REVIEW – Since the original Alan Wake, Remedy Entertainment has traversed a vast journey, and following the explosive success of Control, the studio now circles back to the cursed author with a dual-threaded paranormal thriller that’s equally terrifying and captivating, showcasing some of the most astonishing visuals ever created. Alan Wake 2 offers an enthralling narrative voyage through the perspectives of two distinct characters, complete with surprising twists. The graphics are breathtaking, even if the combat system isn’t flawless. We tested the game on the PlayStation 5 platform.
If you’ve never played Alan Wake (or only tried the 2021 remaster), brace yourself for some catch-up. Remedy claims it’s a standalone story, but that seems more like a marketing ploy. The game’s storyline picks up 13 years after the original, with the misty town of Bright Falls now plagued by a mysterious cult. You start as FBI agent Saga Anderson, investigating a fresh murder case, but soon Alan Wake joins you.
Alan or Saga: The choice is yours
Alan Wake 2 is constructed from two narratives – you can switch between Saga and Alan’s missions at will, exploring at your own pace how the threads intertwine. Saga battles the darkness-infested Fallens in the real world, while Alan’s missions are far more mystical in the Dark Place, completely transforming the gameplay. The story’s mood reminds one of David Lynch’s films, Twin Peaks, or Stephen King’s novels, and if you dive into the details, especially recalling the original’s events and characters, it provides an immersive experience.
The game closely connects to Remedy’s previous hit, Control, and surprisingly nods to the Max Payne series, making Alan Wake 2 a treasure trove of easter eggs. However, Sam Lake’s latest creation sometimes indulges in self-centeredness, and the obsession with easter eggs occasionally prevents it from reaching the depth the stunning universe otherwise offers.
A true action-adventure
Whether you’re unraveling Alan’s escapades or Saga’s investigations, the gameplay promises thrilling challenges as you unearth the enigmas and combat mechanics shrouded in Remedy Entertainment’s crafted darkness. The environmental puzzles and combinatorial conundrums offer a perfect playground for developers to showcase the refined scare tactics honed since the first Alan Wake. The astonishing sound effects and psychological horror elements, like jump scares, maintain a high tension throughout, further sharpened by an ominous soundtrack.
Both Saga and Alan enhance the gameplay with their unique abilities. Saga can analyze gathered intel in the ‘Mind Place,’ plotting her next moves with true FBI investigator acumen. Alan, embodying the essence of a writer’s genius, can rewrite scenes, altering the narrative flow and creating dazzling visual transitions as environments shift before your eyes.
The joy of exploration and puzzle-solving characterizes the game, occasionally interrupted by combat encounters. Here, characters employ a flashlight combat tactic against the ‘taken’ – beings twisted by darkness – to weaken them before dispatching with firearms or an array of ‘exotic’ weaponry.
Unfortunately, the combat system emerges as the game’s most critical flaw, deteriorating further from the lackluster mechanics of the previous installment. In the survival horror genre, the aggravation of scarce ammunition coupled with the ‘taken’ teleporting can be particularly irksome. This is exacerbated by an imprecise and unreliable dodge system.
Boss fights, with their archaic design and opaque, linear arena layouts, mark the nadir of the gameplay experience. An initial encounter may give players the impression that Alan Wake 2 fails to meet expectations. However, once past this early hurdle, the gameplay significantly improves – though combat remains the game’s weak point. This aspect was the greatest disappointment, leading to a personal rating drop to 8.2. If Remedy had achieved the same level of excellence as seen in Control, the game could have easily scored 9.0 or higher, given the brilliance of its other aspects.
A Visual Feast
The protagonist’s name might be Alan Wake, but from this visual spectacle, we’d never want to ‘wake’ up. What sets “Alan Wake 2” apart in the gaming landscape? Consider its visual presentation, which triumphs even among the latest top-tier games. On the PS5, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a next-gen title: personally, I might wager that it’s the most graphically stunning game I’ve ever played, redefining visual marvels at every turn and surpassing its recent competitors by a wide margin.
Players are offered two graphic modes: Quality and Performance. The Quality mode guarantees a stable 30 FPS, enriched by breathtaking volumetric fog and meticulous environmental details, all in perfect harmony with the lighting to elevate nearly every scene to tangible prominence.
I ventured into the Performance mode, aiming for 60 FPS but swiftly returned to Quality, as the game’s beauty was too grand to sacrifice. Whether it’s the suffocating forests surrounding Bright Falls or Alan’s otherworldly, misty New York dreamscapes, the visual design and technical execution deliver an extraordinary visual experience.
The sound effects are equally atmospheric and tension-enhancing, seamlessly blending real-world scenes and acting into the game’s presentation – a sight that must be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. A particular musical scene in the midst of Alan’s journey stands out as one of the most impressive visual performances to leave a lasting impression.
“Alan Wake 2” isn’t just marred by its subpar combat mechanics; the game’s overall impact is also lessened by persistent bugs, despite multiple patches. Personally, I’ve not encountered any game-breaking glitches, but minor ones, like failing to activate words on a wall which are vital to the game’s somewhat clunky skill system, caused some frustration.
The chaos of the underground metro sections further impeded access to certain skills. While the audio desynchronization issues were not overly disruptive, they are reportedly more frequent on the Xbox version. Interface bugs also persisted until I reloaded my save. Stability is increasingly elusive at a game’s launch, and despite its leading-edge aspects in many areas, “Alan Wake 2” still lacks polish post-multiple updates.
Alan Wakes Again
“Alan Wake 2” surges towards the pinnacle of this year’s video game achievements with its narrative depth, atmospheric richness, and graphical splendor. Ironically, it’s the less polished solutions that restrain it from seizing the crown, seemingly echoing Remedy and Sam Lake’s philosophy that the stunning storytelling and visual magic will compensate for these blunders.
Following the expert combat system of “Control,” it’s baffling to see such clumsy implementation this time around. Moreover, the boss battles in “Alan Wake” unfortunately represent the game’s least inspiring component. Nevertheless, for fans of Remedy’s games and those who favor surreal, Lynchian horror-action adventures, diving into Alan Wake’s latest tempestuous journey is a must.
+ Incredible visuals
+ Some crazy story moments
+ Finally a real next-gen title with dizzying graphics
– The combat and its controls are even clumsier than in the first part
– Even worse boss fights
– If you like intense action, you will be disappointed by too much investigation
Publisher: Epic Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Style: Survival horror, investigation, action-adventure
Release: October 27, 2023.