Alan Wake 2
Comparatively speaking, the cult-classic original Alan Wake makes little more than a sloppy initial version to the excellent survival horror sequel, Alan Wake 2.
Table of Contents
The single-player adventure Alan Wake 2 deftly switches from slow-burning psychological dread and frenetic survival-horror combat, to exquisitely rendered game environments. It also shifts from exquisitely powerful full-motion video sequences, and gruesome investigations to jaw-dropping symphonic shocks.
It’s insane, gory, and, for the most part, excellent. It continues to shine brilliantly like a newly shot signal flare even at the conclusion of an incredible year full of incredible games. Even with a significant increase in complexity, Alan Wake 2’s nearly 17-hour tale, which spans two very different realms, is significantly more logical than the first.
In the present, you play an FBI Agent named Saga Anderson, who has been assigned to the sleepy lakeside town of Bright Falls to look into the newest victim of a string of ritualistic killings. A body is discovered next to Cauldron Lake with a large hole where the heart used to be.
Saga is a charming addition to the bizarre universe. Her dedication to her work is balanced by her enjoyment of lighthearted banter with another Special Agent named Alex Casey.
These first few hours of procedural investigations give the story a realistic foundation before darkness descends and every peaceful hillside turns into a terrifying hellscape.
The case board in Saga’s metaphysical “mind place,” which can be accessed at any time with a button press, plays a big part in making the primary serial killer mystery and its many subplots in Alan Wake II so simple to follow.
To keep everything organized and your attention on the investigation, you have to physically arrange every new piece of evidence, character profile, and foreboding manuscript page that you find in Bright Falls and its environs into a branching tree of red rope and palm cards that are pinned to the wall.
I enjoyed having this built-in way of verifying the facts because, let’s face it, I couldn’t watch a season of True Detective (at least, not the good ones) without keeping one eye on TV.
Early in Alan Wake 2’s narrative, Saga’s inquiry uncovers more disturbing details than it does answers. For example, why do so many people act as though they have known Saga for years?
And why did that body just up and drag its nude behind into the woods from the morgue? Alan Wake 2’s tone is always set to a tense one, even if the difficulty level may be changed to three different settings.
A Survival-Horror Tale
When Alan Wake washes up on the edge of Cauldron Lake, talking wildly about the Dark Place and shocked to hear that he’s been absent for the previous 13 years. The mystery only becomes deeper. Alan Wake 2 then deviates significantly.
From this point on, the viewpoint alternates between Alan’s desperate attempts to flee his doomed Dark Place dimension and Saga’s quest for the truth in Bright Falls.
Both sides gradually blend into one another in increasingly strange and disorienting ways, to the point where I found it difficult to tell fact from fiction then, after a long while, coming to a perfectly crafted gut-punch of a conclusion that cleanly wraps up the most of the tale strands while tantalizingly leaving a few hanging.
While the lakeside shores of Bright Falls offer some breathtaking sunset scenes and detail-rich forest surrounds, it’s the gritty, neon-soaked New York plaza setting of Alan’s stages that really showcase the enormous skill of Remedy’s team of artists. The seductive power of its contrasting settings only serves to heighten its mystery.
From the graffiti-covered construction areas to the menacing expanse of subway tunnels that lie beneath its surface, this rotten slice of the Big Apple is a haunting otherworld that I found consistently compelling to explore. It resembles the kind of nightmare you might have after spending 24 hours eating cheese and watching Taxi Driver and Mean Streets on repeat.
Alan’s stages also included some entertaining environmental challenges, which activated a different area of my brain. Alan can literally change his surroundings and establish new avenues for progress by using a paranormal table lamp to absorb light from one source and channel it to another. This allows him to not only create a new, lighted safe haven from the dangers that lurk in the shadows.
It’s an amazing trick that makes you think of pulling the cord on the light switch to make the Oceanview Hotel blink in and out from The Oldest House in Control. The trick gets more difficult as you go along because you have to figure out the proper order to manipulate multiple light sources, which makes unlocking each new area to explore more difficult.
The dense meta-mystery of Alan Wake 2 is akin to a jigsaw puzzle trapped inside a Rubik’s Cube wrapped in sudoku puzzles. It’s an odd and amazing journey filled with more unexpected turns and repetitive loops than an agitated Uber driver.
In fact, Alan Wake 2 has an equal number of corpses and more plots than a cemetery. Combat has greatly improved, but the basic mechanics are still basically the same as the entertaining flashlight-fueled battling of the original.
Once more, enemies are only shadows of their former selves. The best way to eliminate them is to blast obscene amounts of exposed flesh off their bones with your growing arsenal of weapons and use the boosted beam of your flashlight to burn away their murky darkness shields.
This time, enemies will occasionally display glowing weak points on their bodies. If you can successfully target these areas, you can deal a lot more damage and preserve a few valuable ammo rounds, which felt like a nice reward for taking the extra moment to carefully line up my shots.
For those who are accustomed to running-based games, this won’t be a huge problem, but if you’re returning to Alan Wake with me, this is great. The fact that Saga and Alan can run indefinitely is a significant improvement over the always whiny Alan from the original, who could barely run ten yards before collapsing like an asthmatic who accidentally turned into a smoker’s lounge.
