It has been a long time coming, but we are finally back into the Dark Place with the release of Alan Wake 2. A project that many never thought was going to be made given how Remedy Entertainment still seemed to love the IP but was putting out other amazing games instead. Now, thirteen years later, we have a chance to join Alan Wake again in his nightmare and see just how the story should have played out. All while changing it along the way, if needed, and taking on the role of another poor soul pulled into all of this darkness. Grab some hot cocoa and gather up your blankie as we dive into our review of the game and just how it all flows out there now that it has hit the PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
The year is 2023 and FBI agent Saga Anderson is called out to Cauldron Lake to investigate a new string of murders. This time, though, it looks as if the victim is a former FBI agent who vanished without a trace thirteen years ago. At the same time that agent came out to the lake to investigate things and the writer Alan Wake. Things are about to go sideways as Sage realizes that the horrors she has wandered into are not fiction and things are getting changed around her. All as a long-standing Altered World Event keeps playing out. Not to mention getting cryptic clues from Alan Wake as well and seeing that the writer might also need some help getting back from the Dark Place too.
Right out of the gate, and you will see it in the gameplay below for Alan Wake 2, I am going to need to dig into the UI and Case File mechanics of the game. This is where Sage, and to an extent Alan, will need to look over clues and events to place them in order to try to solve things. While it works in terms of the story being told, for a gameplay mechanic it is a little rough. For Saga, there is a lot of guesswork to place things so you can move the story forward. Given that there is no way to place it all incorrectly, it seems like something that is only here to pad the gameplay. There were quite a few times I was playing and found a dead stop in Alan Wake 2 all because I did not click a few things in the background on the board. It did lead to some extra exploring out in the world, but also a lot of frustration when I found out I only needed to place one more bit of evidence that pretty much just played out like finding collectible documents in the game. When it came to Alan, it did allow us to "rewrite" part of the story, but mostly just in a way that shifted the world around to keep moving. Something that had another mechanic in the game to do the same thing already. Not a winning thing in my book.
Next, I will have to say, while some of the puzzles in Alan Wake 2 were very well thought out and well-crafted, there was a whole lot in the mix that felt like they only made sense if you worked at Remedy. Sometimes it was as simple as looking at glowing symbols and then figuring out the order they needed to be placed in a combination lock. Other times, it was ready a document that gave very cryptic clues that led you to look at a document on the other side of the room, which was insanely more cryptic, all to memorize a three-digit code. I understand what they are going for, but some of these felt like Escape Room puzzles that are made just so they can call it "hard" and claim no one can solve it. All of this also tries to explain why any normal person in Alan Wake 2 would have even written these things this way. Not to mention, the example I gave was coming from a character who is actively trying to help us in the story. It felt forced and made me scratch my head in the worst way possible out there.
The last thing I will hit on for Alan Wake 2 is going to be more of a nitpick more than a true hatred. It is worth noting, though, as it will lead others to feel as if there is a massive fault in the game. This comes down to the live-action and gameplay cross-over sections. For those that have not seen it yet, there are some live-action sections to push the story forward, as well as give jump scares. These are fun mind-bending things and can be a whole lot of fun when they are mixed in. The only issue in all of this is that some of the actors were not the ones that offered the voices in Alan Wake 2 and when they try to sync it all up, it does not land. It does not land well. Once you get used to it all, it can be ignored and one of the sections it happens in is one of the best in the game, in my opinion, but for those not ready for it, it will break the immersion of it all rather quickly. Almost to the point where you will question the overall quality of the game instead of the art they are going for. A nitpick, for sure, but one that did not land as well as I was hoping for.
It has been a while since I have played a good horror game that drives up the tension well and keeps it going, and Alan Wake 2 has finally broken that streak. Even when some of the goofier parts of the story or elements that are linked in to reference other games, it works so well and keeps that dread flowing nonstop in the game. Not only that, but it places in nice little breaks at the perfect time to allow players to catch a breath and recenter before hitting us all again. More so when you hop into the Dark Place with Alan and see what he has been going through since the events of Alan Wake. There have been a lot of smaller titles out there that have done this well but have been a shorter experience, in this one, though, it is done so well with the way some of the shadow people are only able to be spotted on the edges of the flashlight to many other body horror elements mixed right in. That all means that it is a full experience and not a one-off that only truly shines if you can play it multiple times. All of the great things for a great horror story are here and I am all for that.
Spookiness aside, at least as it comes to story and events, the world design and build for Alan Wake 2 is also top-notch and has you wanting to explore everything you can in the mix. Not only to gather up all of the limited resources and lore that is out there, but there is a bit of environmental storytelling going on in the mix that many might not pick up on until it is too late. It is hinted at during one of the Alan Wake segments where he rewrites the world, but those elements are littered throughout the game and adds not only to the tension and darkness that the residents are going through, but also some of the mindsets. Things that when you look back on them, make later events make more sense and you hate yourself for not picking up on it all early. This is an investigation story as well as a horror story and all of that is placed out there for us to solve before the game feeds it to us all directly. Just as a good thriller and drama should do even when not leaning into the supernatural and horror side of things. A testament to how some good storytelling can be done in video games
The last bit of praise I will give Alan Wake 2, as there is quite a bit more I could heap onto it, has to come down to the basic controls of the game and the combat mechanics. It is still close to what we had in the first title with the shining of a flashlight to weaken and then use whatever we have available to help them end with all of their living. It just feels like Remedy learned so much more in the time it took to get to the release of Alan Wake 2 and it helps bring the game fully into a new generation. Even if you stripped out all of the story and other elements in the mix, it is a lot of fun to head out and hunt down the Taken in the game. A great sign of things as Alan Wake 2 does not need to rely on it telling a gripping story but shows that it could be a great horror shooter even if the story does not vibe with everyone. Hells, I found myself going out to take on a few more Taken just for fun and to open up some inventory space in a few sections because it was fun to do and not a chore. A truly solid gameplay experience all around.
Thirteen years ago, when Alan Wake first dropped out there, I was enthralled and wanted to have much more of this game. The time it took to finally get here feels completely warranted with this one hitting it out of the park once again. Even when there are a few of the basic issues and gameplay elements that were in there to fill run time, it all still functioned not only as a great game but a solid narrative experience. If there was an option to have the case board and profiling to fill in automatically, it would be damn close to a perfect experience. None of that ever truly detracted a lot from Alan Wake 2 given that every other aspect from the horror, gameplay, and story were completely on point. If you are in the horror genre at all, this is a title you should rush out and pick up. I would dare say that it even makes up for many of the other horror video games that have been canceled out there as it gives us all of those same levels of dread and panic while telling a gripping story in the mix. Not to mention it has one of the best musical numbers I have experienced in a video game to date.
I give Alan Wake 2 9 Taxidermized Deer Heads on the Taxidermized Deer Head scale.
Alan Wake 2 — Hades Plays The Game [PS5 Gameplay]
Alan Wake 2 was developed and published by Remedy Entertainment for the PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on October 27th, 2023. A PlayStation copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.