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I wish I loved Alan Wake 2’s most creative gameplay feature

Among all the marketing material and features shown off leading up to Alan Wake 2‘s release, nothing got me more excited to return to Bright Falls than The Mind Place. More than the focus on survival horror, the mix of live-action and in-game cinematics, or simply getting to conclude a story I began over a decade ago, the idea of a metaphorical space in which I — or rather FBI agent Saga Anderson — could visualize and construct the clues I was collecting to piece together the darkly magical mystery presented captivated my imagination most.

What we ended up getting wasn’t quite what I hoped for. Created as a clever space where players could piece together the game’s driving occult case, the space doesn’t leave as much room for smart deduction as I’d hoped. For as much potential for this space had to elevate Alan Wake 2 on both a narrative and gameplay level, it felt like a missed opportunity during my playthrough that only slowed the sequel’s strong momentum.

Not quite a True Detective

Creating a detective game where the player is an active participant in solving a mystery sounds like a nightmare to design. On one hand, the designers need to provide all the clues to reach the correct solution, while simultaneously making it neither too obvious nor obscure to solve. Lean too far in either direction and the player will either feel unsatisfied and potentially pandered to, or frustrated and betrayed. It is a task few games attempt, and even fewer manage to pull off.

Enter Alan Wake 2 and the bold decision to introduce a second main character in Saga Anderson alongside the titular writer. Considering this was a deliberate creative decision, as well as creating an entirely new mechanic in the Mind Place specifically for Saga and her investigation, I had high hopes that Remedy had come up with a new and interesting way to involve the player in solving the game’s mystery. Early impressions of seeing the big corkboard with clues strung together had me eager to experiment with how I could lay out evidence, draw connections, and make tentative deductions until I got new information that would completely reshape my sprawling cobweb of notes.

Saga doing a deduction in the mind place.
Remedy Entertainment

The reality of the Mind Place is far less exciting. I’m not an active participant in solving a mystery, but merely going through the motions of watching someone else piece it together. Clues can only be placed into a specific spot, with no room for players to make guesses as to where things belong. If players get clues related to a story thread Saga doesn’t have yet, they simply aren’t allowed to place them at all until the time is right.

What makes it even more tedious is how painfully obvious the game makes placing these clues. It feels like I’m given a handful of blocks and asked to put the square into the square hole to continue. There’s no deduction required here and not much satisfaction from sticking a clue in the right place. It’s a normal plot codex in a game menu but with more work required to assemble it.

It also doesn’t help that the case board is an awkward mess to control on PS5. The zoom levels feel way too tight or distant, sliding clues around is slippery, and the cursor can easily get lost off-screen. Rather than be a helpful way to get a nice overview of the case, it’s difficult to read without fumbling to zoom in and out on each individual section spread out across the entire wall.

Saga looking at the case board.
Remedy Entertainment

Deductions are the worst offender in my eyes. At certain points, the game will come to a screeching halt and prompt you to make a deduction before you can continue the plot. When this happens, you are forced to go into the Mind Place and “perform” a deduction. I say “perform” because there’s no actual interaction or input needed from the player. All you do is select the only option available, Saga magically intuits some key piece of information, and then the game allows you to move forward. It’s an unnecessary, pace-slowing task that doesn’t leave me feeling like a detective.

The Mind Place is a noble concept and I applaud Remedy for creating such a creative way to put players in the center of a mystery that would otherwise be told through dialogue or static logs. It just never quite reaches its potential as a detective system. I yearned to piece together the mysteries of Bright Falls for myself, but the Mind Place made sure I could never get one step ahead of the story.

Alan Wake 2 is out now on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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Jesse Lennox
Jesse Lennox loves writing, games, and complaining about not having time to write and play games. He knows the names of more…
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