- PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series
- Epic Games
- ESRB Rating
- Mature 17+
- Survival Horror
- Release date
- October 27, 2023
Finnish video game company Remedy Entertainment is known for its innovative storytelling and unique gameplay mechanics. Founded in 1995, the studio gained widespread recognition with titles like “Max Payne,” known for its groundbreaking bullet-time gameplay, and “Alan Wake,” a psychological thriller that captivated players with its narrative depth. In recent years, Remedy has continued to push boundaries with games such as “Control,” which combines supernatural elements with a compelling storyline and dynamic combat mechanics. Their consistent focus on immersive narratives and gameplay experiences has solidified their reputation as one of the industry’s most distinctive developers.
- The sense of atmosphere and horror is masterful
- Really pushes the edge of graphics capabilities
- Clever callbacks to other Remedy games
- The thought space is a clever idea that’s not as good in execution
- Someone spilled a couple of drops of wokeness into this lake
Alan Wake II
Alan Wake II is a surreal horror story about a malevolent Dark Presence, powerful enough to use fiction to reshape reality but dependent on the creativity of a human author to provide the new narrative. The character Alan Wake is an author caught up in the Dark Presence’s ploy to enter the real world and remake it physically.
In the original game, the Dark Presence trapped Alan’s wife in the “Dark Place” (Think the Upside Down from Stranger Things) to draw him in, then used her as leverage to make him write (sorry if this is a spoiler, but you should play the first Alan Wake the first game before reading this if you don’t like it). Alan’s power to rewrite his story was limited to the rules of the horror genre, which is not known for its happy endings. In a last act of desperation, Alan defeated the Dark Presence by writing an ending that set his wife free but left him trapped in the Dark Place.
Fast forward thirteen years (the same number of real-world years between the release of Alan Wake and Alan Wake II), and Bright Falls once again finds itself host to supernatural events that signal a return of the Dark Presence.
Alan Wake II introduces a new protagonist, Saga Anderson, a young black female FBI agent. She is partnered with agent Alex Casey, the detective whose life became inextricably intertwined with Alan’s fiction during the first game’s events.
For the first part of the game, players play as Saga, though at a certain point, Alan Wake re-enters the story and becomes a playable character as well. Players will then switch back and forth between the two, eventually allowing them to switch between them at will, playing through each one’s unique but interwoven story.
Alan Wake II’s Story
The central narrative of Alan Wake II is a complex, self-referential tale designed to defy the player’s expectations. In one of the narrative’s more meta components, within the story, the story’s story itself is discussed and dissected. Alan Wake is both a character and the author of his own story.
He has the ability to alter the narrative to change outcomes but is otherwise constrained by the clichés and tropes of the horror genre, for if he deviates too far, the changes that he makes will not hold.
Confronting Enemies in Alan Wake II
While set up as a third-person shooter and classified as survival horror, Alan Wake II tries its best not to conform to any one genre of game. Combat is only one part of the gameplay. A good portion of the game is also comprised of investigative work, a variety of puzzle-solving, and interactive cinematic cutscenes.
Most of the enemies are ghosts or the feral “Taken” (ordinary people whom the Dark Presence has corrupted). They are shielded by an aura of darkness, making them invulnerable to conventional weapons.
Players must utilize light sources such as a magical flashlight (which uses consumable batteries), flashbang grenades, or road flares to dispel the darkness. Weaker enemies are outright destroyed by the light, while others need to be killed by physical weapons after the shield is gone.
To do this, players will have access to handguns and other firearms that can be acquired along the way, but because this is a survival horror game, players will be constantly on the verge of running out of needed items.
There simply are not enough munitions in the game to defeat all of the enemies with direct confrontation. Players will have to rely on stealth or occasionally just run for their lives to get to safe spots where the light is too bright for the darkness to enter.
