As someone who writes both as a side gig and a day job, let me be the first to inform all non-writers that there’s different kinds of writing. No, not every journalist or technical writer has the urge to write the “next great American novel.” It doesn’t work like that. It’s like you’re asking a vegan chef to cook the best steak dinner you’ve ever eaten. Point is, more people should probably get a handle on what it’s like to be a writer, and Alan Wake 2 is a great way to make that happen – especially the parts where you battle possessed agents of an eldritch horror. We do that all the time!
A decade after the original Bright Falls incident, as chronicled in the first Alan Wake game, FBI agent Saga Anderson and her partner Casey arrive in town investigating the latest in a series of bizarre murders. Initial discoveries suggest that the Cult of the Tree, a murder-cult that loves murder and also cult activities, might be behind it all, but players familiar with the Remedy Cinematic Universe likely won’t be surprised to hear that there’s a lot more going on than initially meets the eye. Case in point: the return of horror author Alan Wake himself after vanishing into thin air for ten years. He’s back, he’s got a lot to talk about, and he might be the key to figuring out what’s happening in Bright Falls this time around.
You’ll play as both Saga and Alan in this survival-horror-puzzle-action-adventure mix-up, with Saga focusing on the events in modern Bright Falls and Alan spending a lot of time recounting his horrifying adventures in the Dark Place where he was trapped. The fundamental experience has a lot in common with the first Alan Wake – it’s light survival horror in both the practical and rhetorical sense. Combat’s rarely very difficult, but enemies might need to be blasted with a flashlight to drop their guard before you go in for the kill.
This is a little less prominent than the original game where you had to do it for every baddie, repeatedly in some cases, but you’ll still spend a fair amount of time flashing people in a wholly non-adult fashion. Flashlight batteries are a key resource, and you’ll want to look out for more.
Beyond the basic gameplay, both protagonists also solve their problems in different ways. Saga, as an FBI profiler, is able to use a Beautiful Mind-style crime board to make inferences about the case and thus progress the plot. Alan, meanwhile, is a little more hands-on, since he’s in the Dark Place and that realm can be influenced by writing. He’s able to combine scenes and plot threats to physically alter his surroundings, opening up new pathways and accessing hidden items. Both characters also have access to a variety of upgrade options, improving weapons, stats and more.
None of this is particularly deep. Saga’s insistence on specific places and times to put evidence on the crime board rather than encouraging creativity can be frustrating in an Ace Attorney sort of way. Meanwhile, Alan’s writing gimmick amounts to a lot of backtracking, trial and error so you see every “side” of a given area. Still, there’s enough going on to keep the gameplay from feeling like an imposition on the plot.
It’s fortunate that’s the case, since the plot is the main reason you’re here. It’s cheesy Stephen King-style shlock that’s just self-aware enough without gaudily winking at the camera every time there’s a reference. Fans of Remedy’s previous games, from Max Payne to Quantum Break to Control, are going to love the little tidbits scattered about, while newcomers will appreciate how easy it is to catch up with what’s going on.
Notably, this is one of the few games where it’s actually a delight to read notes, listen to audio logs and watch video clips scattered throughout each area; you’ll want to explore just to find more of these to check out.
The environments you’ll explore will also look absolutely fantastic. Alan Wake 2 is a lovely game that will happily put your hardware through the wringer – even top-end PCs will want to put the powers of super-sampling DLSS to work here in order to get a stable, comfortable framerate without compromising on the visuals. Once you’ve got everything set up, though, this game is a detailed delight and one of the best examples of “next-gen” graphics around.
Alan Wake 2 is currently only available on the Epic Game Store on PC, so if you’re deeply invested in the digital store wars that’s something to bear in mind. On console, of course, and for the other 99.99% of players that don’t care about which identical storefront they use, Alan Wake 2 is an easy recommendation. It’s a solid, well-made mystery-sci-fi-fantasy-horror hybrid that does all of its many genres justice; it’s also a fantastic showpiece for high-end gaming hardware and a decent enough shooter besides. It’s nice to see that coming off the heels of Control, Remedy’s still got it, and fans of that game and fun writ large will want to take a look.