Alan Wake 2 – One of The Best Games of the Generation, Again
Alan Wake wasn’t just one of the best games to release on Xbox 360, it was one of the best games of the entire generation.
13 years later, I still can’t believe a sequel is here, and after completing the game, I’m asking myself if this will be thought of in the same way.
I loved the first Alan Wake a lot. Like, a whole lot.
In the middle of my Alan Wake 2 playthrough I jumped into the backwards compatible version on Xbox Series X and loaded into one of my old saves – and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t still look and feel great.
I love that it has this great horror theme without strictly being a horror itself, and I love that the combat and gameplay keeps things super tense without being overly scary. I love horror, but I love that Alan Wake was a more accessible type of horror story, especially for those who usually keep away from the scary stuff.
The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Silence
Alan Wake 2 is a very different game to Alan Wake. The sequel makes a full shift to survival horror, leaving behind many of the reasons I liked the first game so much, but I really love that Remedy was confident enough to not just update an old formula, but completely evolve everything about Alan Wake with the sequel.
There are a few things about the gameplay systems that I don’t love, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.
Remedy games are anything but average, and Alan Wake 2’s story and setting is an ambitious continuation of the first game, with the time between the first and second game being the same real time that’s passed between the release of the first game and its sequel.
What really makes things exciting – and I’m not going to say much about this – is that since CONTROL, we now know that some Remedy games may share a connected universe, and the way they’re going about it feels very smart and restrained – unlike, you know, the way some other people handle this sort of thing.
It takes Two to Tango
Alan Wake, the tortured writer who’s been trapped in the dark place for 13 years, now shares the limelight and torchlight with a second protagonist,
Saga Anderson, an FBI agent who travels to Bright Falls with her partner that looks a whole lot like Max Payne – not that one, and for intellectual property reasons, not this one either – to investigate a series of murders.
As you might expect, things start going a little “Stephen-King-y” pretty quick, with the bigger story then unfolding over the 20-30 hour campaign.
Something pretty neat is that in many of the Resident-Evil-esque saferooms, you can use a, well… bucket, to swap between Alan and Saga to progress their stories as they spiral towards the conclusion.
With Saga in the forests and familiar surroundings of Bright Falls and Alan in the “dark place”, represented as a twisted version of Alan’s perception of New York, it’s a nice literal change of scenery when you swap between them.
Saga is also leading in investigation which she manages in her “mind place”, and I loved the aspects of working through case files, linking evidence and discoveries or profiling characters – detective stuff is my jam.
Alan, on the other hand, uses a really nifty mechanic where he changes the story of his book to alter his surroundings and open up new scenarios and paths. I really loved just how seamless and creative it all was.
Interestingly enough, the game that kept coming to mind the most while playing Alan Wake 2 was actually The Evil Within 2, the survival horror from the same studio responsible for other horrific terrors such as, err… Hi-Fi Rush.
Out With the Old
The move to survival horror means that Alan Wake 2 loses many of the elements that I really loved from the first game, like burning away words with your flashlight, a bigger focus on skedaddling from one light to the next and a focus on tension over scares, exchanging them for a more traditional horror game setup, including inventory management, save rooms and over-the-shoulder gun combat.
Also, make no mistake, Alan Wake 2 can be scary as balls sometimes, and environments that look like they come out of Silent Hill don’t help either. That said, some of the jump scare tactics are a little cheap and overused.
Bleh Witch Project
The combat itself is clunky and frustrating at times. I’d jumped back into the Resident Evil 7 Remake again just before playing Alan Wake 2 and also played the Dead Space Remake earlier in the year, and despite being such a similar combat system, Alan Wake 2 easily takes third place where combat is concerned.
Since we’ve lost the slow-motion and tension aspects of Alan Wake 1, I often found it very tricky to keep track of enemies, but in a frustrating way, not a scary or challenging way. Inventory management could also be better and didn’t really feel like it added too much to the experience.
Riddle Me This
The world is filled with discoverable stashes or puzzles that range from looking around the environment to doing some pretty gnarly maths problems.
What I really love is that you’re often just left to deal with it – no annoying hints being blurted out by your character. It sometimes left me frustrated that I couldn’t figure them out, and I even missed out on having some good gear for longer than necessary – but I liked that it respected me as a player, and let it be my problem. Google is just a few phone taps away anyways, right?
On that note, pacing could be better too, as I often found myself sort of just wombling around for long periods of time – and even with the world being semi-open for you to explore, I was never quite sure if I should go exploring down a side path or if the area I see on the map is an area I might need to visit as a part of the main story later.
Alan Wake 2 is still a fun game to play, although it feels clear that the storytelling came first for Remedy, and while I think that means that Alan Wake 2’s core gameplay could have been even better, I can really respect the focus on what they felt was the most important aspects of the experience.
See No Evil
What really helps to support the great story and discoveries, is that following on from the high standards set by CONTROL, Alan Wake 2 has some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen running on a console, while the music and soundtrack created for the game is top notch and a big part of the experience itself. I also wanted to note that I really loved that the characters would often make exclamations like that you’d expect from someone in the situation, often mirroring what I was saying and thinking as well.
I had the option of a performance mode that targets 60fps or a quality mode that targets 30fps but considering the pace of the game and the importance of the audio/visual aspects, I very happily opted to stick to the quality mode and was happy I did.
The image can get noisy at times, but the atmosphere provided by thick fog, dramatic lighting, beautiful reflections and incredibly detailed characters, environments and objects had me in a constant state of awe.
The game jumps between real video footage and video game graphics, and we’re getting so close to real looking visuals that these sorts of jumps are barely even jarring anymore.
It was also pretty polished at launch, although I had a few issues with cut or delayed audio a few times.
So, does it deserve to be Game of the Year?
The excellent details or little frustrations are almost irrelevant next to the real reason that Alan Wake 2 is so special and why it deserves to be considered as the best Game of the Year.
2023 may be filled with many great games, but how many of them truly delivered an experience that you haven’t already sort of seen or played in some form before. Sure, some gameplay elements may be a little familiar, but Alan Wake 2 is wildly experimental with its storytelling and presentation on top of still delivering a video game that’s wholly engrossing, fun to play and incredibly good to look at.
As a sequel to Alan Wake, it’s a bold shift in genre and story that’s usually only seen in reboots. As a continuation of Remedy’s connected universe, it’s an exciting next step that opens up the door for even more mystery and discovery. The door has definitely been left wide open.
Alan Wake 2 is what it looks like when a team that’s capable, confident and firing on all cylinders puts all their trust and energy into a focused vision by a creator that really seems to know what the hell they are doing.
But hey, Alan Wake 2 is just a video game, but it’s also not just a video game at all. It’s the rare combination of technical mastery and artistic vision that furthers our understanding of what video game experiences can be.
So, does Alan Wake 2 live up to the 13 years of expectations that I built up for myself? Well, no it doesn’t, because I expected to get more of the same, with a few twists and some better graphics. Instead, it was something very different and unexpected that pushed Remedy’s excellent approach to storytelling and immersive experiences to another level… and I can’t see how that isn’t a whole lot better.