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Alan Wake 2

Alan Wake 2 (2023): How Remedy is Saving the AAA Horror Scene

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Alan Wake 2 and The State of the Scene

For many, the mid to late 2000s were the golden age of gaming, with 2010 being a particularly memorable year. Not only did 2010 see the release of icons such as Red Dead Redemption, Halo: Reach, and Bioshock 2, but games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Heavy Rain were redefining what horror games could be. In the midst of all of these groundbreaking releases, Remedy Entertainment dropped Alan Wake, a game that appeared, on the surface, like your standard 3rd person shooter. However, as players began to dig into the game it quickly became apparent that not only were the game’s mechanics unique, but the plot was far more complex than many expected for a horror game. Alan Wake quickly established itself as a legendary title in horror gaming history, but little did we know what the future of the series held in store.

Flash forward 13 years and the AAA gaming scene is constantly marred by discourse over unfinished releases, endless bugs, and predatory microtransactions. As for AAA horror gaming, at times it feels almost non-existent. While Resident Evil: Biohazard and Resident Evil: Village were standouts and the RE4 and Dead Space remakes over-achieved, over a decade after their release, Remedy announced that Alan Wake’s long-awaited sequel would finally be arriving. Not only would Remedy be delivering one of the best games of all time, but they would also be delivering the shake up that the AAA gaming desperately needed.

Alan Wake 2 - Alan creeps through The Dark Place
Alan creeps through The Dark Place

Welcome to Bright Falls

For those unfamiliar with the original Alan Wake, imagine if you gave Stephen King a gun. That’s basically the game. We follow the titular Alan Wake as he heads to scenic Bright Falls with his wife Alice to combat his writer’s block. While there, a series of odd events take place that end with Alice going missing and Alan discovering that the events happening around him are being influenced by his writings. The game left off on a cliffhanger, with Alan saving his wife but leaving himself stranded in a dangerous and terrifying dimension known as the Dark Place.

Alan Wake 2 picks up 13 years after its predecessor, as FBI agents Saga Anderson and Alex Casey investigate a series of strange murders that have been plaguing the town of Bright Falls since Alan’s disappearance. During this investigation, the monsters from the first game make another appearance, forcing Saga and Casey to come to terms with the reality of Bright Fall’s darkest secrets, while also working to stop the dark forces trying to take the town over. In the midst of all this, the player can also control Alan himself, who is still trapped in the Dark Place after all these years. It’s at this point that the game reveals one of its most intriguing mechanics.

Anytime the player finds a mop bucket (which is more often than you’d think), they can choose to swap between controlling either Saga or Alan. This means that you can experience the story of Alan Wake 2 in any order you would like. This mechanic not only keeps subsequent playthroughs of the game fresh, but it means that every player will be interacting with the story completely differently! While one player may get a reveal in the early hours of their game, someone else might not get that reveal until the final hours of their playthrough. This unique style of storytelling leads to a lot of “Aha!” moments during gameplay, and leaves the player with a sense of satisfaction as they slowly chip away at the complex mystery that is Alan Wake 2.

The game’s unique storytelling doesn’t just stop there. While Alan Wake 2 can be completely enjoyed in just one run, it rewards those who are willing to dive in deeper with its New Game+ mode. This not only allows you to solve any extra mysteries and find any collectables you might have missed on your first playthrough, but it actually provides you with new story moments, cutscenes, and even a new ending! For most games this would just seem like a cheap attempt to pad run time, but Alan Wake 2 manages to work the concept of a New Game+ mode into their actual narrative, making the whole experience feel natural, immersive, and fresh.

we sing
Live Action Alan can be seen performing Herald of Darkness

Champion of Light

When it comes to pure artistic vision and design, Alan Wake 2 is one of the most beautiful and intentional games of all time. Every single moment of this game is designed with a clear purpose and intent that is rarely seen in other games. The greatest example of this is easily the chapter “We Sing”, where Alan finds himself in the middle of a musical about his life. As the player guides Alan through a series of set pieces and simple puzzles, large screens can be seen with a live action re-enactment of this musical set to the song “Herald of Darkness”. Between the amazing music, the glittering lights, and the thrilling combat, “We Sing” is, without question, one of the best levels in video game history. It is worth playing through the whole game if only to experience this wholly unique spectacle. “We Sing” is not the only section of the game to feature live action performances. In fact, most of the cutscenes and story telling in Alan Wake 2 make use of live action performances, ranging from unique game overlays to an entire 15 minute short film that can be watched in an in-game theater! 

Not only does Alan Wake 2 improve on the graphics, gameplay, and story-telling from the first entry in the series, but it also significantly improves on the pure horror. Arguably, the “horror” was one of the weakest parts of Alan Wake with the game, frankly, just not being particularly scary. Luckily, this was easily overlooked with just how strong the rest of the game was. Alan Wake 2 does not make this mistake again. While it does make use of an effective yet admittedly cheap jump scares, the game thrives when it comes to atmosphere. Remedy has always been a master of using Ray Tracing, and this game is no exception.

The darkness in Alan Wake 2 is utterly oppressive, and will often make you stop in your tracks, terrified of what might be lurking in the shadows ahead of you. As a survival horror title, much of the terror in Alan Wake 2 comes from the anxiety that you don’t have the tools you need to survive. Even on it’s easiest difficulties, resources are scarce and enemies take several well-aimed shots to kill, leading to an overwhelming sense of dread as you approach every encounter. The wide variety of fear that you can experience throughout the game prevents the player from ever getting desensitized, resulting in a masterful horror experience. And be warned! If you’re about to jump into New Game+ with the confidence that you remember where all of the scares are, the devs adjusted the timings for every single jump scare in the game, leaving you with a brand new experience that’s just as horrifying as it was the first time. 

Alan Wake 2 - Spooky
Mr. Scratch, the game’s antagonist, makes an appearance

The Impact of Alan Wake 2

While it may not have won Game of the Year, Alan Wake 2 swept at the Game Awards in 2023, taking in accolades for its stunning visuals and story. It’s received almost nothing but praise since the moment of its release, and announcements of the upcoming DLC for the game and the eventual release of Control 2 (another fantastic series from Remedy) have fans and news outlets chomping at the bit for everything else Remedy has to offer.

Hopefully the undeniable success of Alan Wake 2 will be enough proof for other publishers that gamers are willing to wait years and years if it means the games that are delivered to them are polished and complete products. Furthermore, in a sea of live service games, Alan Wake 2 stands as a beacon for just how popular offline single player narrative driven games can be, ideally leading to a resurgence in the genre. Remedy won’t be able to save the scene all on their own, but hopefully the influence from them and studios like them can usher in another golden age of gaming.

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