Drawing inspiration from popular works such as Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone, and the writing of Stephen King, the 2010 video game Alan Wake explores the story of an author who is plagued by a severe case of writer’s block that leads to him being haunted by his own fictional characters. While the concept was ambitious, the execution of the psychological thriller was chaotic and struggled to overcome the inherent implausibility of its premise.
Alan Wake 2 is no less ridiculous, but this time the tale is penned more assuredly. For the sequel, Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment splits the story between two different perspectives, using them to alternately ground and embrace the game’s narrative absurdities. The result is a thoroughly entertaining blend of detective procedural and surrealist survival horror, one that powers through some mechanical weaknesses with strong characterisation and endlessly inventive imagery.
Initially, the narrative point of view is not from the main character, Alan, but rather from FBI agent Saga Anderson, a young woman of Swedish descent who is also black. Saga comes to the small town of Bright Falls in the Pacific northwest to look into a string of ritualistic murders that occurred 13 years after Alan went missing in the same town. The initial scenes of investigating the crime scene have a different tone than the original game, resembling more of David Fincher’s work rather than David Lynch’s. Saga’s rational and composed personality differs from Alan’s more frantic mindset, making her a comforting presence when strange occurrences begin to happen.
Saga maintains a realistic approach in the game through several means. Her Mind Place, a menu screen that can be accessed at any point, serves as a central hub. It includes a murder wall where she keeps track of cases and a Profiling table that allows her to analyze the thoughts of suspects and witnesses. While the game’s mysteries do not require much deduction, these features aid in unraveling the complex plot. This prevents the feeling of events being improvised, even though, according to the game’s storyline, they technically are.
After some time, Saga’s investigation leads her to interact with Alan, and the story then focuses on his perspective. While Saga’s story unfolds in the vibrant forests surrounding Bright Falls, Alan’s scenes take place in the Dark Place – a distorted alternate dimension shaped by his memories of New York. This realm is governed by inexplicable “loops and rituals” that defy logic but can be grasped intuitively. Alan carries a lamp that can absorb light from one source and redirect it elsewhere, causing not only a change in lighting but also a rearrangement of the entire scene. Additionally, he can use his skills as a writer to manipulate his surroundings. In a particularly mind-bending chapter, he becomes part of an interactive theatre experience where a play about a murder cult is infiltrated by an actual murder cult.
After the introduction of both characters, you have the freedom to follow their separate stories as you please. You can switch between Saga’s logical world and Alan’s unpredictable dream world. As the story unfolds, the two sides become increasingly intertwined. Alan’s manipulation of the Dark Place begins to spill over into reality, impacting Saga’s investigation and her emotional ties to the narrative.
Alan Wake 2 is good at selling you on its metafictional hokum, equally confident in its serious and silly modes. It also features the best implementation of developer Remedy’s more idiosyncratic ideas, such as its fondness for mixed media and self-referential throwbacks to its previous games. Live action cutscenes are well shot and acted (including a delightful performance from David Harewood as the enigmatic Mr Door), and woven naturally into the game.
Despite its strengths, the combat in Alan Wake 2 may leave players feeling disappointed. In contrast to the first game, it is a slower-paced and strategic shooter, taking inspiration from Capcom’s modern Resident Evil remakes. Remedy has created a solid system with satisfying gunplay and intense fights that can feel like a desperate struggle for survival. However, the unique mechanic of using light to weaken enemies has not evolved much, and the overall experience may seem tame compared to the high-octane action of Max Payne or the chaotic battles in Control. In addition, combat encounters are infrequent and often lack significant challenges.
If Alan Wake 2 were to enhance its storytelling with more intricate gameplay, it would become an exceptional game. Currently, it offers a chilling and exciting experience, but at times, it may feel like you are simply moving forward while strange occurrences take place around you. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed these bizarre events, and despite the combat not being as impressive as Remedy’s other games, it remains their most compelling narrative-driven adventure to date.
The highly anticipated sequel, Alan Wake 2, will be available starting on October 27th, with prices starting at £39.99.