We’ve been waiting for Alan Wake 2 ever since rolling the credits on the first game way back in 2010. We have to admit we lost hope at some point, though. After a troubled development period, Alan Wake wasn’t much of a financial success for Remedy, but became more popular after launch thanks to world of mouth. A sequel would be risky. With the release of Control in 2019, however, there was a glimmer of light. Remedy hadn’t forgotten about Alan Wake after all. It had simply been biding time for his return.
And so here we are in the year 2023 with Alan Wake 2. It actually happened. Though while it does continue the story of the titular writer, for much of it you’ll be playing as a new character, Saga Anderson. In fact, you could very much say that Alan Wake 2 is essentially two games in one.
An FBI Agent, Saga Anderson heads into Bright Falls with her partner, Alex Casey, in order to investigate a series of ritualistic killings. She soon discovers that there’s more than meets the eye to this picturesque town and its surrounding areas, however. Between locals greeting her as if she’s lived there for years, and encountering strange, shadowy beings keen to attack her, she begins to wonder what’s real.
“This is Remedy’s most ambitious and imaginative game yet, with some truly outstanding scenes that will stick with you for a long time to come.”
Playing as Saga, much of the gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played the original Alan Wake. You’ll explore environments, ranging from forests to retirement homes, seeking out the items needed to progress while engaging in battle with Taken. Once again, your torch is just as important as your actual firearms; only by dispersing the darkness that shields Taken can you soften them up to make them vulnerable to a bevy of shots from your pistol, shotgun, or whatever else you’ve laid your hands on.
What really makes playing as Saga unique, however, is her Mind Place. You can retreat to this at any time, though be careful as it doesn’t pause the game, leaving you open to attack. In the Mind Place your goal is to collate the evidence you’ve gained during your investigation, placing it on a board in order to make sense of it all, and perhaps give a clue as to what your next steps should be. Saga can also profile the people she meets, trying to get into their way of thinking in order to to reveal other useful info.
Ultimately, when you’re playing as Saga, Alan Wake 2 feels like a series of True Detective. Each chapter pulls you further into an eerie, dark tale full of mystery and murder, balancing tense action with revelatory breakthroughs made via investigation. You’re largely free to determine the pace here, too. Push on with the next story objective if you wish, or perhaps explore Cauldron Lake, solving optional puzzles that reward you with perk-bestowing charms to equip. It’s up to you.
With this being Alan Wake 2, you do of course take control of the titular writer eventually. His story largely takes place in The Dark Place, where he’s desperately fighting to get free and save his wife, Alice. It’s safe to say that while the core combat mechanics remain in place, Alan’s gameplay sections are very different from Saga’s. Seemingly stuck in a loop, you’ll have to fight to break free, visiting a range of locations across a otherworldly slice of New York.
While Saga has to deal with her fair share of hostile entities, the terror is really ramped up when playing as Alan as he’s constantly plagued by shadowy figures. They say your name menacingly as you approach, never knowing if they’re going to attack or simply let you pass by. You can raise your torch and focus your light to disperse them if you want, but it’s not an effective use of your resources. It’s better to simply be vigilant. In any case, they’re just one of the obstacles you’ll overcome when trying to escape The Dark Place. The other is the actual world around you.
“…Multi-layered and utterly engrossing, with frequent twists and turns that you genuinely won’t expect”
In each of the important areas you visit you’ll frequently find your progress halted. It’s here where Alan’s alternative to Saga’s Mind Place comes into play – the Writer’s Room. By matching scenes within locations to echoes, you can change aspects of the environment to your will, perhaps revealing new items or opening up new routes. There’s another mechanic to take into account, too; a lamp. This can be used to draw light from certain sources and transfer it to others. Needless to say, you’ll need to have your thinking cap on when playing as Alan, as well as be adept at fending off attackers.
As much fun as it it playing as both Saga and Alan, however, each with their own unique mechanics and scenarios, it’s the story here that’s the reason you’ll keep playing. It’s multi-layered and utterly engrossing, with frequent twists and turns that you genuinely won’t expect. Playing Quantum Break, Control and even the original Alan Wake isn’t required to enjoy this sequel, but you’ll get a lot more out of it as you encounter familiar faces and unravel aspects of the story that tie in with Remedy’s connected universe.
It also helps that Alan Wake 2 looks so, so good. We’ve primarily played the game on PS5, where there are two visual presets to choose from. Quality mode targets 30fps while increasing visual detail and outputting at a higher resolution. Needless to say, it looks absolutely glorious. Most, however, will likely want to play using the Performance preset, as it’s here where the gameplay truly shines. The only real downside is that it makes the image quality look a little soft.
Of course, on PC you have much more control over visual quality and performance, but it can take some work finding the ideal balance. We did encounter more technical issues playing on PC rather than console, however, such as stuttering and areas not loading correctly. Hopefully these can be fixed up quickly with a patch.
“One of the best games of the year, Alan Wake 2 is utterly mesmerising and truly unique.“
You might encounter some frustrations when playing Alan Wake 2 – a puzzle might leave you stumped, for example, or you might not be able to proceed until you’ve inexplicably visited Saga’s Mind Place and laid down all of your evidence – but the pay-off makes everything more than worth it. This is Remedy’s most ambitious and imaginative game yet, with some truly outstanding scenes that will stick with you for a long time to come. We’re overjoyed that Alan is back, and we couldn’t have ever anticipated where his story would go. One of the best games of the year, Alan Wake 2 is utterly mesmerising and truly unique. It’s a work of art that blends videogame and film like never before.