Alan Wake 2

Review: Alan Wake 2

In an expansive year filled with incredible video games, Alan Wake 2 writes itself as being one of the best. In the 13 years since Alan Wake came to Bright Falls, the world has changed in many ways. Remedy Entertainment utilizes that to tell a story, unlike anything I’ve experienced in recent memory. Alan Wake 2 is one of the best video games I’ve played in years.

You’re put into an impossible situation in a scary world within minutes. You wake dishevelled in the woods, naked and afraid, before limping along, looking for help. Almost instantly, the confusion transforms into fear as masked cultists chase your character as they work to capture you. What happens next sets off a chain reaction that eventually culminates with one of the best campaigns.

Remedy has never shied away from experimentation in its approach to game design. That notion is front and centre as the mix of live-action footage interspersed with gameplay segments helps to differentiate it from its contemporaries. Frankly, this technique elevates Alan Wake 2 as it blurs the lines between a television show and a video game.

Twin Peaks inspired the first Alan Wake, and the sequel expands and introduces even more inspirations like True Detective and Twin Peaks: The Return. You’ll have to sit back and work with the protagonist to get to the marrow to piece together the bigger picture. This scenario may not work for some, but the slow-burn pacing makes the payoff much better.

Welcome Back to Bright Falls

FBI profiler Saga Anderson heads to Bright Falls with her partner Alex Casey to work on a series of murders that are linked to Alan Wake. It isn’t long before things turn upside down, and the pair are caught in a supernatural occurrence involving the Cult of the Tree and Cauldron Lake. Saga is an incredible addition to the expanding Remedy universe as she takes the reins as the protagonist and helps newcomers understand the situation.

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Alan Wake 2 works as well as it does because of Saga’s innate ability to piece together clues in Mind Place. Our hero visualizes all the clues and cases at hand in this internal space, allowing her to piece together the situation with other collectibles like Nursery Rhymes and Lunch Boxes. You can also profile the characters you meet in Bright Falls and piece together several cases with good old red string and push pins on a massive case board to help focus on the situations you’ll face.

The opening hours will likely be the most normal in Alan Wake 2 as you progress through several story sections acting as a detective. However, things are not as they seem either as you speak to residents and visitors alike and see what, for some reason, the local people seem to act like they know Saga or have known her for years. Her campaign is easily a highlight as she maneuvers through Bright Falls and the forests outside of the town to find the truth. Exploring the forests is eerie, creepy, and foreboding as you watch the sunset and delve deeper into the unknown.

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Combat is consistently tense and frantic as you work to keep the Taken at bay and ensure you have enough ammo to keep them away from Saga. I often felt anxious as I played through each chapter, working through some of the scariest sections of dense wooden areas. Taken come at you without notice and will stop at nothing to kill Saga. The enemies are varied and aggressive; coming upon a pair in the forest will likely cause you grief. Enemies are dangerous in Alan Wake 2 and if you don’t pay attention a flying axe will drop Saga in seconds. Pair intense combat encounters with limited resources, and you’re left picking and choosing when to stay and fight or live to fight. Other Taken are brutish, hulking masses who can down you with a hammer strike. In general, the variety of enemies is a step up for the series, and the series is better for it. Just try to keep your wits about you in battle because the Taken will not make your journey easy.

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Like in Alan Wake, the best way to deal with enemies is by using your primary tool, a flashlight, to break through Taken’s shield. This will leave them stunned for a moment, so you unload a full clip of bullets into them. Some enemies soak up bullets, and I often hoped I could wipe an enemy out before they got close to me. Enemies come at you from all corners, but you can dodge out of their way with a timely press of a button to knock Taken down. By focusing on glowing weak points you expose on enemies, you can quickly work out threats, baring you have the ammo.

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Exploration’s gotten an overhaul in that you now have several more significant, open-ended levels densely filled with puzzles, clues, and enemies. Lamp posts offer a reprieve from Taken enemies, and you’ll want to use the light to plan your path forward. Also hidden throughout the levels are Cult Stashes with flares, flash bangs, ammo, and health kits, but you’ll need to use keen detective skills to piece together how each one unlocks.

Alan and Saga have skill trees you can upgrade, but I found they don’t amount to much in the grand scheme. Saga’s skill tree focuses on her weapons, and you use manuscript pieces to buff your pistols and shotgun. Alan’s Words of Power skill tree is different as you discover words hidden throughout each level and use those words to grow strong by upgrading various traits.

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Let the Lights Guide You Home

In the first for the series, you have dual protagonists, and you can freely swap between Alan and Saga at save points. Both characters have dedicated campaigns, as Saga’s fending off Taken in Bright Falls while Alan’s caught in Limbo in the Dark Place, a hellish dimension where all your fears are amplified and used against you. The paranormal elements brought on by games in the Remedy Connected Universe, like Quantum Break and Control, bleed into Alan Wake 2,  leading to moments where the two heroes work together across dimensions to stop a significant threat from shifting into our world.

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In these moments, the weirdness dials up to the max, and the Dark Presence tries to get Saga and Alan to fall victim to its schemes. Gameplay bleeds into reality sometimes as you realize it is hard to understand what is real and what isn’t and how fiction becomes reality. Every curve ball thrown at you throughout the 20-hour campaign is almost paid off by the credits roll, and while not everything connects satisfactorily, most story threads are handled well.

Right Those Wrongs, Alan Wake

Both characters have a lot to do through their respective campaigns. Alan’s exploration of the Dark Place is a highlight as it looks like New York and offers twists and turns to discover. I spent many nights exploring the areas around New York as Alan. To get home, he uses the Writers Room to formulate plot details with the help of Echoes and in-game scenes inspired by his writing. These beats help Alan prepare ways to escape the Dark Place.

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I feel like if you’ve come to this point, then you’ll feel a bit confused. I don’t blame you either. The good thing about Alan Wake 2 is that you don’t need to have played any previous titles to enjoy it, nor do you need to know about Control, but it helps if you know how each game connects to the other. Alan’s sections also include some excellent puzzles based on lights and using them to switch between dimensions. Similarly, this is used in writing the story as Alan, as you can choose scenes and keywords that change your environment. These sections remind me of The Oldest House in Control, as you might feel lost maneuvering the world, but it certainly feels good once you figure out how this place messes with you.

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Verdict

Alan Wake 2 is unlike anything you’ll play now or next year. It is a bold, risky sequel that respects the player by delivering a captivating tale. In the decade since the American Nightmare expansion, Remedy has seen some lows but has bounced back tremendously. Alan Wake 2 is a brilliant follow-up to a cult favourite game that respects the player’s ability to focus and keep up with the plot. What you see is a culmination of nearly thirty years of talent brought forth to deliver an experience that very few other developers can provide.

Editor's Choice

 

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Review: Alan Wake 2
Reader Rating0 Votes
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Liked
Two excellent campaigns that feel different from each other
Saga's story is excellent, tons of meta details that are incredible
Every level is densely packed with details and stunning
Updates and delivers a worthwhile sequel to Alan Wake
Didn't Like
Minor difficulty spikes