- Release Date: 27th October 2023
- Developer: Remedy Games
- Publisher: Epic Games
- Platforms: PC, PS5, Xbox Series
- Version Played: Xbox Series S
I enjoyed the first Alan Wake a lot. Even though the gameplay wasn’t anything special – it was a decent action game – there was something about the atmosphere that captured me. It told the story of a writer that ends up getting his horror story twisted by a “dark presence” and finding himself getting trapped in it. A sequel was eagerly awaited and then teased inside Quantum Break, although it still didn’t come until after Control – however, Control had more direct links and even an appearance from Alan Wake in one of its DLCs.
Now, 13 years later, we finally get a sequel to Alan Wake and it’s even better than I could have imagined. The combat is much smoother (although still not something that could hold up a game on its own), but the story and atmosphere are where the game truly shines. This time, you play as two characters, with Alan Wake’s part taking place in the dark place as he tries to rewrite his stories to escape, and FBI agent Saga Anderson investigating some murders happening in the town of Bright Falls.
On top of Saga’s surname ringing a bell for fans of the series, her partner is Alex Casey, who coincidentally (or perhaps not) shares a name with the fictional detective in Alan Wake’s earlier books. He was originally a reference to Max Payne, renamed due to rights, and this is even more solidified by casting the same voice actor as Max Payne (James McCaffrey) while creative lead Sam Lake provides the voice model, just like he did from Max Payne. There are also a few characters from Quantum Break that are in a way reused in Alan Wake II in different ways – but it isn’t just lazy reuse, as different revisions is a big theme of the game.
I won’t get into too many details of the actual story. It does leave a lot of unanswered questions, but all the inconsistencies and oddities along the way all seem important and purposeful – one character from the first game is completely redefined, for example. On top of that, while the first game was horror themes, this one is much, much more horror.
The game uses every method to create a sense of unease. While the game does utilise jump scares, the jump scares themselves aren’t supposed to scare you, they’re just part of the atmosphere to create the feel of the game – the only jump scare that made me leap on its own wasn’t even a horror moment. Other parts of the cauldron are the lighting and shadows – with the shadows moving – and sound effects. In the first game, you knew to expect an enemy after each “talkie” bit, but in Alan Wake II you don’t always encounter one (and in some cases, can be actually avoided), yet it’s a much scarier as a result. The possibility of an encounter with something unknown is immensely more frightening than a fight with another generic enemy.
But it’s not just the horror feeling that’s done using a mixture of different parts, the story itself is told in many different ways. The game mixes in live action parts (which, due to the graphics, blend in surprisingly well), such as a talk show and a 15 minute Finnish short film. Music also plays a large part, both within gameplay, with my favourite band Poets of the Fall reprising their role as Old Gods of Asgard – this time even portraying their live action versions, which was partly foreshadowed in American Nightmare – and some songs from other characters, with one particular moment causing me to create a separate save file just so I can go through that section whenever I want. The songs played at the end of chapters are also very important to the game and, if you pay attention to the lyrics, can reveal new details, as most were specifically created for the game.
Alan Wake II is a phenomenal experience. It’s packed with details and is incredibly suspenseful the entire way though. I’m already eagerly awaiting the DLC, Control 2 and the next Alan Wake to find out more about this bizarre and wonderful universe. Alan Wake II is easily one of my favourite gaming experiences.