It has been thirteen years since Alan Wake was lost to the Dark Place. Remedy returns to Bright Falls, as FBI Agent Saga Anderson and her partner Casey are looking to solve a series of ritualistic-style killings. The titular hero of this story is back as well, looking to fight his way out from underneath (though not really) Cauldron Lake. Alan Wake 2 is the video game version of the Twin Peaks type of game I always wanted. It is a mix of Max Payne (in multiple ways), Control, and a triumphant culmination of all the titles Remedy has ever made. Releasing near the end of what is possibly the best year in gaming history, Alan Wake 2 is a masterpiece.
The prologue of the story is one you’ll need to see for yourself and I’ll avoid spoilers entirely outside of the base setup of the game itself. It’s an incredible opening, setting the adult and dour tone of the game with a horrific beauty that permeates everything. You’ll start your journey as FBI Agent Saga Anderson, along with her partner Casey. He has Sam Lake’s face and Max Payne’s voice, and it’s the first indication of just how meta and out there Alan Wake 2 will be. You’re visiting Bright Falls, Washington after a killing matches the description of a serial killer you’ve been tracking.
The town and its residents are heavily inspired by the Twin Peaks series, in which a pair of FBI agents visit a small Washington state town to investigate a murder (we Boomers know it, but the Zoomers probably don’t). You’ll visit multiple locations with a lot of returning sites and characters from the first game. While it would certainly add a bit I don’t think the first game is a required playthrough for the sequel. The game does a solid job of reintroducing any familiar faces and hey, you can play a “catch me up” event in Fortnite!
Anderson is one of the two main protagonists, the other being the titular Alan Wake. The only thing I’ll say about Alan’s predicament is that he’s still in the Dark Place, after being stuck there at the end of the first game. Early on you’ll follow a linear path as you swap between playing both characters. After a while you can choose who to play as while you progress each of their stories with the end again bringing you back to a more rigid structure.
The world of Bright Falls is large, with a lot to find if you explore off the beaten path. In my first playthrough (on PC, Xbox code wasn’t available as early) I focused on the main campaign while doing some light exploring and finished in roughly 15 hours. The maps for the real world and Dark Place are utterly gorgeous, featuring some of the best texture work and lighting I’ve ever seen. I’m going to go out of order and go over those graphics next because Alan Wake 2 might be the greatest-looking game of its scope that I’ve ever played.
My initial playthrough was entirely on PC, as it was ready well before the console code was. I have an all-AMD rig running a 5800x CPU and 7900XTX GPU, and maxed out at 4k I averaged roughly 50 or so FPS… with raytracing off. Turning on FSR2’s performance (sadly not 3 with frame generation, Nvidia owners get those tricks) and putting raytracing to low I could average 60 or so FPS in Bright Falls. The Dark Place is smaller in scope, and I could bump raytracing up to max and maintain a similar framerate there, and no matter what the game looks stunning.
With or without raytracing it is a stunning technical and artistic achievement. The texture work is sublime, and the regular and raytraced lighting sets the mood for the story and gameplay brilliantly. Much like the first time around Bright Falls doesn’t live up to its’ name. You’ll have a flashlight out the majority of your playthrough, with proper light scattering and impeccable-looking shadows. For those with a weaker rig, you can crank everything up after turning raytracing off and still be treated to a visual spectacle. The geometry of each scene is smooth, and full of detail, with little pop-in and an excellent level of detail around your character.
Character faces emote so well that they avoid any uncanny valley except when it is intentionally there. Both in cutscenes and during gameplay I was floored at just how good the characters looked with only a few exceptions on some of the generic town residents and their looping animation sets. Playing on an OLED display the HDR colors were mesmerizing. Sunsets, daybreak, and rainstorms at night would have me staring at the horizon for minutes on end. The most important part of any game is its gameplay, but Alan Wake 2 is the rare game that looks so damned gorgeous that it almost matches it.
Saga and Alan have similar combat systems but differ massively in how the puzzle and exploration elements of their campaigns go. Starting with Saga, as the game does, she has a Mind Place. This is a space in her mind in which she makes deductions on an evidence board, can have visions of suspects while doing profiles on them, upgrade her weapons, and access the game’s map. That map is a massive improvement over the one in Control and came in handy, making sure I didn’t get lost while traipsing through the woods.
For her deductions Saga will compile evidence by experiencing events or finding objects in the real world. You’ll do a lot of pressing a button to interact with something and then hovering over various parts of that object to highlight and collect clues or read notes. As you compile them you’ll be given instant photograph-style pictures to pin on your imaginary evidence wall. Where each piece of evidence goes is set by the statements available. See a picture of someone who was in a particular group? Then their picture most like goes in the “Who are the members of this group” section.
You’ll do this over multiple different case files and the UI does an excellent job of guiding you on what to do next. I never felt lost on what I needed to do to progress the story, despite the feeling early on of being slightly overwhelmed by menus. Saga also has various locked Caches, strange rhymes, and side objectives to do that can add to her three-slot charm bracelet. Gifted by her daughter Logan, the bracelet offers passive buffs and is one of the main reasons to explore while playing as her.