Alan Wake’s Puzzles
As mentioned earlier, Remedy really likes to use the video game medium to present an experience that wouldn’t work as well anywhere else. Although there are some straightforward solve-the-clue-for-the-password-type puzzles, the developers also like to use gameplay loops and optical illusions to keep the player mentally off balance. For example, one area is mostly flat and open, with some free-standing walls to walk around. Players have to weave their way around the walls in a particular order or risk passing the same identical space repeatedly for infinity.
The Mind Place and Writers Room
Both Saga and Alan have special rooms to which they can retreat during the game, and while they both serve the game mechanics as surrogate menu systems, each also offers their own unique gameplay and narrative opportunities.
Although it’s a very minor component, Alan Wake II provides opportunities for character progression. However, rather than being earned through experience or completing missions, improvements in capabilities and weapons come through discovering hidden objects or symbols within the levels. Players who take the time to search every nook and cranny will be rewarded with a slightly more manageable horror experience.
These elusive upgrades are perhaps the only element that lends any replayability to Alan Wake II, as once you’ve experienced the story, there’s not much else to go back for.
Investigations on the case board use classic police drama visuals like push pins and yarn to connect Polaroid photos, bad photocopies of documents, and handwritten notes. Players need to arrange these elements in the proper order to complete each case. This can sometimes be frustrating because the placement isn’t always obvious or intuitive.
More often than not, investigations devolve into randomly trying to stick the evidence to the board to find the correct spot. In some instances, casework is an entirely optional part of the experience; if the player can figure out what to do next simply by picking up clues from the dialogue, then they never need put pin to cork.
However, there are times in which progression is completely dependent upon assembling the case on the board.
Controlling Alan Wake
This game uses typical twin-stick third-person shooter controls for combat and getting around. There aren’t any awkward gamepad mappings, and for the most part, both the movement and aiming controls are simple and intuitive.
Regarding other activities, the controls are a little less so. Moving the cursor around area maps and case boards with a control stick feels clumsy and unrefined. These interfaces were obviously designed with keyboard and mouse controls in mind and not reimagined for a game controller experience.
Alan Wake II is a beautiful game. Each environment is unique, fully detailed, and carefully thought out. Everything from tree branches to mud puddles looks so realistic that it’s easy to forget they’re works of art rather than real organic things. Character models are similarly convincing, with well-articulated motion capture that extends all the way down to facial expressions and lip movement.
Shadows play a big part, not just in the visual style but also in its narrative. The interplay of shadows and light is almost breathtakingly dramatic, thanks to ray-tracing and volumetric lighting effects.
However, Remedy is known for marrying live-action recordings with its game graphics. Many of this game’s cutscenes feature the live actors the in-game models were based on, and this jarring back and forth serves to throw the fidelity gap between the computer-rendered and real people into sharp relief.
While real actors certainly do a much better job conveying emotion than their digital avatars, the frequent switches between the two are jarring and immersion-breaking.
Alan Wake II is a masterclass in sound design. This game features incredibly effective use of multi-channel surround both for establishing atmosphere and for spatial awareness.
Each setting has its own unique soundscape, whether it’s wind whistling through trees, gentle rain hitting concrete at night, or the otherworldly whispers of the dead somewhere in the periphery.
The effects themselves are well-chosen and perfectly implemented. Something as simple as the sound of the water being disturbed somewhere just over your left shoulder as you carefully tiptoe through a flooded basement will likely make the hairs stand up on the back of your head.
Alan Wake II’s original score is nothing short of a phenomenon. Far from a simple backdrop for various sequences, the music is woven into the narrative. Each song’s lyrics tell a part of the story, sometimes even serving as clues or instructions for what to do next.
The game designers use a broad spectrum of styles, from etheric trance with crystalline female vocals to pop ballads with compelling hooks and even Swedish metal with melodic vocals and absolutely blazing guitar solos.
The horror part of this survival horror game is predominantly psychological. While there are enough elements of gore to justify the Mature rating, the game relies more on atmosphere and disorientation to make your skin crawl.
