Remedy is known for its weird and subversive games. However, what is less acknowledged is just how frequently the studio has significantly influenced and changed the industry.
Max Payne popularized bullet time in video games, while Control was one of the most complex implementations of ray tracing at its launch. With Alan Wake 2, Remedy has done it yet again, this time with its narrative, offering a mind-bending postmodern experience that goes places no other gaming story has.
Alan Wake 2 (PC, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Epic Games Publishing
Released: October 27, 2023
Welcome to Bright Falls!
In my Review in Progress, I went quite in-depth regarding the gameplay, visuals, and audio. After completing the sequel, my opinion only improved, and I’m convinced that Alan Wake 2 is one of the best-looking games you can get your hands on today.
There are so many gorgeous moments that make me curse the absence of photo mode. When Saga’s exploring Bright Falls at dusk, the setting sun gives everything a deep red hue, and the light reacts to the environment in astonishingly realistic ways. In the Dark Place, I was treated to an interesting medley of lights and baroque architecture. Rainy, isolated streets and grimy subways set an eerie, nightmarish mood that’s nonetheless irresistibly beautiful.
I’ve spent more time toying around with both Quality and Performance mode, and I’ve noticed that the framerate isn’t as stable as I initially thought. It’s especially evident when you dodge as Alan and the framerate suddenly tanks. On the same note, Remedy just released another hefty patch, so these hiccups are probably on their way out.
With Alan Wake 2, Remedy aimed to set new graphical benchmarks. That goal has inarguably been achieved. The studio teamed up with longtime partner Nvidia, and the game is one of the first to feature the “new Ray Reconstruction feature in DLSS 3.5.” It also pushes boundaries with its gameplay, using the fast SSD to load new environments rapidly, which makes traveling between the regular world and the Mind Place/Writer’s Room seamless.
Compared to its predecessor, gameplay improvements are bountiful but still not fantastic. About halfway through my playthrough, I slid the difficulty down to Story mode because I wanted to get past the combat as fast as possible and get back to exploration and progressing the story. The encounters with the few bosses were mostly forgettable, with perhaps the last boss being the exception.
However, where Alan Wake 2 does succeed lies in its horror — exploring eerie environments make the moment-to-moment trudge forward a delight. The jump scares felt like a jolt of electricity that kept me on edge, and there were several moments where I opened a door or turned a corner and was not prepared for what I encountered.
The story is a monster
My last report also mentioned Alan Wake 2 was still throwing plenty of surprises my way, and that never changed. After finishing the game, I’m left stunned by what Remedy crafted. Its postmodern narrative pushes forward storytelling within the medium, and while it’s not perfect, it’s impossible to hate a game that sincerely has something to say.
I found myself captivated by the idea of the Dark Place and its intimate relationship with creativity and the arts. As the story unfolded, it became evident that the Dark Place was a fan of swallowing up artists in particular. However, it is also through art that one has a hope of escaping the corrupting Dark Place. The Dark Place also has a negative influence on Alan’s writing, twisting it into something more depraved than he ever wanted.
The overall writing will be divisive. Alan’s internal monologues tend to be long, flowery, and dramatic. I liked it, but it’s easy to see how some will find it pretentious. The sequel also effectively builds up perfectly punctuated moments of tension, making you ache for answers to the mysteries raised. Most of the sequences involve surprising twists that are almost impossible to predict. Others are left dangling, but more on that later.
A love letter to the arts
Part of what makes Alan Wake 2 stand out among the cornucopia of AAA hits released this year is just how much genuine passion exudes from it. Of course, the game is beholden to capitalistic demands. It was funded by Epic Games Publishing, and as a result, it’s an Epic Games Store exclusive title on PC. Furthermore, there have been no physical copies released on any platforms to cut down on costs.
None of this gets in the way of what is evidently a sincere love of the arts. Almost every medium gets some appreciation in Alan Wake 2. With its two protagonists and survival horror gameplay, it pays homage to the Resident Evil franchise, a cornerstone of the gaming industry. Heavy movie references are plentiful, with The Shining being one of the biggest influences. The Oceanview Hotel is reminiscent of the film’s Overlook Hotel, and the winding road Saga drives down seems borrowed from Stanley Kubrick’s film based on Stephen King’s horror novel.
There are also several literary allusions present. Most notably, the game features a postmodern narrative that blends horror with the detective genre. It’s set in New York, and features an artist whose true identity is questioned as the plot progresses. This closely follows Paul Auster’s City of Glass, which also features a New York detective with a plot that bends back on itself and eventually features Auster himself. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Auster elements pop up, as Remedy’s Sam Lake has named the author as an influence.
Music maintains just as much prominence in Alan Wake 2, with prophetic lyrics and melodies integrated into gameplay at several points. On this front, the Poets of the Fall are of great aid, and they assist in bringing a chapter that manages to surpass Control’s Ashtray Maze. There are also several more obscure art forms you’ll find littered throughout the game, such as photography and graffiti with subliminal messaging.
The end result is an eclectic mix of influences that coalesce to form a unique and often weird experience that only Remedy could pull off.
A vain nightmare
The passion poured into Alan Wake 2 is evident. Everything from the music to the visuals to the live-action performances are top-notch, and with this game, Remedy has once again solidified itself as an industry leader. Nevertheless, there are certain points where the passion seems to cross over into vanity, and the overall experience becomes a little too navel-gazey.
This occurs with the appearance of Sam Lake, who you’ll see as Alex Casey and also as himself. You’ll also be hearing the word “Lake” a lot, which isn’t a coincidence. As the plot progressed and Alan went through the anxieties of being a writer and crafting the perfect ending, it became increasingly harder to determine whether I was playing a game about Alan or a game about Lake.
The experience is not just Lake-obsessed. It’s also very Remedy-obsessed. It’s easy to overlook if you aren’t familiar with past titles from the studio, but the references included go far beyond the Remedy Connected Universe and include titles like Max Payne. Alex Casey really looks and acts like Payne, and you’re constantly reminded of this.
These moments pulled me out of the game and reminded me I was consuming a work of fiction. That may have been the point, but it’s a little too heavy-handed.
It’s not a loop, it’s a spiral
Alan Wake 2 is a survival horror game with heavy mystery elements. This is highlighted by the detective gameplay elements that have you piecing together clues and collecting information on different characters.
The point of most detective stories is to finally solve the case and reach a satisfying conclusion. Remedy, not being one to follow conventions, subverts expectations and provides an ending that strips all the events prior of their weight and leaves you with a cliffhanger.
On some level, it’s understandable why the choice was made. Alan Wake is being molded into a franchise, so there needs to be a bridge from this game to the next. However, it would have been satisfying if the game stuck to its guns and given us a conclusive ending, sans the post-credits scene.
Ultimately, the ending didn’t stick the landing, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the experience — just dampened my overall perspective. After so many brave and iconoclastic choices, it was disappointing to see the finale take such a safe and conventional route.
After spending a week with Alan Wake 2 and finally seeing the credits, I can say that it’s one of my favorite titles in an extremely competitive year. Not only has it redefined what I believe video game narratives are capable of, but it also left me invigorated to see how Remedy will innovate once again.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]