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Alan Wake 2 Review: This Story is a Monster

What sort of mess has wacky ol' Alan Wake written himself into this time?!

I can’t argue with anyone who bounces off of Alan Wake 2. It’s a relentlessly self-aware piece of metafiction that’s constantly at risk of disappearing up its own nose. However, it’s also one of the best survival horror games of the last few years.

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That’s saying a lot in a period that’s included games like Signalis and 2019’s Resident Evil 2. However, AW2’s layered surrealism sets it apart from the crowd. Every game by Remedy Entertainment wears its influences on its sleeve, and AW2 is deliberately built like a lost season of Twin Peaks. Everyone in this town is weird, half of them are also mad and reality itself is a multiple-choice question.

Alan Wake 2 Review: This Story is a Monster

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You may think you know what to expect because you played Remedy’s previous game, the 2018 hit Control. You don’t. AW2 is both a direct sequel to the original Alan Wake and a strange sort of collision point between most of Remedy’s games to date. In many ways, it’s the definitive Remedy game. It pulls elements from most of Creative Director Sam Lake’s work and tries to knit them together into a deliberately incoherent whole.

You begin AW2 as Saga Anderson, a brilliant, eccentric FBI investigator. Thirteen years ago, another FBI agent vanished in Bright Falls, Washington, while pursuing a case that involved the mysterious disappearance of crime novelist Alan Wake. Now that FBI agent has reappeared for just long enough to get killed, and Saga’s sent to solve his murder.

AW2 is initially on a slow boil. It takes a couple of hours for this detective story to become survival horror, which also marks the point at which Alan Wake reenters the narrative. You can then switch back and forth between Saga and Alan as they pursue their own separate investigations into what’s begun to infect Bright Falls and why.

Like the original, AW2 is a game about darkness. Pools of bright light indicate your safe zones. You can also stun most enemies briefly with an intensified beam from your character’s flashlight. That makes batteries as crucial a resource as ammunition or health, and you’ll frequently be low on one, if not all three.

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At the same time, however, AW2 is the rare horror game that understands the value of silence. It’s not interested in constantly throwing wave after wave of disposable monsters at you with an accompanying close-up and musical sting. Instead, it uses its Taken — possessed townsfolk and wildlife — sparingly. Each one is balanced like it’s a significant threat. They’re fights you can usually win, but you’ll rarely see them coming.

Those enemies are creepy enough on their own, but AW2 primarily relies upon its environments and atmosphere. You never have much of a guarantee about what is or isn’t real within AW2’s multi-layered narrative. Its fictional reality is itself fiction, and the rules can change at a second’s notice. It requires more suspension of disbelief than most horror games do, but if you can meet Alan Wake 2 where it lives, it’s the kind of experience that will crawl into your head and live there for a while.

Alan Wake 2 Review: The Bottom Line

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Pros

  • Unmatched atmosphere and mood that carry the production.
  • Possibly the weirdest AAA game of 2023.
  • It’s a big-budget game that actually has a vision.
  • Extremely well-paced.

Cons

  • It’d be nice if it directly informed you what items you’ve just picked up.
  • The dodge mechanic seems slightly underbaked.
  • I keep wanting to use the word “self-indulgent”?

On paper, I’m exactly the sort of person who should really dig Alan Wake 2. It’s a carefully multi-layered commentary on itself, its narrative, and its creative process. It revolves around the thorny relationship you sometimes see between a creation and its creator. In some ways, you can usefully describe AW2 as an in-house summer crossover for Remedy Entertainment, where Max Payne (but not really) teams up with Alan Wake to solve a case for the Federal Bureau of Control.

What’s tripping me up is Sam Lake’s crucial role in the overall narrative. It’s always been one of my fictional pet peeves. It was fun when Lake made short cameos in Quantum Break or the first Alan Wake, but he’s got a center-stage role in AW2 from the start of the game.

Lake’s prominence is, at least for me, the point at which the metafiction hits a crucial stress threshold. It’s a little too on the nose, similar to Stephen King writing himself into his Dark Tower series. That damages AW2’s overall impact.

Despite that, AW2 is easily my favorite horror game this year. It plays well, it’s got a lot to say and it’s toying with its own narrative in unique, fascinating ways. We’ll be talking about Alan Wake 2 for years to come.

[Note: Remedy Entertainment provided the PS5 copy of Alan Wake 2 used for this review.]

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Alan Wake 2 Review: This Story is a Monster
What sort of mess has wacky ol' Alan Wake written himself into this time?!

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Thomas Wilde
Survival horror enthusiast. Veteran of the print era. Comic book nerd.
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