Alan Wake 2 is nearly here, and it can’t come soon enough. The sequel to the critical and commercial success Alan Wake in 2010, there’s a lot riding on Remedy’s latest offering. Fans of the franchise have been hankering for a sequel since the original launched, and then with Control in 2019 featuring an entire expansion dedicated to Alan Wake, confirming the connectivity of the two universes, in fact, the two games being in one universe, expectations are higher than ever before.
After a behind-closed-doors preview, I’m glad to say that those expectations are going to be met. I myself was worried that the sequel may not live up the the lofty heights of the first game, with it being one of my most loved and important games of that generation. Nothing else captured the confusion, the terror, the sheer bizarreness of the Twin Peak’s style story-telling like Alan Wake, and then it took that inspiration and many others, and Remedy made it it’s own thing. Alan Wake 2 looks set to do all that again, and much more.
Alan Wake 2 – It’s not a Lake it’s an Ocean
The Alan Wake franchise has always been meta. Whether it was the narration, tv-inspired scenes and chapters, or the live-action scenes interspersed within the game, the franchise takes a lot of direction from commenting on the very events that’re happening on screen, or in some cases, about to happen.
Nothing is more meta though than the first few minutes of the game as we saw it, where in a live-action scene Ilkka Villi is thrown into a talk-show akin to that of the 1970s (also very reminiscent of Todd Phillips Joker) with the host being played by the excellent and talented David Harewood. Cue five minutes of meta-discussion with Alan visibly confused as to the topic of the discussion – his new book he doesn’t remember writing, which includes themes and events which seem to be part of the game later on – and all of it is setting the scene for what’s to come.
According to Sam Lake, Creative Director for the game as well as Remedy as a whole, there will be more of these talk show segments, albeit they will change from time-to-time. Nothing more was elaborated on, but it is an interesting premise, and one very much in keeping with the Alan Wake atmosphere.
It has been a long thirteen years for both Alan Wake fans and the protagonist himself, with the character finishing up the first game willingly trapping himself in the Dark Place. Well, it seems he’s still trapped there, and now a considerable amount of time has passed, he’s back at it, trying to escape and find his way out.
Alan Wake 2 is Set 13 Years On
Much has been made of the fact we’ve only seen gameplay footage of the co-protagonist Saga Anderson so far, and whilst that’ll no doubt change soon enough, what we saw was outstanding. Every single facet of the first game has been modernised, not only to make use of the modern day console hardware, but in the way certain gameplay mechanics work.
Alan Wake is a writer, and whilst it played into the first game’s story, it wasn’t a huge part of the gameplay bar collecting a few pages of his novel every now and then. That has changed with Alan Wake 2 in a massive way.
We were lucky enough to see the first two chapters of the game, where we’re introduced to Wake in his current predicament. Unlike the first game, the Dark Place is manifesting in new ways. Not just Bright Falls – although that still has a part to play -, it is in taking large parts of Wake’s subconscious and using his time living with Alice in New York, bringing a fresh environment and new challenges to the fore for Wake.
The New York settings allow for numerous different areas compared to that of Bright Falls. Whereas the first game was almost entirely set in a small, American town, it seems that large portions of the sequel will be making use of the claustrophobic and tense settings of New York. The majority of the gameplay we were lucky enough to see was set during one of these New York sections, with the Dark Place warping what no doubt would have been familiar and comforting memories for Wake into something more sinister and disturbing.
With his mission being given to him by a mysterious voice on the other end of the a payphone, Wake sets off to complete it, not knowing the obstacles in his way.
Before he manages to get into the subway station he’s tasked with entering, he has to find a light source to open an entrance. That’s right, the light sources are as, if not more important this time round. Having found more than he bargained for whilst finding the light required, he instead finds Alex Casey, a character Wake previously wrote about, who just happens to be played by Sam Lake. So just to clarify, we run into the protagonists fictional character, in a fictional, warped version of his own memories, and this character is played by the Creative Director of the game that we’re playing. Does your head hurt from that much meta?
The subway portion of the gameplay shown is the majority, and it introduces the mainstays of Wake’s gameplay. From the expected gunplay and avoidance of the shadow enemies (called Fadeouts according to game director Kyle Rowley), there is a lot more to Wake’s gameplay this time round.
As already mentioned, the game makes Wake being a writer more integral to the gameplay. At certain places throughout the levels there are ‘echoes’ which allow Wake to rewrite reality in a variety of ways. As well as changing environments in an instant, it’s also a fantastic narrative device which allows players to craft their own adventure, in a way. Whilst there is only ever one correct ‘echo’ to rewrite reality with, the others offered will still be useful, as they change and expand the story as we go.
Whereas Saga has the Mind Place, Wake has the Writer’s Room, which is the same equivalent, and is the mechanic in which Wake can use these ‘echoes’ to change things around him. After the gameplay and during the Q&A, Rowley commented that the reason for the two characters having similar mechanics albeit from different perspectives was two fold; “So we don’t need to teach you new mechanics every time you change” and “to show how the two characters reflect one another.” and this was clearly highlighted when come the end of the gameplay, we see Wake, having made his way through the subway station, fought Fadeouts and a manifestation of the Dark Place, only to approach an out-of-place altar in a forest (remember Saga’s trailer with the heart), and as he approaches a body with the heart cut out and placed on a plinth in front, it disappears, and Wake is now introduced to Saga.
On the topic of the two characters, much has been made of the ability to change at will between them, taking on whichever character you like to play during the story, and experience different parts at different times. That is technically true, but there is a caveat. Both at the beginning and the end the game will take over and become the ‘author’ as Lake described it, forcing players to be one character or the other as it is needed. The rest of the game is completely down to the player, and they can switch at will.
To switch characters they’ll need to find ‘break rooms’, which as well as switching between the characters and their respective worlds, it’ll also allow players to save, although as Rowley said, there is also a checkpoint system in place to save a total loss of progress if the worst occurs.
Alan Wake 2 Looks Every Bit as Terrifying and Intense as We’d Hoped
Alan Wake 2 is every bit of the sequel that we could have wanted, and if anything come the end of the playthrough we saw, the collective wanted and needed more. It’s a sombre feeling seeing and experiencing the start of something and then having to wait two months until we can fully get involved. However, with that two months I have every faith that the polish will be worth it.
The game looks, sounds and feels every bit of a AAA, narrative-driven video game, something that is unfortunately missing these days in the mass of mindless shooters and sports games. Not only is it beautiful to look at, its use of sound is oppressive to the player, and regularly has you apprehensive about what is coming next. A proper surround sound system/headset will no doubt have you on the edge of your seat/behind a cushion.
The most impressive part of the new gameplay was undoubtedly the ‘echoes’ and their environment altering properties. Watching a train-car change from working, to derailed and burnt out, to graffitied and engraved with the sigils of a murderous and mysterious cult in a matter of seconds, all in real time, is a real testament to not only the tech being used, but also the team behind the design of the mechanics.
Forty one minutes of #Gamescom #AlanWake2 footage from @remedygames later and I am blown away. Anyone in doubt that this could follow the first you can stop worrying. Wake’s gameplay and looks crisp and intuitive, especially the new Writer’s Room mechanic! pic.twitter.com/2oJdHGc7nk
— Luke Addison🔜Gamescom (@callmeafilmnerd) August 23, 2023
We can only tell you what we saw today, but with the already released footage surrounding Saga and the Dark Place, as well as the footage of Wake we saw, it’d be a huge disappointment if the game doesn’t end up in the Game of the Year discussions, as it really does look that good.
What do you think though? Are you excited by the prospect of getting involved with Wake’s story one more time? Let us know in the comments!