“Even with a few frustrations, Alan Wake 2 is a confident creative vision from one of gaming's boldest developers.”
- Engrossing horror story
- Fantastic worldbuilding
- Endlessly creative Alan chapters
- Mind-bending puzzles
- Strong performances
- Frustrating forest exploration
- Detective elements disappoint
- Low end machines may struggle
Alan Wake 2 is a tale of two nightmares come to life. One of those is a supernatural affair, as the titular Wake fights to escape from the mysterious Dark Place that he’s been trapped in for 13 years. For Saga Anderson, an FBI detective who finds herself tangled up in that case thanks to a series of related cult murders, the terror hits much closer to home. The deepest fears of an anxious mother threaten to become a lived reality as the distorted memories of Pacific Northwestern townies place her in the center of an unspeakable tragedy. Both characters want to “save the day,” but there’s one problem. This isn’t an action movie; it’s a horror story.
And horror is about victims, not heroes.
At least, that’s the unsettling thought that hangs over Remedy Interactive’s long-awaited sequel like a long shadow. While 2010’s Alan Wake is certainly eerie, its action-adventure setup made it feel more like a campy thriller in which monsters were just problems to be shot away. Remedy flips that script with its full-throated survival horror sequel — and that’s not just a cosmetic change. An oppressive darkness seeps in through every corner of its real and metaphysical worlds, threatening to drown both Alan and Saga. A heroic boss fight won’t save them. The only hope is that they can keep their heads above water until the final page of their story turns.
Save for a few odd gameplay quirks and frustrating tech issues at launch, Alan Wake 2 is Remedy Interactive’s most confident, fully realized creative vision to date. It fully pays off the long-simmering potential of the studio’s interconnected universe to create a densely detailed, cerebral experience about the nature of horror – both in the nightmares we face in everyday life and the scary stories we create to cope with them.
The original Alan Wake drew clear inspiration from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, so it’s only fitting that the sequel pays homage to its third season, The Return, which released in the 13-year gap between games. The parallels are immediately clear. Saga’s investigation into the deer-obsessed Cult of the Tree starts with a bloated corpse, just as The Return’s own FBI investigation does. Meanwhile, Wake seeks an escape from the Dark Place just like Dale Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge. Evil doppelgangers run amok. Hell, Saga’s chapters are even titled “Return.”
Remedy is at the top of its game here when it comes to worldbuilding …
It’s perhaps a bit on the nose in its establishing chapters, but that inspiration — along with loving nods to Steven King, True Detective, and more — quickly soaks into Remedy’s own distinct voice. Over the course of nearly 20 hours, the studio weaves together an engrossing series of interconnected mysteries made possible by its ambitious shared game universe. What starts as a standard FBI procedural soon morphs into a reality-bending chronicle that involves the paranormal Federal Bureau of Control, interdimensional talk shows, and a hair metal band whose music might just contain the secrets of the universe.
Remedy is at the top of its game here when it comes to worldbuilding, topping the creative heights it reached with 2019’s Control. All of its explorable locations — from the Dark Place’s twisted version of New York City to a coffee-themed amusement park nestled deep in the woods of Watery — are loaded with lively details that are a consistent delight to discover. From hysterical small-town TV ads to a full foreign art film send-up starring Alan Wake 2 Creative Director Sam Lake, each piece works to build a fully realized world running on its own oddball internal logic.
What really drives the story, though, is its two protagonists and their intersecting journeys. Though Saga can feel like a dry detective in a cast of memorable local eccentrics at first, her slow descent into a personal hell that’s entirely out of her control makes for a gripping psychological horror tale. That’s only strengthened by Alan’s own story, as the lost author attempts to literally write himself out of a mental prison at the expense of characters like Saga and her hard-nosed detective Alex Casey. Like its predecessor, the sequel doesn’t shy away from portraying Wake as a deeply flawed character. He’s a victim of the Dark Place’s pull, but he doesn’t hesitate to drag everyone down with him.
That’s what’s so effective about Alan Wake 2 as a horror story. In its opening hours, it stops to reflect on the laws of the genre. It posits that there are only victims and monsters in horror tales, an artistic philosophy that guides Wake’s supernatural pen. We know the sequel’s victims, but it’s harder to make out the monsters stalking them from the shadows. Is it the zombie-like Taken wandering the woods? Is it the evil Mr. Scratch, whose identity has been a constant mystery in the series? Could it even be Wake himself? With few tangible antagonists to aim a pistol at, it feels like there’s no physical action either character can take to free themselves from their fates. The only way out is through, trying to see through the infinite darkness with a flashlight’s puny beam.
In a thoughtful meta-decision, Alan Wake 2 pivots its genre to full-on survival horror (complete with an overabundance of repetitive jump scares). It looks and feels like a modern Resident Evil remake, something that seems thoughtfully intentional. As a game about the construction of horror, it makes perfect sense to build on a savvy video game player’s established knowledge of the genre. The third-person exploration, tight resource management, and light puzzle-solving all feel like they are part of a familiar construction, just like Wake writing his own story around literary tropes.
While there are key differences in Saga and Alan’s gameplay portions, both are tied together by effective combat. Like the first game, it’s a third-person shooter where the twist is that enemies are weak to light and both characters can expose critical weak points with their flashlights. Shooting is slow and methodical, but otherworldly Taken enemies twitch and teleport erratically. Encounters hinge on that tension, as I need to be fast and accurate with my shots lest my bullets disappear into the abyss. Remedy is sparing with encounters and that’s for the best. Rather than fighting waves of Taken, ambushes are spread out just enough that I’m never quite sure when it’s safe to take my guard down. I’m always on edge as I poke into the darkness.
