13 years is a long time, long enough that my memories of the original Alan Wake had shifted dramatically to what I had written in my review of it back then. Ask me today what I thought of it and I would’ve said it was an underrated gem, one that was certainly worth playing because it was just so different from everything else at the time. My review from then though? Boy was I focused on the flaws and its score would put it squarely in the middle of the road category. Still I was keen for the sequel as it always felt like it deserved one, even if I didn’t pick up on the fact that Control was part of the same universe until yesterday.
Yeah…I’m a big old dummy.
SPOILERS FOR ALAN WAKE BELOW
It’s been 13 years since Alan Wake went to Cauldron Lake and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Things have, for the most part, been normal there until one day a former FBI agent shows up dead there, his heart ripped out, seemingly another victim of a series of ritualisc muders that have been happening there. FBI Special Agents Saga Anderson and Alex Casey are sent to investigate but things quickly take a turn for the paranormal, unexplained events happening everywhere as pages of a recently written manuscript seem to be coming true. This is only the beginning of a dark horror story that’s threatening to take over Cauldron Lake and, possibly, the rest of the world.
I certainly wasn’t expecting Alan Wake 2 to be a mixed media game, it’s base game augmented by a wealth of live action scenes that seemingly blur the lines between reality and fantasy. The base game is highly detailed, delivered in muted tones as the game seeks to hide much as it can in the shadows. The actors are also top notch, although the over-dubbing for the voice actors for some of them is unfortunately quite noticeable. The blending of these two media types into a single experience is done extremely well, something that shouldn’t be much of a surprise given Remedy’s vast experience in this area. Performance is also good too, rarely missing a beat even when there’s numerous enemies on screen.
My memories of the core game mechanics of the original are long faded, but the core combat loop does remain the same (minus the Energizer sponsorship though, which is a shame). This time though you’ll be playing through two distinct main campaigns: the one for Saga and the one for Alan. Each of them have their own independent inventory, upgrade paths, weapons and areas to explore. Whilst the construction of each differs in its execution they’re both largely the same mechanically: a kind of detective story that has you piecing together different elements in order to progress further. You’re free to switch between them and play them in any order, although it does appear that once you run out of road on one you’ll be forced onto the other. From what I can remember of the original it certainly feels a lot more deep in terms of gameplay, especially if you’re up for thoroughly exploring all of the environments.
Whilst the core combat mechanic remains the same (burn darkness shield with flashlight -> riddle with bullets) there’s a bit more depth to it than there previously was. You’ll now have a bunch more upgradable weapons at your disposal, enough that you’ll rarely find yourself out of ammo for one of them. There’s also a bunch of consumables like flares, grenades, propane tanks, etc. which will help you take out some of the game’s tougher enemies. You’ll need a healthy stash of all of those on you as there’s no real telling when a semi-major fight might break out, so exploration for ammo is definitely the name of the game.
At least early on it is.
Probably about halfway through the game it became clear that avoiding fights was actually the best strategy, allowing me to rack up a rather ludicrous ammo stash that I was then able to apply liberally whenever I was faced with something I couldn’t run from. Whilst the enemies that Saga faces are a bit more tougher from this perspective you really can get away from almost anything in Alan’s missions if you’re determined enough. There were definitely a few encounters I fully trivialised by simply running past everything, either getting to a ledge they couldn’t climb or to the next section where they despawned. Is that cheating? Kinda, although I wasn’t using anything that wasn’t already in the game.
As you’d expect in a survival horror game upgrades are hard to come by and aren’t exactly game changing when you get them. Whilst the gun upgrades are useful things like charms, words of power and the other minor progression items aren’t going to make the difference between beating a section and not. They’ll certainly make your life easier in some respects, like the increased detection threshold for Alan, but I feel like you could still get away with everything I did without it. I basically gave up on looking for them about 2/3rds of the way through the game, although their lack of utility was only part of the equation there.
Exploration is a tough one in Alan Wake 2. To be sure, it’s worth doing, but seeking out all the possible upgrades does start to feel like a chore after a while. This is pretty much all due to how long it takes to get from place to place in the game, your character’s max speed of a half jog not being exactly fast. The devs did a good job of keeping all the puzzles for these optional progression items self contained, saving you the hassle of endless inventory management or having to remember some esoteric clue from 3 hours prior. But simply having to hoof it around for so long certainly took the joy out of it for me, even when I knew there’d probably be a decent upgrade there.
That being said, even without actively searching too far, I was still able to unlock all the main weapons in the game and put a few upgrades into each of them. I got a handful of words of power for Alan as well, even if I got myself thoroughly confused with how to activate them in the first place. At the end of the game I certainly didn’t feel like I was struggling with enemies either, so it does feel like the bulk of the upgrades are likely optional so don’t kill yourself over tracking them all down.
I’ll admit to struggling with the game for a good long while, something about the combination of the slightly overwrought plot and the horror elements just not gelling with me. However once the game started to find its feet a bit more I found myself playing for longer and longer sessions, the various plot threads that had been thrown out during the game’s opening chapters starting to make sense. I think the major turning point was the We Sing chapter, something I thought they just did for the Game Awards presentation but turned out to actually be a major section of the game.
Then there was Control.
So I had zero clue about the linkages between these two games right up until I finished my playthrough last night and was trawling through reddit for some insights on a few key things. Suddenly a lot of the events in that game made a lot more sense to me, and all of the FBC elements in Alan Wake 2 just dropped into place. It’s to the point where I’m considering revisiting Control (just the DLCs at this point) just to flesh out my experience of the universe further.
All this being said though, despite my rocky start with the game, it grew on me. All the characters are given ample time to grow and the ones that are left dangling are just juicy parts for speculation about the future of the series. All I hope for is that we’re not left for another 13 years between drinks on this one.
Alan Wake 2 is the sequel that many had thought may never come. Remedy was a different company back then and there was no guarantee that they’d ever find the chance to revisit their world but I’m very glad they did. Whilst it might not have clicked for me right away it did grow on me, despite the few structural issues that made some aspects of it more tedious than they needed to be. The mixed media presentation was done extremely well though, showing yet again that there’s merits in blending these two mediums together. I’m also on board for the building out of this universe even further as it’s just making each of the games that take place there all the more richer for it.
Alan Wake 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S right now for $75.95. Game was played on the PC with 16.3 hours of playtime and 85% of the achievements unlocked.