Alan Wake II review: Returning to the darkness illuminates Remedy at its very best

Alan Wake II review: Returning to the darkness illuminates Remedy at its very best
Remedy Entertainment

Written by 

Joseph Kime

Published 

31st Oct 2023 11:10

Welcome back to Bright Falls. Nothing much has changed. The small town on the coast still has its priorities in check - good coffee, good chat, and the love of community are still rife even 13 years on from the mysterious disappearance of one of the world's greatest novelists in its border.

Even as misery threatened their way of life, the residents of the sleepy town have still found a way to bring their beloved Deerfest up to its 81st outing. But now, the jaws of darkness threaten to engulf them, just as they did in 2010.

As FBI Agent Saga Anderson and her partner Alex Casey (yes, just like Wake's character - he hates the comparison as much as you'd expect) appear to investigate the mysterious death of a missing co-worker, they inadvertently plunge Bright Falls into a horror story of their own, awash with cults, severed memories and a darkness that intends to destroy everything they know and love, starting at Deerfest.

It's reminiscent of the horrors that awaited famed writer Alan Wake and his wife Alice many years ago - but we return to their story thirteen years later, and with a brand-new approach that borrows from the newly-discovered genius that Remedy Entertainment proved with the mind-bending brilliance of Control.

There's a lot on the table that could dismantle a narrative that hinges itself on the slim line between sanity and the abyss. If anyone can pull it off, it's Remedy. And with every intention, it does it with finesse in Alan Wake II.

GGRecon Verdict

If we could ignore the bugs and glitches, there's one thing we can say for certain - Alan Wake II is Remedy at the height of its powers. On a personal level, Remedy's games have meant a great deal to me, leading me down the halls of the Federal Bureau of Control time and time again, and to see its work refuse to dwindle with time is truly a sight to behold.

Though Alan Wake sometimes struggled to engage players with its repetitive gameplay, its sequel improves on every element that made the game compelling in the first place, and putting more control in the player's hands was perhaps the greatest thing that Remedy has ever done.

Back to the Dark Place

A postcard from Bright Falls, home of the annual Deerfest.
Click to enlarge
Remedy Entertainment | GGRecon

The first thing that comes to mind with Alan Wake is its mind-bending narrative that leads the player down rabbit holes of thought until they're left without any grasp on what's real and what's peeled from the manuscripts of the cursed writer. And by a wide margin, this is the greatest strength that Alan Wake II has at its disposal.

Working Bright Falls into the wider world of Remedy's narratives, and learning from its past to refine a story that treads the line of fact and fiction, Alan Wake is perhaps the greatest story the game company has ever told.

Its twists turn harder than ever, and as it buries the player in the mind of two characters with their own griefs, motivations and personalities that war with each other, they're all made most palpable by the new Mind Place feature. This takes Saga into her own head to interrogate Bright Falls residents and piece together her case.

It's this feature that ties everything down into reality, and its greatest trick is luring the player into believing that they can make sense of the senseless and that they're one step ahead of the Dark Presence that lies in wait in the Dark Place, when the truth couldn't be further away.

Perhaps the best side effect of the brilliance of Saga and Alan's narrative is that it's incredibly beginner-friendly too, with every detail of Alan and Alice's first trip to Bright Falls feeling like an in-game echo of the events of the past.

Alan Wake II is a reflective game that looks at its past with fondness even if it's obscured by the mist of Alan Wake's manuscripts altering reality, but it never fails to keep its players on the straight and narrow. The story of Alan Wake II is a triumph, and perhaps the highlight of Remedy's writing career, even in spite of its previous successes.

The ritual to lead you on

Mr Scratch screams in one of Alan Wake's painful visions in Alan Wake II.
Click to enlarge
Remedy Entertainment

The gameplay of Alan Wake II is refined within an inch of its life when compared to its predecessor. Of course, this is Remedy's very first Survival-Horror title, and the borrowed mechanics from the likes of the Resident Evil remakes gel with the inherent darkness of Alan Wake II impossibly well. Enemies are fewer this time around, but they've never been tougher.

The environments of even the most natural lakes and forest walks are pinned into a claustrophobia that induces sheer helplessness. Though it might aim for sheer scariness, Alan Wake II lands on unparalleled tension and uncertainty, and in many ways, it succeeds far more than a spookier version of the game ever could.

The gameplay is tight, concise, and, most importantly, fun - until it can't hold itself up. The saddest element of Alan Wake II at launch is its bugs, though. Even when immersed as much as one can be in the enveloping darkness of the game, it still can't offset the stunted disappointment that comes with our playthrough's numerous bugs and glitches.

We encountered the loading of old saves, searching for non-existent solutions, and even reaching hopelessness tear immersion away in the face of prompts that refuse to appear, visual glitches that make clothes dance. in one particularly brutal example, a complete soft-lock ten minutes before the game's immense climax.

The act of engaging with the title is a massive upgrade for Remedy's gameplay style, but it seems that in some cases, the minor changes that make for such big changes have been difficult to nail down. It's frustrating that Alan Wake II has fallen in a substantial way to such minor problems, as everything surrounding the bugs and glitches at launch are the pieces that would come together to make a true masterpiece otherwise.

Verdict

Alan Wake wields his lamp in the Dark Place in Alan Wake II.
Click to enlarge
Remedy Entertainment

If we could ignore the bugs and glitches, there's one thing we can say for certain - Alan Wake II is Remedy at the height of its powers. On a personal level, Remedy's games have meant a great deal to me, leading me down the halls of the Federal Bureau of Control time and time again, and to see its work refuse to dwindle with time is truly a sight to behold.

Though Alan Wake sometimes struggled to engage players with its repetitive gameplay, its sequel improves on every element that made the game compelling in the first place, and putting more control in the player's hands was perhaps the greatest thing that Remedy has ever done.

The atmosphere of Alan Wake II is impenetrable. Even as it launches into silliness for one mid-game sequence that is perhaps one of the most fun moments in gaming that I've experienced in years, it can't keep you from being reminded of just how crucial it is that Alan and Saga's story is brought to a close.

Alan Wake II is Remedy's most significant achievement so far, and if it can carry the same aura into the winding halls of the Bureau in Control's upcoming sequel, then there is little doubt that Remedy Entertainment will deserve to be heralded in the upper echelons of single-player mastery with the likes of Insomniac, Santa Monica Studio, and Naughty Dog.

In Alan Wake II, the darkness wins - and by the time it's turned you inside out, you'll be desperate for more.

4/5

Reviewed on PS5. Review code provided by the publisher.

Joseph Kime is the Senior Trending News Journalist for GGRecon from Devon, UK. Before graduating from MarJon University with a degree in Journalism, he started writing music reviews for his own website before writing for the likes of FANDOM, Zavvi and The Digital Fix. He is host of the Big Screen Book Club podcast, and author of Building A Universe, a book that chronicles the history of superhero movies. His favourite games include DOOM (2016), Celeste and Pokemon Emerald.