Review – Alan Wake 2
“It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean” are the words that have been in the heads of Alan Wake fans for years. Remedy’s 2010 action-horror masterpiece delivered one of the wildest and most compelling mysteries. It ended on a cliffhanger that needed a follow-up. Alan Wake 2 has been an incredibly long time coming.
Control began tying nicely into the Alan Wake universe with plenty of references, but it wasn’t until the AWE Expansion that things got serious, properly kicking off the Remedy Connected Universe. Here we are, thirteen years later and with a universe much vaster than we first thought. Alan Wake can finally start his next chapter: Return.
Alan Wake 2 picks up thirteen years after the events of the Bright Falls incident. You play as Saga Anderson, an FBI agent sent to Cauldron Lake with her partner, Alex Casey, to investigate a series of Ritualistic Murders from a cult known as the Cult of the Tree. What starts as a simple investigation takes a dark turn as these new events are tied to the original Bright Falls Incident in which the writer, Alan Wake, mysteriously disappeared.
Saga, as the series newcomer, acts as the lead protagonist for this game. She’s a compelling character that not only does a great job of continuing the story, but also allows newcomers to get caught up. Her new perspective on the events offers a fresh take on the story we’ve already experienced.
Saga’s story functions as more of a detective mystery, primarily focused on gathering clues. Alan’s journey is a full-on horror story, as he is still trapped in The Dark Place, unable to find a way out. He’s being chased by the formidable Dark Presence known as Mr Scratch, and trying to find the manuscripts of a book he can’t remember writing: Initiation.
Despite having a darker story, I had a smile on my face when playing as Alan. This is a story I’ve been waiting for the continuation of for thirteen years, and for Remedy to delve further into the horror genre was perfect for me. Both characters come together to help deliver a story that is wild, unique, and engaging from start to finish. It has everything you would expect and much much more, with so many twists and turns it makes the original game look tame by comparison.
Throughout the roughly twenty-hour campaign, you will see the events from both Saga and Alan, switching between them to complete their chapters anytime you want. I jumped between each character after each major chapter completion, which led to an incredibly varied, episodic-like experience. Just about every chapter offers something new and interesting. Was the story worth the extended thirteen year wait? Absolutely.
The gameplay between the two protagonists is largely the same. Much of Alan Wake 2 is exploring dense environments and looking for clues. It is very much a slow-burn experience. There are some key differences though and this is mostly how you interact with the world. Saga can access her “mind place” complete with a detective board. Bringing up different case files
Saga’s chapters are set across three regions within Bright Falls. These are huge almost entirely open areas that you can freely explore. Within these are a ton of hidden cult stashes that contain precious resources. Often these are locked by puzzles that require you to explore the nearby area for hints or solve a math problem. The other secrets I won’t spoil here but I was compelled to explore every corner of the map.
Alan’s journey is about his escape from The Dark Place. Instead of the investigation board, Alan has his Writer’s board to plan out his stories. As we know from the original game, The Dark Place can be manipulated by creative individuals. For Alan, this is in his writing as he writes and rewrites new stories to make his way through the Dark Place. He unlocks new clues and progresses through, whilst still adhering to the rules.
Whilst Alan does have an overworld to explore in an abandoned version of New York city streets, the gameplay overall feels much more tightly controlled. Instead, you will mostly be playing in more linear sections that loop over each other, and with Alan rewriting the story in real time, he can layer multiple versions of the same map. It’s very puzzle like in structure as you will be often changing the very environment to suit the narrative. These sections are absolutely some of the best in the game and possibly some of Remedy’s best work.
As a result of the greater emphasis on exploration, combat very much takes a back seat, but of course, there is still quite a lot here. Much of the first half of the game will be very light on it, but the more you progress into the story the more will show up around the world. There is an undeniable amount of inspiration from the recent Resident Evil remakes; specifically a combination of Resident Evil 2 and this year’s amazing Resident Evil 4, with much backtracking, save rooms with item storage, and limited resources.
This is very much still a battle of light and dark. Enemies known as the Taken are shrouded in darkness, which you will need to burn away by boosting your flashlight. Once the darkness has been burnt, they will be open to traditional gunfire. Alan Wake 2 plays things very safe here and doesn’t do much to evolve the formula, and that’s fine. It does its job just well enough that it can still be fun to play. The biggest change here is a weak spot that will spawn on enemies allowing you to deal massive damage by hitting it. That’s about it.
