In every single aspect that matters, Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake 2 is to the original Alan Wake what Twin Peaks: The Return was to the first two seasons of Twin Peaks. Hell, in a wild twist, the first Alan Wake had the eponymous author penning a new novel called Return long before the third season of Mark Frost and David Lynch’s iconic television series was even announced, let alone titled. What they also have in common is a certain artistic ethos—the feeling that beyond being sequels to extraordinarily weird cult pieces of pop art, Alan Wake 2 and The Return are the sum total of lessons learned over time by their creators.
For Remedy, even with certain logistical corporate problems in the way (i.e., Rockstar Games and Microsoft owning Remedy properties Max Payne and Quantum Break, respectively), the meta text is clear: that art—in particular, the shared connected universe created by Remedy—exists not in a bubble, but in an unknowably vast ocean that makes staunch demands of the artist to vouchsafe the world their art exists in. Dereliction of that duty creates monsters.
When we last saw the ill-fated Alan Wake, he’d been trapped in the inky black lake near the idyllic town of Bright Falls, Washington. Bound to a liminal cabin space in said lake, he’s forced to churn out apocalyptic horror content for a shadowy presence using art as a conduit to infect and change the world. Alan Wake 2 picks up the story with F.B.I. agent Saga Anderson and her partner, Alex Casey, being brought to Bright Falls to investigate a cult-related murder, and Alan trying to find a way to write himself out of his predicament. That is, by dragging Saga into the story, and letting all manner of reality-breaking abominations out of it, himself included.
Alan Wake 2’s narrative splits at a certain point, between Saga trying to solve a murder and finding out supernatural forces are completely altering her world in real time, and Alan himself, trapped in his own broken imagination, trying to find the words and ideas that will create the perfect ending to his story. Ostensibly, both experiences can be classified as survival horror. The original Alan Wake’s stilted run-and-gun gameplay has been refined to feel far more akin to the recent Resident Evil remakes than anything. The combat isn’t mining the same unique depths of creativity as Remedy’s Control, but everything else is, and then some.
Where most of Remedy’s games are stories about reality trying to keep up with fantasy, Alan Wake 2 is a story about the process of creation itself, with players foisted in the middle of a chaotic, nonsensical tornado of pure creation and trying to wrangle it by violent force into something resembling a narrative. And at no point can you be a passive observer.
There are traditional enemies to kill in Alan Wake 2. Despite most of them being just regular humans with a light-bending effect around them, they’re still effectively creepy. The masterful sound design does a lot of heavy lifting, making even low-level threats feel monstrous, but they also do enough damage to make them a persistent threat. Combat is functional enough, but taking on those threats is almost compulsory to everything else the game needs players to do.
Saga and Alan’s story is being written in real time, and making it make sense is the goal of every new scene in the game. The player must wrestle every terrible impulse that grips a writer unsure and agnostic about his own creation down to the floor, and force it toward a climax, a catharsis, a light. Throughout, you walk through forests that only exist because you personally wrote them that way. Characters disappear and die because it’s the only way that the story can move forward. You hear other character’s thoughts, less because you can read minds and more because, of course, a writer knows and is always wrestling with their creative motivations.
On paper, the solutions to the game’s problems resemble some fairly predictable puzzles. In practice, Remedy has seemingly harnessed every game design trick in the book to present Alan and Saga’s fractal realities in all their abstract and frightening glory.
This game was reviewed with code provided by Tara Bruno Public Relations.
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