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Review: Alan Wake 2 brings my childhood fears to life

Alan Wake 2 is one of the best games Remedy Entertainment has ever made, as I explain in this full review
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It doesn’t matter how old I get, I still can’t help but eye shadows suspiciously. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the dead of night, see a face fluttering in the darkness, and hit the lightswitch just to see the roughest silhouette made from a hat and a scarf on the bedpost. I don’t consider myself afraid of the dark – not anymore, at least – and yet, the darkness manages to spike my blood pressure occasionally. This unfounded anxiety that there’s always something or someone in the darkness, watching us, is exactly the emotion that Remedy Games is harnessing and abusing for Alan Wake II.

Most of the enemies in Alan Wake 2 are barely enemies at all – they are shadows. While playing as Alan, finding his way out of The Dark Place, you’ll hear “Wake” in a deep voice, and spinning around will likely reveal a humanoid shadow, lurking in the corners of the darkness. Once they notice you they’ll come at you, but then they’ll simply disappear into the ether once you focus your flashlight on them for long enough. It’s deliberate and makes you unsure about whether you’re ever truly safe.

Alan’s journey through The Dark Place is fraught and dream-like, with the environments themselves morphing as you loop your way through them, with new puzzles and solutions unlocked as you turn around to look. But joint-protagonist Saga Anderson is enjoying a “different” experience. She’s exploring Bright Falls, Cauldron Lake, and the nearby town of Watery, all to help solve the recent murder of an FBI agent who had been missing for 13 years.

Saga's Mind Place is one of the best new additions to the game.

Saga's Mind Place is one of the best new additions to the game.

Saga is new to The Dark Presence and how it influences reality around her, but she immediately knows something is wrong when the waitress at Bright Falls’ Oh Deer café speaks to her with far too much familiarity. Shadows manifest inside the darker corners of forests and caves – which there are plenty of around Bright Falls – and Saga becomes intimately aware of how much danger she could potentially be in, along with the rest of her family.

Saga’s special ability is intuition. In her Mind Place she pieces together clues, locations, and pieces of evidence she’s found to uncover the truth of each case she comes across. The player manually places evidence on an evidence board, with pins and pieces of string showing the train of thought.

This does a great job of making me, as the player, feel like I’m uncovering things organically and piecing the story together myself instead of having the broad strokes explained to me in detail. She can also profile individuals she meets to figure out the truth behind their words, opening up Saga’s dialogue options. You can absolutely solve a majority of puzzles and mysteries without looking at the Case Board, but you shouldn’t ignore it. Not only will it give you some valuable story insight to keep you afloat of what’s happening, but it’s incredibly satisfying to complete a case.

Live action segments are refreshing and fascinating.

Live action segments are refreshing and fascinating.

Alan’s Mind Place is completely different, instead he’s almost stuck inside the Writer’s Room. The Dark Place that Alan’s trying to escape is dream-like, and it reacts to his stories, so in certain areas you can introduce new “plot points” through the Writers Room, which can radically change existing locations, opening up new paths, items, and enemy encounters. The darker the story, the more The Dark Place reacts, which leads Alan to transform fairly ordinary locations into murder sites, cult rituals, and the dwelling of the devil itself.

Once you’ve reached a certain point in the story you can swap between Saga and Alan at will, experiencing their stories individually, before they come together for the climax. Each protagonist’s unique abilities and Mind Place change not only how you approach situations, but the atmosphere. Also, Saga’s an FBI agent who doesn’t hesitate to pick up big guns, but Alan’s shooting options are a bit more limited.

It’s all linked together with gameplay that feels inspired by the modern Resident Evil games, with the over-the-shoulder third-person perspective, a D-pad quickslot menu to swap between equipment, and a crosshair that expands when you move – what else did you expect? Supplies are fairly limited, so most of the time you’ll be picking your shots carefully – which is good, because enemy encounters are not actually that common. You’ll regularly have to shoot down one or two foes, but large, difficult encounters are fairly rare. Which is good, as shadowy foes that can almost warp around environments can be tough to keep track of.

Forests strangle the light and make for intense battlegrounds.

Forests strangle the light and make for intense battlegrounds.

Alan Wake 2 isn’t just a spooky shooter for Halloween, though. This is a Remedy Entertainment title, so of course it’s also a bit nutty. Sam Lake stars in the game as Alex Casey, a detective creation of Alan’s that is almost haunting him in The Dark Place. Alan’s gameplay segments are punctuated by live-action footage from a fake TV show, often starring Alan himself, and a mysterious Mr. Door. Without spoiling anything, these sections are always bizarre, but can coalesce into something far greater – and weirder – than its disparate parts.

There are the obvious callbacks to previous Remedy games too – Alex Casey is clearly “inspired” by Max Payne, who also shares Sam Lake’s likeness. The references to the original Alan Wake are thick and found everywhere, as you’d expect, while Control’s FBC shows up multiple times across the story. It’s nothing you couldn’t recap in a YouTube video, but Alan Wake 2 assumes some previous knowledge from other Remedy titles.

If you only played Saga’s portion of the game you would come away from the experience having played a solid sequel to 2010’s Alan Wake, albeit with a fun detective twist. When combined with the absurdist and exciting developments that Alan undertakes in his side of the story, it combines to create something quite special.

Alan Wake 2 talk show

Alan's own story needs to be seen to be believed.

Alan Wake 2 is funny, scary, intense, mysterious, enthralling – and a bunch of other buzzwords I could rattle off – all at the same time. I couldn’t help but smile at how silly some sections were, while others had me practically jumping out of my seat. This is Remedy Entertainment at its very best and, for me, eclipses what the team had achieved with Alan Wake, Quantum Break, and Control.

Alan Wake 2 is the best Remedy Entertainment game, and is a strong contender for one of the best games of 2023.

Score: 9/10

Version tested: PS5

  • Visuals: 9/10
  • Sound: 9/10
  • Gameplay: 10/10
  • Performance: 7/10

Alan Wake 2 console performance breakdown

PS5 players are getting a very solid version of the game, with a handful of caveats. Performance mode doesn’t quite hold a 60fps lock, however with VRR drops are practically imperceptible, aside from in a few select scenes. There are moments where performance can drop, but these are few and far between, and often related to The Dark Place’s shifting environment. AMD’s FSR tech is clearly in play, and can make the game on PS5 look fuzzy at some points – but overall, the picture quality is very good, and performance is definitely more stable than a fair few “Performance” modes we’ve seen PS5 games launch with in 2023.