Alan Wake 2 review: Hello darkness, my old friend
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Featured Image Credit: Epic Games Publishing
To be an Alan Wake fan is to be a patient fan, to say the least. The original Alan Wake was announced at E3 2005 before it arrived for the Xbox 360 in 2010. At the time we thought five years was long enough, but what about 13 years? Apparently, good things come to those who wait. So the question remains, was Alan Wake II worth the wait?
Alan Wake II takes place after the events of the first game in the town of Bright Falls. The first story concludes with Alan sacrificing himself to the darkness, a realm beyond space and time for all eternity to save his wife, Alice. Alan was reported missing, that was until he was washed up on a beach 13 years later and was discovered by FBI agent Saga Anderson, who is the second protagonist in the sequel.
Check out the Alan Wake II trailer below!
Saga was drawn to the town of Bright Falls following a string of brutal cultist murders with fellow agent Alex Casey who has an uncanny resemblance to the original Max Payne and for good reason, this is Max Payne! Well, kind of. It’s the same actor (Sam Lake, Remedy Entertainment creative director) who plays the troubled cop of the PS2 era and without giving too much away, that aspect is teased wonderfully in Alan Wake II, but I’ll leave it at that.
I’ll keep this review spoiler-free, so expect plot details to be deliberately vague, because some of the most enjoyable moments of this game is the thrilling story unfolding as the events of Alan and Saga intertwine. At first, I was dubious about having a second playable character, after all, this is Alan Wake’s game - or so I thought. Yet, within the first hour, I soon realised that this is Saga’s story, too, and her role makes perfect sense in relation to Alan. To put it simply, Alan and Saga are two sides of the same coin and destiny has much in store for the duo.
In some ways, both Alan and Saga’s stories are like having two games in one set in two different realities. Other than the opening segments of the game as well as its end, you can switch between Alan and Saga as long as you’re in a safe room which has the tools of Ahti, the janitor whom you may have met in Control. Speaking of which, Alan Wake II has plenty of references to Control and more for fans to look out for. So keep your eyes and ears peeled.
Alan is still very much trapped in the Dark Place from the original game, and much of his combat segments will be familiar to returning fans. The dark is your enemy, and so too are the shadow entities known as the Taken that will stop at nothing to kill you. The light is your friend, but rather than just being a safe haven that tops up your health and creates a checkpoint, Alan now has a handy new tool that looks a lot like an Academy Award. This tool essentially captures light for you to unleash in another area that may grant you access to a previously inaccessible location.
Alan still has access to firearms, flares and more to dispatch the Taken with the combat feeling far more refined in this sequel with previous clunkiness all but eradicated. However, solving puzzles is now just as vital as firing a gun. Alan also has the ability to rewrite his story in a number of ways which will instantly change your surroundings so that you can progress in the story and may also gain access to previously blocked areas.
In terms of exploration, Alan Wake II is quite an open game that encourages exploration and back-tracking in all three of its locations, Bright Falls, Cauldron Lake and the Watery. Survival horror fans will also be pleased to know that the sequel has inventory management with the function of sharing items between Alan and Saga by placing items in a shoebox, Alan Wake II’s version of Resident Evil’s item box if you will.
As for Saga, her gameplay can be compared to Leon S. Kennedy from the Resident Evil 4 remake, but perhaps with a hint of Batman-style investigation. Don’t get me wrong, Saga is just as capable of holding her own, perhaps more so than Alan, but piecing together a scene of the crime and gathering clues to be placed on her pin board in an imaginary space known as the Mind Place is an absolute joy and makes you feel like you’re playing a role in an episode of True Detective.
Alan has his own version of a Mind Place, a place where you can also read manuscripts detailing extra lore, watch the weirdly wonderful TV adverts of Bright Falls, upgrade your skills, and abilities and more. Oh, and I must add, something that will especially please returning fans, both Alan and Saga can sprint for long durations, unlike the original game in which Alan frustrated players by being gassed out after a few seconds of sprinting only to be ambushed by the Taken. Likewise, torch battery life has greatly improved too.
Visually, Alan Wake II is a quite stunning game which features some of the best facial animations of this generation, at least for the main cast of characters. The coastal town of Bright Falls looks gorgeous during the day and its surrounding woodlands are eerily delightful which helps to showcase the game's impressive light and shadow mechanics.
As for how Alan Wake II sounds, the sequel outdoes almost any game that I’ve played in recent memory. The performances of Matthew Porretta as Alan Wake and Melanie Liburd as Saga Anderson are to such a level that I wouldn't be surprised to see their names amongst several nominations at prestigious video game award ceremonies. Likewise, all the supporting cast are equally portrayed brimming with a level of enthusiasm and passion befitting of any lead character
Additionally, the environmental audio design is second to none, especially when using a headset. The environmental audio is at its best when wandering the woods hearing groans and whistles of the wind that put you on a constant edge fearing what may be lurking beyond the next corner.
What’s more, Alan Wake II features hands down the best musical segment I’ve ever experienced in any video game. When you get to this section, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Honestly, my face did not stop grinning from ear to ear, long past its conclusion. To counterbalance my enjoyment of Alan Wake II, if I were to have one complaint about this game, it would be my encounters with the occasional framerate dip, which will hopefully be fixed in a post-launch patch. For that reason, I would recommend playing Alan Wake II on Performance, rather than Quality mode.
Going into this sequel my expectations were lowered and perhaps being overly cautious, I was expecting the worst. After all, in a year that has already treated us to other horror gems such as the Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space remakes, surely Alan Wake II would fall short of its competitors, right? Wrong. I’m glad to say that Alan Wake II is not only one of the best games of 2023 but it also surpasses the 2010 original in almost every way. It does everything you’d want from a sequel. Alan Wake II looks better, it plays better, it sounds better and it brings scares in abundance. Alan Wake II is another crown jewel in Remedy Entertainment’s library and a sequel that will delight fans. That being said, let’s just hope we’re not waiting as long for the next game.
Pros: Enticing plot, Saga’s crime investigation, looks stunning, sounds sublime
Cons: Some framerate dips
Fans of: Alan Wake, Silent Hill, Deadly Premonition
Alan Wake II releases for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S on 27 October 2023. Review code was provided by Epic Games Publishing. Read a guide to our review scores here.