Review – Alan Wake 2

It's not a sequel, it's a multimedia universe

Overview

Developer Remedy Entertainment
Publisher Epic Games
Genre Horror
Platforms PS5, Xbox Series S|X, PC (reviewed)
Release Date October 27, 2023

After 13 long years, the highly anticipated sequel to the 2010 cult hit Alan Wake roars onto the stage to the delight of fans and newcomers alike. As a long time Remedy fan, I was beyond excited to finally continue the story of gaming’s favorite tortured writer. True to form, Remedy offers up a feast of frights and delights all wrapped up in a masterfully crafted, purposefully messy package that feels like the crowning jewel of the multi-media, meta-narrative, connected “Remedyverse” that the studio have been creating over the last two decades. 

Content Guide

Violence: It’s a survival horror game; it is filled with various combat scenarios. Players will be fighting human and animal monsters using guns, bows and explosive devices, and will be attacked by various enemy weapons. There is also an abundance of gore, ranging from blood splatter from enemies to blood covered environments and viscera. There are also many graphic depictions of violence within the main game mechanisms as well as in the periphery content, including but not limited to: murder, ritual sacrifice, suicide, and immolation.

Sexual Content: There is very little suggestive content in the game. However, there is a fully nude character at the very beginning of the game as well several scenes depicting people wearing nothing but a towel. There is a nudity censor option for the game that will add some underwear for the nude character.

Drugs and Alcohol: Alcohol consumption is depicted throughout the game, including a commercial for an in-game brand of beer. There are also references to drugs and alcohol abuse from various characters in the game. The player character will consume painkillers as a healing item during the gameplay. 

Language/Crude Humor: Not surprisingly, a lot of language is used in the game. Players will hear loud exclamations of f***, s***, d***, g**d***, h***, and many more. I did notice that the instances of language escalate as the game progresses. 

Dark/Spiritual Content: As a supernatural horror game, Alan Wake 2 contains quite a bit of scary and dark content. Full-screen jump scares showing twisted images of characters are peppered throughout the game. The main enemies in the game, the Taken, are darkness possessed humans shown as characters enshrouded in dark smoke and distortion. There are graphic depictions of ritual killings and many instances of ritualistic chants and darkly themed poetry and music. Remedy, as a Finnish studio, pays homage to their Nordic roots and there are various references to Norse mythology and pagan spiritual ideas woven into the game’s story and meta narrative. 

Review

In Alan Wake 2, players return to the idyllic Pacific Northwestern town of Bright Falls. You play as Saga Anderson, a special agent of the FBI who just arrived to investigate the apparent ritual killing of a mysterious man. You soon become entangled in a terrifying mystery involving cults and a supernatural darkness that seems to be focused on Alan Wake, a well known author who disappeared from the area thirteen years ago. Players familiar with the first game and Remedy’s other well known hit, Control, will be delighted to find some returning characters and answers to some questions posed in the earlier games. That said, Alan Wake 2 poses many more questions than it answers as it builds and expands upon the connected universe in Remedy’s games.

Remedy has always been a studio that looks to blur the boundary of video game and live action cinema, and Alan Wake 2 pushes that to the extreme. While their games always found ways to incorporate some form of full-motion video, in this game the transitions and blending of live action and rendered game assets are so seamless that I didn’t even think about how incredible it was for the first third of the game. One example of this is when a game character is looking at a film projected onto a rendered “wall” in the game. As you move your character around, the projection realistically distorts and tilts, and the player’s shadow can blur and obscure the projection. Everything feels so natural and mundane that I actually moved around to find the “best” spot to see the video like I would have in real life. Other sequences have live action pieces overlaid in the game world that can be viewed (or ignored) as you move around the scene, and even entire scenes that are fully live action. No matter the technique, the sequences never feel out of place and add a unique, stylized feel to the game overall. 

Speaking of the technical achievements, another marvel of the game is the near instantaneous “morphing” of the world that is core to much of the game play. Both of the playable characters, Saga and Alan, have an “alternate space” where you can interact with collectibles and other elements that help you solve puzzles and advance the game. They’re like an elaborate menu system in a sense, but the amazing thing is that the game isn’t paused while you’re in this separate space. While Saga’s “Mind Place” mainly serves to provide story dialogue to advance objectives, Alan’s “Writer’s Room” has the ability to completely change the space that he is in. Many of the mechanics in Alan’s sequences rely heavily on the ability to alter the space around him to get around obstacles and reveal new narrative elements and while some of these changes are hidden behind doors and hallways, many are instant with no loading at all. It’s something that adds a great deal to the atmosphere and storytelling of the game, with Saga slowly collecting evidence and putting together the mystery, and Alan trying to rewrite the shifting reality in the Dark Place in order to escape with a better ending. 

