After waiting for well over a decade, I was pretty sure we weren’t getting a sequel to Alan Wake. The original spooky outing was loved by fans and critic alike, but it felt like its developer Remedy moved on and we were forced to do the same. Then something unexpected happened – an Alan Wake themed piece of DLC released for their most recent game at the time Control, and we all dared to dream again. That dream was manifested into reality. Alan Wake 2 is finally here, and it’s one of the weirdest and most wonderful sequels I’ve ever played.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that when playing an Alan Wake game you’d expect the game to kick off with you playing as Alan Wake himself, but that’s not where our story begins this time around. For the first few hours of the game our protagonist is Saga Anderson, an FBI agent investigating a murder in Bright Falls. When the victim turns out to be a former agent who went missing thirteen years ago at the same time as a certain famous author, it becomes apparent that this isn’t just a simple case to solve and something more sinister is afoot.
While investigating the scene of the crime for evidence, Saga and her hard boiled partner Casey stumble across a page of a manuscript supposedly written by Alan Wake. The story told on the page includes them as characters, and seems to be leading them towards the answers they seek. When more of these mysterious pages appear and detail events that later come true it’s clear that not all is as it seems, and that’s putting it very lightly.
While all this is going on, Wake is still trapped in a nightmare alternate reality full of shadowy creatures. While desperately trying to use his writing to find a way out of this hellish prison, he sees the ethereal form of Saga and is able to communicate with her. To find a way to push the dark forces out of Bright Falls and free Alan they’ll have to work together on their separate journeys, and overcome some seriously messed up situations. Without veering off into spoiler territory that’s about as much as I can say about the story of Alan Wake 2, but rest assured it’s a hell of a wild ride.
You’ll switch between Saga and Alan throughout the game, but it always felt like Saga was the main protagonist. As Saga you’ll travel between different parts of Bright Falls on the hunt for the truth about this messed up situation, collecting evidence and talking to the seriously outlandish cast of characters that make up this isolated community. More than anything else Alan Wake 2 at its core is a detective game, complete with pinning up evidence on a board in your “Mind Place” and using Saga’s unique talents to profile potential suspects. There are so many moments where you’ll suddenly realise what’s going on by connecting the right pieces of evidence, and it’s a seriously compelling loop.
It doesn’t take too long for your investigation to start getting interrupted by the shadowy creatures invading Bright Falls, and you’ll need to deal with them accordingly. Dispatching these disturbing foes isn’t easy though, because before you start blasting them you need to burn the darkness that’s protecting them off with a source of light (usually your torch, but flares and flashbangs are more powerful alternatives you might need in a pinch). Once the monster in your way is suitably cleansed you’ll need to pump some bullets into them, which would be easy if they ever stopped trying to beat you to a bloody pulp. You’ll need to master the art of dodging if you want to survive against even the most basic of enemies, which I ended up learning the hard way.
Alan has to deal with plenty of creepy shadow ghouls too when you’re playing as him, but because of the otherworldly location he finds himself in there are some other issues to deal with too. To get around the city he’s trapped in you’ll need to use light to change the world itself. Alan has a magical stick that can suck up light from the world and shoot it out into specific lampposts and light fixtures, and when you light up an area you’ll often make a wall blocking your progress vanish entirely, or force a door to lead somewhere else. It’s a little confusing at first, but before long you’ll be a master of the light.
Sometimes changing the light isn’t enough to make your way to the next important location in Alan’s quest though, and you’ll need to use the power of writing to change the world. Specific locations can be changed by switching to Alan’s writers room (which is a sort of weird shack in his mind) and applying a new setting to the location. By making a dead end in the subway into the meeting place of a cult you’ll unlock new ways to progress, and hopefully be able to find your way out of the maze-like environments of the other world.
Making your way through the story as Saga and Alan is one thing, but Alan Wake 2 is also packed full of optional content. My favourite of these are the nursery rhyme based puzzles scattered all over the real world, which require you to place toys you find on chalk drawings to match what’s going on in the poem. There are also cult caches placed in all sorts of places, which usually involve a puzzle to crack the code keeping the goodies inside locked away. As you progress through the game as Saga you’ll also find multiple handy objects that’ll help you unlock other areas in places you’ve already visited, so prepare to do some backtracking if you want the best gear.
You get all sorts of meaningful upgrades by exploring every nook and cranny of Bright Falls, and the dark place, from charms that provide perks to inventory upgrades. Saga can upgrade her guns with pieces of manuscript you find in lunch boxes to give them powerful new abilities, like making a crossbow bolt able to magnetise your other bullets straight into the enemy (which is as cool as it sounds). Alan can also buff his abilities by finding words of power graffitied on the environment, which can grant you anything from more effective healing items to being harder to detect by spooky monsters.
Although Alan Wake 2 is for the most part a horror game complete with jump scares and disturbing enemies, it’s also one of the weirdest and even funniest games I’ve ever played. In between getting torn apart by undead cult members, you’ll meet characters like the drunk old rockers named after Norse gods, or the Finnish brothers who make hilarious homemade adverts for local businesses. Alan in particular is thrown into some completely baffling situations that had me laughing out loud and grinning from ear to ear, and I can’t wait for everyone to experience them. Some of the best moments I had playing video games this year were thanks to Alan Wake 2.
Alongside everything else this wonderful game accomplishes, Alan Wake 2 is also one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever had the privilege of playing. The forest setting of Saga’s story is absolutely breath-taking, whether the setting sun is coating it in golden light or an oppressive storm is pounding rain across it. Alan is in a more urban setting in his sections, but somehow that manages to be even more visually impressive with incredibly varied graffiti and a glorious rainbow of neon signs reflecting their colours across the concrete. Thanks to the power of your gaming machine of choice, you have the ability at the touch of a button to instantly switch to the Mind Place or Writers Room in the blink of an eye and it never stopped impressing me. Alan Wake 2 really feels like a game that justifies you having bought that powerful new console a couple of years ago.
As you can probably tell I love a lot of things about Alan Wake 2, but it does also have a couple of issues. The game doesn’t really give you much of a chance to get used to the combat early on, and instead throws multiple enemies at you all at once without really checking you’ve gotten the hang of dodging. I found certain aspects of the combat a bit clunky in general, like using your torch to cleanse the darkness off enemies. Every time you tap one of the shoulder buttons to unleash a charge of your flashlight it blasts light at an enemy, but unless your aim is perfect it’ll end up taking two charges to finish the job which just feels bad when you know one could have worked. By the end of the game I felt like I’d gotten used to the combat, but it was never what I was excited about when booting up the game.
Alan Wake 2 is a sensational sequel that was worth waiting over a decade for. The story of Saga and Alan takes some serious twists and turns on its journey through darkness, and features some of the greatest (and most unexpected) moments of this wonderful year of gaming. Remedy has truly made something special in Alan Wake 2, and I simply wasn’t prepared to love it as much as I do.
A sensational story
Some of the best characters in games, ever
Lots to explore
Combat is a little clunky
It's easy to get lost playing as Alan