Unlike movies, classic video games are often viewed with a tinge of nostalgia, safe in the fact that they are unlikely to be revisited or rebooted, merely remastered so rarely, allowing fans to reminisce about the good old times. But when there is an opportunity to build on things, expectations and worries tend to emanate, and rightly so. After 13 years, Remedy Entertainment and 505 Games are set to unleash Alan Wake 2, a divisive sequel that is both living up to expectations but also letting fans down in equal measure.
Rather than a slight lean into the original’s psychological horror genre, this sequel is the studio’s full-blown take on survival horror. That means establishing the kind of atmosphere building that makes for impressive sequences during the pivotal moments of the story, but like poorly-time jump scare, the established tropes and cliches appear and outstay their welcome way too soon. But at least the inventory management is not that egregious.
At the heart of the adventure are the two protagonists, the titular Alan Wake and newly added FBI agent Saga Anderson. Both offer a different kind of gameplay experience, tied together with their connections to the supernatural happenings in the town of Bright Falls, and the Dark Place.
Depending on your preferences, you might find yourself leaning toward either individual in terms of their story and gameplay loop, which sees Alan Wake 2 struggling with its balancing, to keep players engaged.
Take Saga, for instance; as an FBI agent investigating the ritualistic murders, there is definitely a generous helping of that Twin Peak flair. Pieces of evidence need to be retrieved at crime scenes, interrogations are part of the process, and everything is put together via the Mind Palace, essentially a physical space that takes the place of traditional menus.
Using the case wall, players can link key evidence together, uncovering facts that are otherwise missed, an idea that is undoubtedly interesting, but its execution leaves much to be desired. It would have been much better if the answers weren’t always that obvious, with no dire consequences that accompany a wrong decision; all you have to do is keep pinning things until they stick. Even Saga’s ability to profile suspects and witnesses is hardly used as a game mechanic, instead serving as an info dump to progress whichever case is on her docket. The overriding feeling is that a great character like Saga deserves more.
As for Alan, the standout feature of gameplay sections is the twisted version of New York City, AKA the Dark Place. Forboding as it is, exploration makes for a generally fun time. Solving puzzles will lead to the writer discovering new inspirations, allowing him to literally manipulate the story as it goes, causing dramatic changes to the environment. It is always an amazing feeling to see the changes in action, and while Alan can also access something like the Mind Palace, which becomes the Writer’s Room instead, he doesn’t possess the busywork that Saga has to go through.
Outside of these features, the rest of Alan Wake 2 plays like any of the genre staples. Combat is an over-the-shoulder, third-person affair ala Resident Evil, albeit with the need to use light as an equaliser against otherworldly enemies. Enemy variety is not exactly bursting at the seams, with many of the foes taking the form of corrupted humans. Thankfully, there are a couple of more unique creatures and beasts that are delightful, evil surprises when they make an entrance.
And while the shooting feels impactful and combat is more interesting because of the need to manipulate light, there are simply not enough combat sequences to make this aspect particularly memorable. Sure, there are boss fights and those aforementioned unique enemies, but the majority of the game is more pedestrian in nature, another point which players, especially fans, will have to wrestle with.
This extends to many of the puzzles that players will face as well, with plenty of talking, walking, and backtracking involved if you are intent on finding all of the collectibles and secrets in the game. The sequel also features larger areas in which players can explore freely, with the Dark Place a realm that is especially easy to get lost in, making it paramount that players grab those detailed maps within the game as soon as possible.
With the gameplay not tipping the scales in any particular direction, the hope is that a strong narrative in Alan Wake 2 can hold everything together. The direction in which Remedy is taking the game is undeniably serious and grim, diving into the dark recesses of corruption and the mysteries that dwell within, but it is also hamstrung by plot progression seemingly guided by divine intervention or deux ex machina. Players are either all in on this ride, regardless of its flaws, or they will walk away frustrated at what could have been.
At the very least, this is a brilliant-looking game, helped by beautiful ray tracing that really brings out the contrast between light and dark. For those with powerful rigs, Remedy’s Northlight Engine works hard to deliver stunning visuals and arresting vistas, and even on lower settings, this game will impress.
The smart use of live-action sequences and the interspersing of moments between Alan and Saga are always worth looking forward to, and kudos should also be given to the sound design, which sets the mood perfectly for every moment, and ups the intensity when things get hairier for our heroes.
That said, it would all be for nothing if the game doesn’t run right, and this game does possess some technical issues that are less than ideal, at least on PC. There have been several instances of the Mind Palace going awry with nothing working as it should, prompting a need to quit and restart the game to get everything running again.
More egregious are several instances where progress becomes nigh impossible, boss fights that don’t work properly, game mechanics that suddenly don’t work as they should, all requiring an earlier save to be loaded and lost progress gone down the drain. It might not happen to most players, but knowing that these technical hiccups exist is enough to give us more nightmares than the spectral entities that are in the Dark Place.
The 20-odd hours we spent in Alan Wake 2 left us in a strange place. While its graphical and audio prowess are clear to see, the gameplay, and more crucially, the story, are going to have their merits hotly debated and discussed, and that’s not even including the technical shortcomings. For what it’s worth, we enjoyed this haunted journey through both darkness and light, but for hardcore fans and even newcomers, this sequel might not be an instant classic right away.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
With a legacy to live up to, Alan Wake 2 finds itself stumbling in the dark, leaving much to be desired in its modern form.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 7/10