The tech is not without its issues however. The game commands a hefty hardware requirement, and I had quite a bit of texture pop-in and long loading times. There are also a few bugs and glitches that I ran into; some are minor annoyances like the flashlight effect not loading in properly and showing as a blank square. Others are more game-breaking, like the ground unloading after I left an area, so when I ran back, I fell through the map. I was able to get around the major issues by simply reloading the save, and there have been a few updates that address many of the bugs. 

Still, the strongest aspect of the game is definitely in its storytelling. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers and just touch briefly on some of the themes in the game. One of the main focuses of the story of Alan Wake is the mysterious power that has the ability to manifest works of fiction into reality. Remedy uses this trope to craft a multilayered and multi-media meta narrative, telling the story of storytelling. The struggles of the creative process, the self-doubt and fear. The destructive nature of success and fame, and the terrifying precipice of doing something new. The effects that these struggles have on the creator’s own mental and physical health, as well as the impact it has on family, friends, and anyone that may be trying to help. As I played through the game, I started to wonder if some of these nightmares were drawn from the personal experiences of the writers of the game themselves.

What makes this idea more interesting is the fact that Sam Lake, Remedy’s creative director and one of the writers of the game, is featured fairly prominently in the game as multiple characters: both as in-game characters and as characters created by the in-game character Alan Wake. Take a couple of minutes to try and wrap your head around that one. Is this just a funny little wink and nod for the players or something more meaningful? There are many, many instances of this in the game, a veritable labyrinth of rabbit trails that you can chase down, linking the story, characters, and worlds found throughout Remedy’s various games. Is it the same universe? Or is it a multiverse? Are they actually connected? Or am I just driving myself crazy thinking they are? Trying to find all the references and easter eggs was half the fun, with the added bonus of making me want to play all of Remedy’s games again just to find all the little secrets. It can be wild and very silly at times. Similar to how the game shifts between game and full motion video, the tone jumps flawlessly from terror, to laugh-out-loud comedy, to despair, to hope, and back to terror again. There was always a new twist or surprise that kept me engaged and wondering what’s next throughout my 30 hour play through. 

Besides just talking about the struggles of doing creative work, the game is in every way a celebration of the art of storytelling in all its forms. From video games and film, to books, music, and art. Everything in the game is carefully crafted and placed to tell a grand story. I saw so many little touches of this care and attention in the game. The songs that play between each chapter of the game were made in collaboration with Finnish artists who wrote these songs using pieces of poetry that were written about the game. Every piece of written word in the Dark Place is a reference to Alan’s situation and his first book, which we collected in the first game. A subtle reminder that the terrors of the Dark Place are just as much the creation of Alan as they are of the Dark Presence. There are photos, musical numbers, plays, and even a short film, seemingly random on the surface, but it all ties to the story and the mystery of the Dark Place that Alan is trying to escape from. 

If the storytelling is the strongest aspect of the game, the combat would be the weakest. While combat in survival horror games is expected to be challenging, fighting enemies in Alan Wake 2 can feel incredibly unfair at times, leading to frustration that can put a damper on the enjoyment of the game and story. Players of the first game will remember the basic mechanic of combat: using a light source to burn away the protective darkness, then using weapons to bring the enemy down. The second game sticks to this formula and offers familiar tools, alongside some new ones, to deal with the enemies. However, many of the enemies encountered are fast, and will quickly flank you. While dealing with one or two is fairly manageable, three or more can get overwhelming very quickly. The enemies are also heavy bullet sponges, often taking many hits to go down. With so many targets and mechanisms to juggle, it’s almost impossible to heal in the middle of combat. While I played through the entirety of the game on normal difficulty, it is recommended to choose the story mode difficulty to just enjoy the narrative and have some room to explore without the frustration. The game does allow you to adjust the difficulty at any time, so you can choose how you want to play. But no matter how you choose to play it, play it you should do so!

The Bottom Line

 

A thrilling, chaotic, masterpiece of storytelling that offers a unique, multimedia experience that’s unlike any other video game out there. A must play!

 

10

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Anna Zhang

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