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Alan Wake 2 Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 & PC)

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Alan Wake 2 Promotional Art

Remedy Entertainment keeping us on tenterhooks for the best part of thirteen years for a follow-up chapter to 2010’s Alan Wake wasn’t ideal. But alas, the team behind the slept-on survival-horror has finally come up trumps with its latest, and let’s face, well overdue sequel, Alan Wake 2. Question is, was it worth the wait, or was it more or an ink blot on an otherwise beautifully written manuscript? Well, to answer that, we’ll have to go back to the roots of “The Dark Place”—a supernatural dimension in which art and literature manipulate time and space.

Granted, it’s been a fair while since I retired the old flashlight and quill, so returning to the core of the ominous realm was something of a surreal experience, to say the very least. Having said that, returning to the jacket-sporting author’s endless predicament was nevertheless a homecoming I yearned to delve into at first light — even if it did mean crossing paths with a series of new characters and story arcs along the way.

It’s been a dozen or more hours since I first fumbled the keys of Wake’s newest typewriter, so for what it’s worth, I can just about draft the conclusive answer to shed light on that initial question: a compelling sequel, or an ink blot? Let’s begin our dive into Remedy Entertainment’s latest long-lost revival.

In the Wake of Catastrophe

Close-up image of Alan Wake in Alan Wake 2

If the ending of the first Alan Wake is still a little foggy in your mind, then just know this: the story ended with the titular protagonist and acclaimed author writing a manuscript that essentially pulled his wife, Alice, out of the Dark Place, but at the cost of keeping himself locked in the endless nightmare to gallivant about between fact and fiction. Well, in spite of the countless revisions and complete rewrites, Alan is still very much stuck in said supernatural Dark Place, which, surprise surprise, is where the sequel picks up from.

The beginning of Alan Wake 2 begins in a modern day Bright Falls—the epicenter and smokescreen for the hellish Dark Place in which Alan is involuntarily imprisoned. For the first few hours, however, you gawp over a new flashlight-wielding character—an FBI Agent who’s given the unfortunate task of investigating a slew of victims that pertain to an overhanging ritualistic massacre. Sounds all rather frightening, no? Well, in the wake of catastrophe, Agent Saga Anderson must venture out to the once-idyllic town, and essentially thread the clues together to form something of a bulletin board—a proper cliche web of thoughts, with which you can use to daisy chain events and evidence together to construct a clearer image of the underlying issue at hand.

What’s great about Alan Wake 2 is that it doesn’t naturally assume that you’ve already run through all the motions, and that you’re a walking, talking, tapestry of knowledge with all the answers. Rather, the opening portions of the story aim to settle you in, if not through well-paced storytelling, then through small details that relay back to the original narrative. And then, once you’ve settled in and collected your thoughts, all hell breaks loose — because why wouldn’t it?

Dividing Fact and Fiction

Saga Anderson standing at Bright Falls crossroads in Alan Wake 2

For the most part, Alan Wake 2 dangles you between fact and fiction—two parallel worlds that often overlap and merge with one another. With Alan stuck in Cauldron Lake, and Saga gradually working to bleed into the Dark Place from a different dimension, it all becomes rather strange, and often a tad confusing, even. But that’s what makes Alan Wake 2 the compelling masterclass that it is: it leaves you hanging with more questions than answers, and often does all in its power to lure you into a never-ending web of possibilities and outcomes. And as it turned out, that pattern went on to survive for upwards of seventeen hours—a feat that, quite frankly, not every top-shelf story-driven game can pull out of the bag.

The fact that the sequel is divided into two unique perspectives certainly makes it twice as compelling as the first, simply down to the fact that each character comes with their own strengths, weaknesses, predicaments, and goals. What’s more, with each and every chapter being ridiculously unpredictable, I often found that, even when I was just learning to divide truth from fiction, something else would prevent me from chalking up the whole portrait. And kudos to Remedy Entertainment, because that constant doubt of ever being able to make perfect sense of the darkness was able to stick with me for the entire journey. Never a dull moment when Alan Wake’s in the building, apparently.