Alan Wake is a writer, and with him you’ll look for inspiration in the form of echoes. These are visions that give Alan ideas that he can write into the reality of the Dark Place. It is the main mechanic of your playtime as Alan, and it is the typical incredibly cool “everything around you is changing” mechanic that I love in Remedy games. Each scene you can do this in is one where something particular happened. The variations on that theme are well done, and I never knew how it was going to play out as I swapped between various versions of reality in the area I was in. You can’t do this everywhere, as certain rooms are places of importance.
Alan’s other unique mechanic is his ability to use a statue with a light bulb on it to absorb and gift light to specific areas in the Dark Place. Garth Merenghi would be proud as Alan types away, weaving tales of woe and horror as he fights to escape this hellish prison. Alan can be upgraded in various ways by finding Words of Power, which are hidden in the environment and activate when you shine your flashlight on them from the proper angle. They end up being the main reason to explore while playing as him.
I never found the combat in the first game to be that satisfying, and the shoulder-changing mechanic drove me insane. Happily, Alan Wake 2’s camera hovers forever over your fight shoulder during gameplay, and it feels fantastic. Playing on normal the game could be damned hard at times, but it always felt good. Both Saga and Alan have a small repertoire of weaponry which is most effective after using their supercharged flashlights to burn the darkness protecting their enemies. Batteries are a big part of the game again, but I never found it to be a grind to get more. They are placed liberally around every environment and at one point I had over ten of the damned things, which I promptly burned through on one of the few but extremely tough bosses.
Playing on a mouse and keyboard the aiming felt terrific, and while it was on PC and not a console it felt excellent on a controller as well. Movement is just fast enough to not feel like you’re a tank, and the dodge is useful but not overpowered. Every weapon feels powerful, and shots feel heavy. Alan’s revolver especially packs a massive punch though it requires a bit of time in between shots for maximum accuracy. Ammo is just plentiful enough that I have to think that they’re working behind the scenes to only give you roughly what you need to kill every enemy in an upcoming encounter.
Multiple weapon types are joined by consumables that are extremely potent and should not be ignored. I was having a hell of a time with a mid-game boss before realizing just how flipping useful the 5 flares in my inventory were at instantly shredding her Darkness shield. Health consumables take a bit of time to use and you can assign everything to a quick select inventory system that works well on both keyboard and controller.
Enemy variety is a mix of various possessed humans who range from small stabby guy to small clubby guy, small throwy guy, and big smashy guy. In the Dark Place you get more of the same, but everything starts out as a shadow and you’re not sure which ones will hit you and which will dissipate into smoke once you walk through them. Either way, Alan will super power his flashlight (torch for the bruvs) and either burn away their cover and smote them entirely from existence. My favorite thing about the combat is that there isn’t too much of it. There’s a lot but it never overstays its welcome and gets in the way of the narrative.
Ever since Max Payne I’ve always felt like Remedy was on the verge of perfecting its unique blend of deep storytelling, interesting locations, and use of real-life acting. Alan Wake 2 is the first time I think they nailed every aspect and the gameplay in the same title for me. The first Alan Wake title was special but doesn’t hold up gameplay-wise. Quantum Break had some incredible gameplay and an intriguing story but faltered in the writing and live-action part. Control had the best setting and most satisfying powers but a main plot that I found predictable and dull.
Alan Wake 2 has Remedy’s greatest writing, most satisfying combat, best-realized setting, and by far their greatest FMV work ever. The FMV adds so much to this title during multiple mind-bending parts that I can forgive some of the wooden line reading during the more serious parts. Initiation Five and a later Return level feature two of my favorite levels in video game history, surpassing the Ashtray Maze in Control by an order of Magnitude that I never thought possible.
The game is that beautiful David Lynchian blend of serious and silly. Sam Lake’s work is incredible, making that damned Max Payne face at every opportunity. It felt like a game that everyone involved in poured their hearts and souls into with no shame in their performances. The most ridiculous lines, insane scenes, and dumb shit imaginable are done with straight faces the entire time. Alan Wake 2 is brilliantly stupid. A fiendish rascal that will knowingly wink during its most over-the-top segments and then punch you in the gut with a revelation you were praying wouldn’t come.
The music is unbelievable, both the licensed songs and those made for the game are top-tier. During some of the climactic combat the orchestral sounds swell, though my favorite scenes were full-on rock & roll delights. Playing on PC I ran into only one bug where extremely late in the game I had the UI become unresponsive. A quick restart got me right back to where I was and other than that it was a smooth and stable experience. I do not know what the game is like on console outside of being assured on Twitter by the game’s PR that it’s in great shape. Make sure you check and find out if that is the case before taking the plunge on your Xbox Series device.
Alan Wake 2 is the culmination of all that Remedy has learned over the past 20+ years. It is a triumph in every way and you should play it, now.