.
The ending is worth it, however, and I’m more excited about the future of Alan Wake (the character, not the game) and everyone else in their connected universe than I have been in a long time. AWE is a good expansion, but it’s definitely built for a certain kind of fan. The kind who realizes that all of Remedy’s games are connected and are excited for callbacks to a game that released a decade ago. I’m definitely in that camp, but not everyone will be. If you’ve only played Control, AWE might be hard for you to follow. But if you’re already a fan of what Remedy does, it’s a lot easier to appreciate what they’re up to here. If my guess is correct, the Remedy Connected Universe is going to go to some interesting places in the next few years. It’d be easy to write off AWE as a Control expansion with nods to Alan Wake, but I think it’s much deeper than that. We’ve just seen a small drop of what’s to come. Like Alan himself once wrote, it’s not a lake. It’s an ocean.
This game was reviewed on PC.
A satisfying story that brings Alan Wake into Control. Engaging combat. A new weapon. Encounters with Hartman are a good mix of puzzle and boss. Teases some interesting things for Remedy. Interesting areas to explore. Genuinely creepy. New accessibility options.
Technical issues, including a game-breaking bug. Might be hard to understand unless you've played Alan Wake. The final boss is extremely difficult. Feels more like a tease than an ending. Nothing seems to phase Jesse.