Combat is ultimately secondary to careful exploration, which gives me a chance to soak in Remedy’s intricately designed worlds or hunt for secret stashes locked behind logic puzzles. Saga’s story unfolds throughout three different locations (Bright Falls, Watery, and Cauldron Lake), each of which makes a limited explorable space feel like a full town. Less compelling are Saga’s frequent jaunts through forests that have me backtracking around winding paths that are easy to get turned around on. That works on a thematic level as the woods feel like a claustrophobic force suffocating Saga, but frequent map checks too often pulled me out of a world I wanted to stay lost in.
When it comes to puzzles, its rules are too rigid to be surprising.
While much of its format feels familiar, Remedy goes beyond the confines of the horror genre to pepper in its own original ideas. Considering that Saga is a detective, it only makes sense that her segments hinge around a bit of deduction. Her chapters have me fathering clues and evidence that I can bring to her “Mind Place” with the quick press of a button. Here, I can profile suspects by listening to their thoughts and pin my findings onto an evidence board. The latter is an excellent alternative to a traditional codex, as it lets players physically piece mysteries together. A sprawling story full of twists becomes much easier to understand when I feel like I’m the one solving it.
There are limits to that smart system, though. Despite the fact that Alan Wake 2 is all about uncovering mystery, it never lets players get ahead of its story. I’d often pin evidence onto a board that would lead Saga to an obvious revelation that had already been made clear in a proceeding dialogue. That idea bleeds into gameplay as well. While exploring the delightfully absurd Coffee World amusement park, I found a fuse that would let me turn on a java-themed ride. That opened up a secret area underneath it, but there was nothing to find. It turned out I was too far ahead of the story, as I had to trigger a specific plot event to be able to pick up an item I could see, but not interact with yet. Moments like that weaken both the detective hook of Saga’s chapters and Alan Wake 2’s wider thesis on the joy of mystery. When it comes to puzzles, its rules are too rigid to be surprising.
I want to take a brief moment to talk about tech, as it’s currently the one major question mark surrounding the release. For the most part, Alan Wake 2 is something of a technical wonder on par with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. It both looks and sounds fantastic, with Remedy flexing its art direction muscles until they burst. And I mean that literally.
My own playthrough was, frankly, a mess. Slow asset loading would leave me falling through the world or stuck waiting for a staircase to spawn. Frequent bugs had me scrubbing back to previous saves. My most serious issue had me encountering a game-breaking hard lock that stopped me from progressing. Remedy provided me a local save state in order to continue, but has yet to confirm if the bug I experienced would make it into the launch version. Another writer on our team experienced a different game-breaking bug that halted their playthrough on PS5. Review codes for Alan Wake 2 only went out to critics less than a week before its embargo date with Remedy working on critical fixes up until the last minute. Xbox codes were not made available until the last minute either, which leaves serious concerns about how it runs on Xbox Series S.
After a lot of testing, it seems as though Alan Wake 2 struggles on lower-end machines. A lack of HDD support will also cause nightmares for unsuspecting players casually diving in with their PC rig. Experiences will wildly vary depending on your setup, which makes it difficult to confidently assess this on a tech level. As such, I strongly recommend checking out our computing team’s report on PC performance, which details both its incredible accomplishments and its potential pain points. If you’re concerned that your rig won’t be able to hack it, don’t take the gamble.
While Saga’s chapters have their weak points, Alan Wake’s are unimpeachable. His story takes place in the Dark Place, with the author trying to rewrite his mind-bending reality. That’s mostly accomplished through the sequel’s biggest puzzle component, as Alan’s own Mind Place allows him to change the world around him by pinning plot points onto locations. In an early chapter, I’m exploring a subway station and gathering plot beats to recreate an occult murder. When I find a plot point about a ritual and pin it to the location I’m in, the entire room changes in a flash. I’m suddenly standing in the center of a grizzly murder scene. It’s an astonishing feat only made possible thanks to modern hardware.
It certainly helps that the studio has assembled a murderers’ row of actors willing to go all in.
If you can believe it, those excellent puzzle sections aren’t even the most memorable parts of Wake’s chapters. Live-action talk show interludes, a film projection booth turned into an impossible labyrinth, and a sequence so jaw-droppingly entertaining that I wouldn’t dare to spoil it — moments like that make up the real heart of the experience, letting Remedy unleash its boldest, weirdest ideas in its most uncompromising creative vision to date.
It certainly helps that the studio has assembled a murderers’ row of actors willing to go all in (including Creative Director Sam Lake himself). Matthew Porretta offers a commanding performance as Wake, playing up the writer’s theatrical arrogance amid an unraveling mental breakdown. Equal credit goes to Iikka Villi, the real actor Wake is modeled on who gets to show as much range as Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks: The Return in live-action sequences, bringing a range of doppelgangers to life with his malleable expressions. A game as special as this only works this well when everyone involved is willing to fearlessly trust-fall into a left-field vision together.
As much as its dual stories tell horror tales that find victims fighting to survive the darkness, Alan Wake 2 itself embraces and celebrates the unknown with morbid fascination. It wants us to wince and cower at each of its horrific twists, but still eagerly turn each new page as fast as possible to see what happens next. Alan and Saga are drowning in their fears as the worlds around them flood into one deep, black ocean. And you’re invited to sink with them.
Alan Wake 2 was reviewed on PC.
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