Alan Wake 2 preview: Haunting, meta-game discourse hell
It’s a disorienting day for a writer to meet Sam Lake, the creative director at Remedy Entertainment who once lent his face to the video game character Max Payne, to talk about a video game he wrote in which a writer is stuck in a never-ending writer’s block nightmare, slap in the middle of his own story, alternating between live-action sequences and in-game footage.
If you’re confused or even unsettled by this, be assured, it is by design. We’re on the seventh layer of meta-game discourse hell, and in Alan Wake 2, it will be your task as a player to help the main characters make sense of it all.
Don’t be dissuaded, there is light at the end of the tunnel!
A new main character
Despite the name-giving protagonist and horror fiction writer Alan Wake, who is back at it again after a 13-year-long nightmarish break from his writer’s block, another main character joins the fray.
Saga Anderson is more than just a badge and a gun. As an accomplished FBI agent known for cracking some of the toughest murder cases, her skills are put to the test in the eerie town of Bright Falls.
Here, amid the Pacific Northwestern wilderness, a series of ritualistic murders have sent shockwaves through the small community.
As Saga delves deeper into the investigation, she stumbles upon pages of a horror story eerily echoing her own experiences. The lines between fiction and reality blur, placing her in grave danger.
Alan and Saga's paths intertwine in the most unexpected of ways. Each approaches the enigma from a distinct perspective, unravelling layers of mystery that seemingly converge in various murderous moments. They will need each other to get out of this alive.
According to Sam Lake, Alan Wake 2 is not a “choose your own adventure" style that allows you to alter the outcome of Alan’s story. What is up to your discretion is the order you want to experience the story, allowing you to shift between Saga and Alan for the most part, with limited exceptions at the beginning and end of the story.
As Alan, you'll be navigating the labyrinthine "Dark Place", a nightmarish realm feeding off his subconscious. To aid in this daunting task, Alan has a few trusty tools at his disposal.
The “Angel torch” returns, becoming a beacon against the ominous "Taken." These shadowy figures, this time often bearing an uncanny resemblance to Alan, can only be harmed when illuminated.
Yet in comparison to its predecessor, combat in Alan Wake 2 offers a different challenge, demanding precision and strategy and increasing the time-to-kill on each individual enemy significantly.
It is no longer the faceless horde of enemies filling you with overwhelming fear, but the individual strength of each shadow, appearing to make you count and treasure every bullet.
Additionally, the torch's ability to phase shift at select locales alters the environment, revealing otherwise hidden paths - a unique option the player will have to get used to.
Equally integral to the narrative is the plot or case board in Alan’s Writer’s Room and Saga's Mind Place, a narrative tool and gameplay mechanic combined.
As players collect story threads, they can be woven together on this board, helping make sense of fragmented memories. These threads not only unravel the story but also serve as gameplay and terrain modifiers, allowing players to progress.
As Alan alters the narrative with these threads, his reality within the Dark Place shifts accordingly, allowing for experimentation of the various options to solve the grand riddle.
Gorgeous, atmospheric graphics
To be blunt, Alan Wake 2 is drop-dead gorgeous. The haunting beauty of the Dark Place with its foreboding shadows is artfully juxtaposed against the majestic panoramas of the Pacific Northwestern wilderness.
For a game that narratively revolves around light and dark, and puts those elements as a focal point of its in-game mechanics, the lighting systems are beautifully crafted with an attention to detail that oozes with effort to get it right. Remedy is not shy to show off.
At times, the game even caught me off guard as the engine crafts moments so lifelike that players might find themselves questioning the uncanny valley between in-game visuals and live-action sequences.
This blurring of realities appears to be not just a technical marvel, but a deliberate dance, challenging perceptions and celebrating Remedy's unique artistic vision. It fooled me, and I enjoyed it.
No punches pulled
During the 41-minute gameplay trailer press were shown at a theatre outside of Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, several moments clearly communicated that Alan Wake 2 is not meant for the faint-hearted gamer.
One particular scene in the Dark Place’s underground subway showcases Alan navigating through a train laden with charred corpses, a horrifying sight made even more visceral by the game's detailed graphics.
As he climbs through the train and self-soothes by trying to convince himself that none of what he sees is real, he hears the victim’s blood-curdling screams at the moment of their untimely demise. Making it out of the cabin, an understated “F#*k me” slips through his mind. Same, Alan. Same.
Another jarring moment sees Alan discovering an altar in the woods, atop which lies a very naked corpse, its untouched heart placed eerily beside it. Nothing visually is left up for interpretation here.
These moments, among others, hint at the dark and twisted narrative players will navigate which you should be prepared for. If any of these descriptions made you go “nope,” this game is unlikely to be the one for you.
The time is right
It's been over 13 years since the first Alan Wake graced our screens, and the “Why now?” has an easy answer according to both the development team and Sam Lake.
As they explain it, the industry's current landscape has evolved, revealing an appetite for the distinct horror narrative that Alan Wake offers.
That said, the game’s creation wasn't just spurred or made possible by audience demand; key talents such as Game Director, Kyle Rowley, who is pivotal to the game's development also became available.
Revealing a bit of how the cake was made, Lake talked about the existence of earlier concepts for the sequel, though he expressed satisfaction with the waiting, confident in the product Remedy has now crafted.
Alan Wake 2 is set to release on October 27, 2023 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and on PC via the Epic Games Store.