The dodge button feels snappier and lets me duck under swinging pipes or pickaxes more reliably. It even functions on the ground if you get knocked off your feet, allowing you to quickly roll out of harm’s way and avoid any potential follow-up attacks. Our protagonists are generally more nimble than other characters.
However, Remedy has not overlooked the fact that the original’s attraction stems from its difficulties. Even though Alan and Saga are quicker on their feet in Alan Wake 2, batteries and ammo are still in short supply.
In terms of adversary diversity, it doesn’t quite match Resident Evil 4, but there are still enough dark and menacing creatures to keep me on my toes. I could never quite predict which kind of shadow warrior would attack me at any given turn.
Alan Wake 2 constantly shuffled its deck to keep my head on a swivel and my thumb nervously twitching over the fast choice weapon selection, from burly brutes with sledgehammers to darting wolves and weird, multi-limbed mirror creatures that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Some attackers may even launch darkness projectiles at you, which you will need to avoid or carefully catch with the beam of your flashlight, much like the countermeasures of a fighter plane. This kind of shade hasn’t been witnessed since the previous Eminem diss single.
There are also some highly intense and unique boss fights, such as one in which I had to desperately burn away in an arena full of dark blobs while trying to avoid having my head torn from my shoulders by an enemy’s rifle shots from a distance.
Another boss fight took place later in the game and was set in a dimly lit, close-quarters battle with a raging reanimated corpse that was determined to cave in my chest with the sharp end of a torn-off tree branch.
Strangely enough, though, I discovered that in Alan Wake 2, the opponent I dreaded the most was also the one who, most of the time, couldn’t even harm me. There are many whispering apparitions in Alan’s world, but if you shine your spotlight on them, they usually disappear into wisps of smoke nine times out of ten.
You should be concerned about the tenth occurrence, though, since it may be a real physical threat lurking in plain sight to attack you after you’ve been tricked into believing all is OK. I began questioning every human-shaped shadow I had created, even my own, which felt exactly in line with Alan’s own mental disintegration.
The Good and Bad
Not everything in this situation is as robust as it may be, including Alan’s mental health. The two playable characters’ distinct arsenals each have benefits of their own, such as Saga’s crossbow’s increased stopping power and reusable bolts and Alan’s flare gun’s wider area of impact, but the way each character’s skill trees are implemented seems a little uneven.
Saga’s upgrades are limited to just three buffs for each firearm in her inventory, and each comes at such a high cost of the collectable manuscript scraps hidden around Bright Falls that by the time I’d reached the end credits, I’d only invested in a handful of them. In contrast, Alan’s “Words of Power” skill tree features 21 different skills that can each potentially be upgraded up to three times over.
To be honest, they didn’t seem all that required on the easy difficulty setting, but maybe they’ll be much more helpful when Alan Wake 2’s Nightmare mode is introduced after launch.
Furthermore, Saga is frequently burdened with a few too many survival-horror clichés, such as fuse boxes to fix and combination locks to figure out. This contrasts with Alan’s impressive environmental remixing.
The lack of new Night Springs episodes to watch on the televisions in Bright Falls also disappointed me a little bit, but even so, the commercials that took their place—which featured the hilariously bizarre Koskela brothers as local entrepreneurs—were so funny that I still made an effort to locate every in-game idiot box I could find.
However, the plethora of other things that Alan Wake 2 does correctly makes whatever problems I had with it vanish like an out-of-town visitor in Cauldron Lake. Without a doubt, it draws heavily from cinema and television, incorporating the greatest elements from True Detective, Seven, Inception, and other shows into the original’s Twin Peaks meets The Twilight Zone framework.
However, it also includes some homages to some of the greatest modern video game moments, shocking you with really unsettling fourth-wall tricks akin to Inscryption and creepy full-motion video scenes reminiscent of 2022’s found-footage horror flick, Immortality.
It even briefly turns into an interactive musical in one truly amazing early game moment. It’s as if the Remedy team saw the “Jump Up, Super Star!” level from Super Mario Odyssey and decided to appropriate it in the most extravagantly bizarre way imaginable.
Alan Wake 2 has me smiling like a crazy man from the opening riff to the last fiery guitar solo. For about twenty blissful minutes, it sounds more like a Rocky Horror Picture Show than a survival-horror computer game.
Even while Alan Wake 2 is plenty of spine-tingling moments, it’s times like this that demonstrate how fearlessly Remedy handled the actual design of its much anticipated sequel.
The survival horror plot in Alan Wake 2 is among the most inventive of other horror games such as Silent Hill 2, and it’s presented with consistently flawless art direction and audio design. The series’ trademark light-based shooting is also revitalized, as if it were loaded with brand-new batteries.
I found Saga’s plot to be perpetually intriguing, often terrifying, and continually unexpected, despite the fact that its skill-upgrade systems seem a bit unnecessary and there were a few recurring tropes that annoyed me. Comparatively speaking, the cult classic Alan Wake makes little more than a sloppy first draft to this excellent survival-horror sequel.
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