Hello Again, Energizer

Saga Anderson shining torch on enemy in Alan Wake 2

At its core, Alan Wake 2 is a third-person story-driven game, which means the lion’s share of the gameplay revolves around light environmental puzzles, A-to-B exploration, and the occasional combat encounter. As far as the latter feature goes, combat is fairly similar to the first — only a little tighter, cleaner, and easier to grasp. But other than that, it’s very much the case of grabbing your flashlight, loading up on good old-fashioned batteries, and blasting a shadowy figure with a beacon of light, followed by a bullet à la double-tap. Like before, there are also flare guns, pump-action shotguns, and even a mixture of rifles, to boot.

Sure enough, combat isn’t all that difficult in Alan Wake 2 — especially if you’re something of a dab hand in crowd control and marksmanship. There are also a selection of difficulty levels to choose from, too, so you needn’t ever worry about being beaten to a pulp by a gang of silhouettes with a shared pack mentality. For that reason alone, it was relatively easy to slug through all the content the sequel had to offer without any major drawbacks.

Performance-wise, the game runs incredibly well, with little to no jitters or frame issues to sift through or tamper with in the in-game settings menu. Not that this comes as much of a surprise, mind you, what with Remedy Entertainment’s flawless track record of producing well-oiled video games with minimal mechanical setbacks. Can’t complain there — like, at all.

The Thrill of the Chase

Alan Wake holding revolver in Alan Wake 2

I wouldn’t call Alan Wake 2 a full-fledged horror, but more of an atmospheric thriller that implements a few well-timed jump scares and gory theatrics. Like the first game, it also taps into its survival roots by having you manage weapons, ammunition, and sources of light. Not that this was a major issue, thankfully, as I rarely ever struggled to locate a set of batteries for my flashlight or a new flare to load into my gun. And even during the tougher battles with dozens of enemies, I never quite had to resort to fleeing from an encounter to save face or the final few shells in the chamber.

The feature that really sold me, to be fair, was the fact that you could switch between Alan and Saga and carve out your own narrative from both sides of the same world. It was because of this that, even during the quietest moments, everything still felt fresh and progressive, and with both sides of said coin being littered with genuinely interesting and thrilling goals, I never exactly felt biased towards one character, in particular, either. Again, not a whole lot of games can do that — especially in the realm of horror.

Verdict

Saga Anderson approaching abandoned building in Alan Wake 2

It certainly took ‘em a long time to finalize the manuscript, but for what it’s worth, the wait to read the latest pages in the Alan Wake anthology most definitely paid off — and then some. Granted, I couldn’t help but wonder whether, in the wake of the American Nightmare DLC reception being a little lukewarm by comparison, the sequel would rehash its previous mistakes. But I was wrong, as Alan Wake 2 is more or less an even grander and more powerful love letter to the series’ reputation.

To answer that initial question, is Alan Wake 2 a genuinely good game, or an ink blot on a wet page — it is, without doubt, the former. And while 2023 has indeed seen its admirable share of compelling survival-horror games come to light, herein lies an exception that shines brighter than the dozens that have come before it. Mechanically, it’s on point—to the extent that it rarely reveals so much as a crack at any point during the seventeen hour story. And that’s only scraping the barrel of one particular tick box, too.

Remedy Entertainment set out to tighten the bond with the decade-old series and its IP die-hards — and boy, it came through. The only question I’m left to ponder now is this: is there a third chapter in the pipeline, or is Remedy going to continue to play hooky with the quill and ink for another thirteen years?

Alan Wake 2 Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 & PC)

Write Us Another

It may have taken thirteen years to shove out the door, but it was certainly worth the wait. Alan Wake 2 is a credit to Remedy Entertainment—a manuscript that just keeps on evolving and finding new ways to wrangle in curveballs and crossroads. As for what comes next for the series is unclear, but I will say this: Alan Wake — write us another.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.