A pervasive sense of dread and unease is reinforced with dark visuals and creepy sounds throughout. The jump scares are wickedly well-timed to take advantage of quiet disarmed moments, and even the player character will sometimes express shock at them.
This game offered a relatively polished experience in its initial release build. There were very few obvious bugs or glitches. We only encountered one game-breaking bug during one of the last scenes that required us to reload the game to proceed.
Our playthrough clocked in at just over fifteen hours, but it was so densely packed and thought-provoking that it felt like a much longer experience.
This game absolutely deserves the awards it received for best narrative and art direction. Between the foreboding atmosphere, eerie content, and jump scares, the game did more than enough to earn its “horror” label, but the action sequences were also compelling and fun.
Without giving out spoilers, the “Summoning” sequence was one of the coolest things we’ve played in years. The convoluted story eventually rewards you for your time and attention and almost perfectly pulls off the “nothing is what it seems” motif. Despite its flaws, this is one of 2023’s best games.
Barring any deeper investigation into development and casting than what you see below, Alan Wake II rates delightfully low in wokeness. While our playthrough did not necessarily encompass 100% of the optional content, the authors were obviously more concerned with writing a compelling story than advancing a political or social agenda. Every woke element observed feels perfunctory rather than passionate.
On the one hand, Saga is an ever-present reminder that someone caved to pressure to forcibly “diversify” the cast, but on the other hand, it ceases to be distracting very quickly and does not hinder the story or gameplay.
- Okay, so let’s talk about the big ol’ elephant in the room, Saga Anderson, the black female FBI agent who is the player character for half of the game. Make all the arguments that you want that this was some kind of random creative choice, but we’ve got screenshots that say otherwise. At some point after creating and initially casting the character of Saga Anderson, the developers decided to (or were forced to) race-swap her from a white woman to a black woman to check a box. She’s supposedly a descendant of some of the all-white cast of the original game. We get it, Remedy. There were quotas to be met, and screechers would take away your birthday presents if you dared release a game with an all-white cast in 2023. While it’s obvious, due to her supposed heredity alone (but mostly because we actually know who the original actress was and have a picture of her in-character with a name label), this role was originally written for a white woman, the writers have retconned a hinted relationship between her and the elusive character Mr. Door to possibly explain her skin color.
- During one of the last sequences in the game, as Saga is struggling against her own inner thoughts, she refers to Alan Wake writing her into the story as “another white asshole deciding what I get to do; how I get to do it.” A single little sliver of anti-white racism is apparently supposed to lend to Saga’s authenticity as a “real” black woman in 2023. Reverse the races in that comment, and there’s no way Epic Games would have dared publish this game.
- When we’re first introduced to the character of Saga Anderson, she’s riding in a car with Alex Casey on the way to Bright Falls to investigate a ritual murder. Just before they arrive, Alex places her in charge of the case. Five minutes later, at the crime scene, the sheriff’s deputy tasked with escorting them assumes that Alex Casey, the male senior agent, is in charge of the investigation and asks him how he would like to proceed. Saga takes the opportunity to shame him for the assumption, and we are then treated to an awkward moment where the deputy begins stammering excuses and apologies. How dare he assume she was not in charge of the investigation that she literally was not in charge of six minutes ago?
- The female agent from the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) finds an opportunity to casually mention, with all the subtlety of a “You know how I know you’re gay?” joke, that she has an ex-wife. It’s completely irrelevant to everything, but box ticked, I guess?
Simon is a science fiction author, tech blogger and retro gaming enthusiast. He lives in the US Midwest with his two sons and wife of 26 years. Though he doesn't consider it a religion, he is unabashedly Christian. His heritage is primarily Native American and Scott/Irish. He is an outspoken libertarian (in belief, not necessarily in party) and values the principles of freedom and individual sovereignty above all else.