Alan Wake 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Epic Games Publishing
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2023


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PS5/XSX/PC Preview - 'Alan Wake 2'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 27, 2023 @ 7:00 a.m. PDT

Alan Wake 2 is a survival horror game with an intense atmosphere and a twisted, layered, psychological story.

I remember getting some hands-on time with Alan Wake at an E3 ages ago, and my first impression was ... "What?"

This wasn't a game that seemed to fit on a show floor, crammed into a noisy space where wham-bang, instant-energy games typically exist. That's an uphill battle for a dude in a tweed jacket shining a flashlight on people and then shooting them with a pistol. I didn't have the benefit of context, but I had the feeling I was playing something that needed a living room, good sound, and time.

Little did I realize that we were witness to the dawn of a signature mind-bending, freaky-fun miniverse from Remedy. It's been 13 years since the release of Alan Wake, which squeezed the mind and senses while carrying out the amazing task of turning a bestselling author into an avenger against the dark and supernatural. It was a portal into the collective mind of Sam Lake and Remedy, and it touched on energy we'd been seeking since the first Max Payne — and people were here for it. It helped make whatever Remedy did an event release.

Titles like Quantum Break and especially Control one of my favorite games ever — have kept the door to the Alan Wake-verse (Wake's World?) ajar for the past few years. I feel like those games were preparing us for the mental storm that would be Alan Wake 2 — which we got to check out with other media folks at a recent hands-on event in Los Angeles.

Before the playing session, there was a panel discussion that included Lake and several of the actors you'll see in the game, including the combo of Ilkka Villi/Matthew Porretta (Alan Wake), Melanie Liburd (new character Saga Anderson), Shawn Ashmore (Tim Breaker here, but who was the protagonist Jack Joyce in Quantum Break) and a very game Janina Gavankar ... who will be playing an agent from the Federal Bureau of Control. That's about as on-the-nose an acknowledgement as one can get about the ties, however tight or loose, that bind Remedy's other games to the Alan Wake canon.

One of the other key takeaways Lake and the panel expounded on dealt with tone: While the original Alan Wake was a dark, oddball mystery action game, its sequel will lean into the elements of survival horror. Lake alluded to that tonal pivot opening a variety of doors that the designers were pretty eager to walk through. Sure, there's still going to be that Twin Peaks, Stephen King-adjacent creative umami that makes a Remedy game what it is ... but now we're going to get some Resident Evil, some A24-style horror and some "True Detective."

Our playtime was divided into two sessions, each featuring a different character: Saga Anderson and Alan Wake. Anderson is a prodigiously talented FBI profiler investigating a manuscript page and some brutal happenings involving a cult that eventually lead her to a town (it feels like a village in size) named Watery. Alan Wake, unfortunately, is stuck in a — dimension, I'd say — called the Dark Place and has been for a really long time. He's trying to stay alive, keep his sanity, and find his way out.

Of the many gameplay elements I encountered within the respective missions of these two characters, one stood out the most: the ability of each to travel to a "place" within their own mind in real time (meaning don't do this while you're fighting) to organize and assemble the narrative pieces around them and build a path forward.

Both places are specially tailored to their characters. Saga Anderson can mentally retreat to the "Mind Place," which looks like an actual large office complete with a filing cabinet and giant case board, where Saga can arrange clues she finds under certain categories tied to the case. It's a nice little mental puzzle each time, and to prevent you from waywardly pinning things on the board at random like someone who wears a tinfoil hat, the game offers some subtle guidance about what goes where. Doing this helps unlock story pieces and generally helps you understand where to go next. This element felt like one of the cornerstones of the whole experience, and it requires a fair amount of common sense and concentration. I can imagine some people killing small chunks of time screwing around with the board.

In Alan's case, his mental place is the "writer's room," which felt darker and a little more sparse (maybe because the poor guy's mind is fraying after being in some weird zone of doom for like a decade), but its most important characteristic is a storyboard, which Wake uses to arrange notes and manuscript ideas and pieces to actually shape the world around him. It allows him to play with time by "rewriting" certain parts; that way, he can alter time to clear obstacles or open up paths that weren't available before. I still wasn't quite used to it while I was trying it, but it felt intuitive enough that it could become second nature.

At the same time, I wonder if that could be a future annoyance for some. I found myself constantly switching back and forth between mental spaces for both characters, and I'm curious if that could get maddening over the course of time. Then again, in a Resident Evil game, you're constantly screwing around with your inventory and think nothing of it.

I was fascinated by the picturesque settings in both missions. For Saga's mission, the aforementioned town of Watery was eerily quaint and fully weird. I went into a bar and found Ahti, the omnipresent and all-powerful janitor from Control, crooning with intention on the stage. I don't know why, and Saga sure as hell didn't, but everyone else was locked in on the performance. Saga is meant to represent the perspective of people visiting the world of Wake (and really, Remedy) for the first time or for the first time in a long time. She doesn't quite understand what's happening — or why the residents keep talking to her as if they've known her for a while. This mission also took me through a place called Coffee World, which is a coffee-themed amusement park. It's as goofy as it sounds.

It's not as goofy when a crazed person shrouded in darkness pops out of a spinning java cup ride and hurls an ax at you. The refreshingly straightforward take on combat is back, where shining a light on enemies weakens them to the point where they can actually be shot and killed. Saga's a little better at this than Alan, expectedly, but the enemies I fought also had some extra juice. In survival horror fashion, they can swarm you in a small group and cause you to take evasive maneuvers — and some have abilities, like being able to teleport/dodge. Also in true survival horror fashion, I spent a lot of time trying to save resources (like bullets), searching for things like keys to doors on the other side of the map (a slight exaggeration, but you get it), and solving a variety of puzzles.

I found Alan's particular sample mission to be visually striking: walking on the street at night in a city battered with constant rain, with the looming neon signs and streetlights illuminating my path to a classic big-city hotel. Alan's got slightly longer hair — and a gun. Frankly, the whole scene looked like something out of John Wick (Alan Wick? John Wake?). Combat was a little more difficult for me this go-round, and I died a few times, which was not pleasant to experience. Each death is followed by snappy-quick live-action video of Alan falling to the ground dead, covered in blood with an empty stare, only to "wake up" again. That gives the impression that perhaps Alan can't really "die" in the Dark Place — or perhaps he's already dead. Who knows?

It's a tall ask for Alan Wake 2 to enter what is a completely different gaming landscape than the one that was laid before it more than a decade ago. We live in a world of Elden Rings and Starfields now, but as Control showed, there's always going to be room for Remedy's style of storytelling. My impression of Alan Wake more than a decade ago may have been "What?" but I left my play session of Alan Wake 2 with a sense of "Whoa." It made my head hurt in a promising way. We'll see what happens when the game drops on Oct. 27, 2023.

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