A big problem is with enemy variety. The standard Taken enemies are the most common and don’t provide much threat, while some tense encounters as they shift around the environment, but again, are lacking in threat. Every enemy boils down to the same basic strategy: burn away the darkness and put a couple of shots into their head, and that will typically be enough. Very few enemy types will come into play, and it’s a shame because there are some really good ideas here that aren’t fully explored.
It’s not bad, just a touch underwhelming and it feels like a step back. Regardless of my complaints, I do wish the game had a few more combat encounters. Especially in the first half where they wouldn’t put more than a couple of enemies at a time, sometimes even with brain-dead AI that can’t spot you until you are up close, or are a bit more passive in combat. The second half of the game will often throw much more at you and can be engaging as you duck and weave through enemies, lighting up flairs and managing your resources. You won’t be blown away by the core mechanics at play here.
Despite some complaints about the gameplay Alan Wake 2 is constantly engaging. This is partly due to the fact it leans heavier into the psychological horror genre. Each and every area is absolutely dripping in atmosphere, from moody forest environments drenched in darkness and fog, to an abandoned New York cityscape in the Dark Place. It doesn’t rely on heavy amounts of jumpscares, but there are still plenty of them. Instead it prioritises slow-burn psychological horror and strong storytelling, alongside some of the wildest and epic set-pieces I’ve seen in some time.
Remedy’s in-house Northlight Engine has been impressive for a while now. When Control was released its level of detail felt ahead of its time and once again Remedy has delivered something incredible. Alan Wake 2 has some of the most detailed and impressive environments I’ve seen to date. Much of the game is shrouded in darkness and isn’t afraid to go pitch black at times. Normally I’m not a fan of this, but fitting into the themes and having a great flashlight helps sell it. Lighting as a whole is stellar, and if you have the hardware and don’t mind a performance hit, Alan Wake 2 has one of the best implementations of ray tracing I’ve seen to date. This game may be ahead of its time for its technical prowess.
This is alongside their signature use of live-action segments. This is something Remedy has been experimenting with for a while, from the original TV shows to Quantum Break‘s live-action series. In Alan Wake 2, they found a stunning balance using everything they’ve learned to blend the two mediums. This leads to some of the most creative and energetic sequences I’ve seen. Better yet, it doesn’t feel cheap like Quantum Break‘s TV Episodes, with a more limited scope that allows it to be much more consistent with the game quality. Remedy has finally mastered the live-action implementation, and does so in some insane ways that need to be seen. Plus, there are some pretty big surprises to be found as well. The live action here isn’t just a gimmick, but legitimately propels the game’s narratives and themes.
Poets of the Fall returns as the in-universe band, “Old Gods of Asgard”, and helps deliver a stellar soundtrack. Moving away from licensed track, each chapter ends in a suitable song for the moment, from various different artists and genres. It almost feels James Gunn like in execution. Elsewhere sound design is also excellent with great tense design. However I did notice a few bugs throughout that can be slightly annoying.
As for the voice cast; Matthew Porretta returns to voice the titular character. Everyone here does a fantastic job, even with the cheesy one-liners and deadpan delivery from a certain detective character. However, it’s David Harewood that absolutely steals the show as the talkshow host every time he is on screen.
The thirteen-year wait for Alan Wake 2 has been one surrounded by a lot of worry that it wouldn’t live up to the hype or lofty expectations. It is an occasionally uneven experience, but thankfully that doesn’t detract from the overall experience too much. Alan Wake 2 has been well worth the wait and is an absolute must-play.
Remedy’s Northlight Engine is a technical marvel with some of the most visually stunning environments and character models to date. It produces some phenomenal live-action sequences.
Alan Wake 2’s gameplay is very much fun, but occasionally is lacking. Much like the original game the combat falters, but does its job just well enough.
Stellar voice work from the main cast, whilst Poets of the Fall helps deliver one hell of a soundtrack.
Alan Wake 2 is the sequel we’ve been waiting thirteen years for; a gripping sequel that will engage you from the get-go.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Alan Wake 2 is available now on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PlayStation 5.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 4070, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Game installed on NVMe drive.