I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was beyond hyped to see the reveal trailer for Alan Wake II at the 2021 Game Awards—what a shocker! It legitimately seemed like Remedy had moved on from the series, considering that the original was released all the way back in 2010. However, as there had been several major advances in the survival horror scene since then, there was also a sense of “what will this game actually look like?” when it was released. Fortunately, the end product was unequivocally worth the wait.
And at Last, I See the Light!
The best change by far is that Remedy removed their stupid stamina system thing. No longer will Alan run forward for ten seconds and then trod around like he just returned from a late-night bender. Now you can hold down (or tap) the left stick to keep him moving and grooving indefinitely. I’m hyper-aware that limiting running/sprinting mechanics sounds like such a minor grievance, but this one aspect in the first game actively deterred me from wanting to explore its linear, yet wide-open spaces.
On that topic, the devs dramatically altered the visual variety from the original (mostly dark, foresty areas) and have expanded Alan Wake II’s exploration elements to keep those brain boxes ticking. Alan’s now able to physically morph certain locations around him with light and his handy typewriter, while the second lead protag, Saga Anderson has to consistently piece together evidence to progress.
As part of her FBI duties, Saga has to question witnesses, correctly place down clues on a crime board and profile them for more detailed information. All in all, the detective-style gameplay seems like fun at first; you’ll slowly but surely start peeling away layers of the plot in a step-by-step manner, though it definitely begins to feel like a chore before long. Pacing is important, people!
In terms of combat, the new animations and sound design make each encounter feel a lot more intense and weighty. It’s now akin to the modern Resident Evil remakes, but Alan Wake II still keeps that unique, let’s-shine-a-torch-at-spooky-shadows gameplay intact. Said shadows will slowly approach Alan and Saga at first, but they’ll quickly close the gap once their humanoid form has been revealed.
The thing is, some of the shadows will disappear once a light is shone in their direction, although it’s not like the last game where you can just casually point the torch without using the hi-powered beam. Players will need to physically consume batteries to reveal their form. However, since they often take up a sizeable amount of space in confined areas, there’s this great sense of danger and a keen focus on resource management whenever they’re close by. Remedy has really dug deep into the staple survival horror fundamentals and has executed them so masterfully here.
The sparse checkpoints are a neat little change-up too, making the already tense encounters feel markedly more stressful. Sometimes you’ll lose up to 10-15 minutes of progress at a time, hence each decision has to count. The game explicitly says to “save often” early on and this advice shouldn’t be taken lightly. That being said, there were a few occasions where the story refused to progress or an asset didn’t load in time, leading to our protagonists dropping into the deep dark abyss. Very on-brand for Alan Wake, but not particularly enjoyable to experience.
A Familiar Feeling
Speaking of deep dark abysses, if you thought the original story was absolutely wild, you haven’t seen anything yet. I won’t jump on the spoiler train, but the story captures that intriguingly weird and brooding ambience brilliantly, while also adding several outrageous scenes that will keep the audience glued to the screen. They’re that good, even if the writing can seem a little hoity-toity at times. For those who haven’t played the original though—fret not—it isn’t required viewing. However, it will help to contextualise the characters and why they’re in their current predicaments.
The episodic format of the original is back in action here, but the devs have decided to take out the TV-like “On the last episode, of Alan Wake!” narration style, in place of big bold text across the screen. I could take it or leave it. Although, I am glad they’ve kept the appropriately named ‘chapter songs’ in to help bookmark the major plot elements of the game. All seven of these tracks were made entirely by Finnish artists (unlike the original which used a mix of licensed and original music) and they each fit the tone and content of this sequel extremely well.
While fans have had to wait for over 13 years, Alan Wake II has turned out to be a certified survival horror smash. The even darker tone and modern, Resident Evil-inspired combat make for a grittier and more pulse-pounding experience. Alan’s room-altering gameplay is quite enjoyable, while the detective-style escapades of fellow lead protagonist, Saga Anderson do mess up the pacing a little. Albeit, the story is ultimately worth witnessing, especially with its off-the-wall, cuckoo scenes that will undoubtedly leave a mark. You may just find out what “it’s not a lake… it’s an ocean” actually means too.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PC
Alan Wake II is a fantastic follow-up to the 2010 original. The combat is more intense, the survival horror is peak and the story is even wilder. Just ensure you have a beefy enough rig (or patience) to keep up with all the hi-res spectacle on PC—and checkpoint-restarting glitches too.
Game by Remedy. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.