‘Alan Wake 2’ Review: Remedy’s Magnum Opus
Back in 2010, when Alan Wake was released, it was a bit of a mixed bag. A good dramatization of a thriller novel comes to life with some decent gameplay mechanics that grew tiresome over its roughly eight-hour campaign. But Remedy as a studio has come a long way since its release and found its footing. After 13 years, Alan Wake 2 is upon us, and to put it simply, Alan Wake and Control walked so Alan Wake 2 could run.
Alan Wake 2 occurs 13 years after the events surrounding Cauldron Lake with Alan Wake, Mr. Scratch, and the Dark Place. After an introduction that shook me to my core, Alan Wake 2 takes a split narrative approach to storytelling. You’ll have two options. The first option follows FBI agent Saga Anderson as she investigates a series of cult murders and missing persons that all tie into the “Cult of the Tree.” While investigating the cult, Saga will get to traverse the wooded area of Cauldron Lake and how it shifts and connects to the Dark Place, including some environments that will look familiar to fans of Alan Wake. All convening to a fantastic finale that has me waiting on bated breath to see what Remedy does next.
Not only will Saga traverse the incredibly dense woods but also the town of Bright Falls, which is much more built out this time. Again, there are some very familiar locations to returning fans, but it’s interesting to see how things have changed in the years since Alan Wake. While not an open world, Bright Falls and Cauldron Lake fall more into the open hub than an open world. Traveling to the locations around Bright Falls and seeing how vast they are genuinely gives us a deep sense of how secluded this area of a fictionalized Washington is. The way Saga puts herself out there and forces the less educated sexist officers in the area to see her as a leader is fantastic. Like Control before it, Remedy writes a significant, strong female lead, and I hope this trend in their games continues.
In the other half of the split narrative, we take control of the writer himself, Alan Wake. Taking place in the Dark Place, Alan Wake’s story in Alan Wake 2 follows our hero’s journey to write himself out of the Dark Place, which in the beginning looks like it takes place in a fictional version of New York City. Some narrative elements are on display in Alan Wake 2 that I have never seen before in any form of media.
During Alan Wake’s side of the journey, the player has the opportunity to replay sections, but this causes rewrites in Wake’s story. These rewriters change the environment and how elements play out as long as Wake can find the elements in the Dark Place. But how the two stories interweave is mind-boggling, and the precedents that the story puts forward change not only the Alan Wake universe but every single Remedy game ever made.
The number of times I was shocked, how many twists worked, and the game’s emotional impact were all astounding. This is partly due to the strength of both the game’s writing and its performances. Melanie Liburd as Saga and Ilkka Villi as Alan Wake nail their performances, and the supporting cast is just as strong. For a long time, Control (Remedy’s Previous game) had been one of my favorite stories told in video games. It’s half procedural crime drama, half mind-boggling meta, all wrapped in a lovely tight horror setting. Alan Wake 2 shows that the writers at Remedy have been holding in a magnum opus for a long time. The creative output on display is incredible. How Remedy has managed to meld so many mind-bending elements into one and have it work deserves tons of praise.
The gameplay elements of Alan Wake 2 have received the most significant upgrade from the original. During Sagas’s adventures, we are taken into a third-person survival horror game, complete with environmental puzzles and a dwindling amount of supplies. The minute-to-minute gameplay feels so smooth, with the weapons and flashlight packing in enough punch behind them that each weapon feels significant. Back are the light mechanics of the original: shine a light on an enemy to weaken them, then take them down.
However, this time, there are more enemy variates, so much so that it makes the environments feel alive and like the locations themselves are trying to attack you. It’s a refreshing feeling and a departure from the first game. In Alan Wake 2, enemies can and will come at you from everywhere and anywhere.
Except for the ever-evolving shadow presence, the Alan Wake sections align with Saga’s side. During his story, you will often see a group of shadows calling your name and whispering into your ear. The catch is that only some of these enemies are an actual threat, and the rest are figments of the Dark Place.
Alan Wake 2′s biggest leap into the unknown is its Mind Palace/ Writer’s Rooms. Saga can tap into her Mind Palace to connect the dots between people, places, and things, opening up cases to allow for further investigations and a way to break characters down to find out their true intentions. In contrast, Alan Wake has access to his Writer’s Rooms. This is where Alan will take ideas drawn from the Dark Place to rewrite his story, with warnings and story synopsis laid out on the table.
If done in other games, we would have just a simple menu for these processes. But in Alan Wake 2, these are physical mental places you visit with the tap of a button. Importantly, going to these places doesn’t pause time in the real world. This means you must find a good balance while exploring to further your ventura in the alternate spaces.
The way Alan Wake 2 fills the player with dread and fear is exquisite. As Saga, this plays more towards jump scares and disturbing imagery. At the same time, Alan feels more like a bad trip, with hallucinations, voices, and the like. The way it plays with the usual horror tropes and scare tactics makes it stand tall. With all of its scares, it’s incredibly hard to predict.
Overall, Alan Wake 2 is such an evolution of the survival horror genre in how it slowly unleashes itself onto the player. Not only does it have smooth gameplay and innovative game mechanics, but it also has more significant implications for Remedy as a whole in the story department. While I have been generally vague on the overarching plot of Alan Wake 2, there is a reason. It’s a slow burn, but if you like police procedurals and wall-shattering narratives, this one is for you. I have never played a game like it, and it feels like a truly unique experience. Alan Wake 2 is the best horror game I have played in a long time.
‘Alan Wake 2’ is a truly unique horror experience that vastly improves on the mechanics of the original game.