When Alan Wake casts his torch into the harrowing void of darkness in the Alan Wake 2 preview, there’s an unshakeable feeling of dread. Now, having witnessed the enthralling abyss that is The Dark Place, it brings me immense joy to say Remedy Entertainment could well have another magnum opus on its hands with Alan Wake 2.
Though my time with the highly awaited sequel was in a hands-off session, the lack of a controller didn’t take away from what Remedy had up its sleeves. Alan finds himself backstage in an abandoned theater, with no recollection of appearing on a late-night talk show that’s playing on the TV in front of him.
If Control was Remedy testing the waters with how far it could blend multimedia, Alan Wake 2 is a full-blown sensory assault of meta-warping lore and seamlessly interwoven live-action storytelling. It’s far away from the mixed results of Quantum Break’s accompanying TV show. Led by captivating performances from Wake duo Illka Villi/Matthew Porretta and David Harewood (Mr. Door), the two exchange awkward pleasantries until the very fabric of reality is shredded up to Alan, like a bad idea for his novels. Wake has never been a reliable narrator for his journey, and the same applies here.
Nothing can be taken for fact, especially The Dark Place itself. Wake’s leather shoes scrape the New York pavements, almost showing a reluctance to push on his walking animation. Remedy is playing with the concept of negative space extremely well here, using the fear of the dark to induce tension that sticks in the air. Bravery is needed to unravel The Dark Place’s mysteries and it is grin-inducingly creative how you can interact with the environment. Using the Angel Lamp allows you to absorb light from street lamps, letting you displace into other sources to reveal new pathways, doors, and clues.
Seeing Alan Wake 2 load entirely new environments within a second, without changing the location or masking it, is utterly astounding. You’ll be rewriting your adventure in real-time as you find Echoes and new variations of Wake’s story, which let you swap environments for others, either revealing a way forward or surprises if you have the courage to go off the beaten path. According to Puha and Lake, accessing Wake’s Writer’s Room is done at the touch of a button – and it shows. Piecing together narrative beats and uncovering the mystery looks efficient, providing a brief respite from the horrors out there.
That looming presence of dread I mentioned earlier? Well, in many ways it is very literal in Alan Wake 2. The Dark Place is teaming with ‘Fade Outs’, a term that communication director Thomas Puha uses to describe enemies that are featureless, only rendered in pure silhouette. Should these forces of evil decide to engage you, you might find an evil Alan doppelganger trying to end Wake’s crusade for freedom from under the Cauldron Lake. Tactile sound design rips across the speakers, with noises of shrieking pain and indecipherable demonic voices directing torment toward Wake. Shadows can appear at any turn of a corner, lingering like a ghost.
An encounter with Alex Casey is a highlight too. With the likeness of Lake and the unmistakable tones of Max Payne himself (James McCaffrey), Casey’s a grizzled FBI agent who is just as pissed off to be in The Dark Place too. But flipped coins and duality play a huge part here, as Casey assists Saga Anderson in the ‘real’ world back at Bright Falls. It’s a moment that is amplified by how stunning Alan Wake 2 looks. It could easily emerge as the best-looking game in Remedy’s library purely from The Dark Place alone. The chilling atmosphere and gorgeous visuals are enhanced by Lake and game director Kyle Rowley’s adoration for the big and small screen.
Remedy is doubling down on the horror aspect of Alan Wake here. Twin Peaks was the bible that the first game preached. While there is still reverence for David Lynch’s oeuvre, especially Twin Peaks: The Return, creative director Sam Lake tells us that Alan Wake 2 is kneeling at the altars of modern horror iconography found in Ari Aster‘s Hereditary and the versatile filmography of The Coen Brothers. The presence of a strong The Matrix Resurrections influence can definitely be felt in the game’s meta-commentary, playing with your own perceptions of the character, as well as the perceptions of the characters that inhabit the word.
If you’re awaiting the Alan Wake 2 release date hoping there will be links to the Remedy Connected Universe, you aren’t going to be disappointed. I recommend keeping your eyes peeled for some subtle visual clues hidden in the graffiti-laden environment of the NYC subways. It seems like anyone could walk through the doors of The Oceanview Motel, a location we’ll be revisiting in the full game according to Lake. Albeit a “darker” version.
Alan Wake 2 doesn’t need to focus on big action beats, and it’s never really sat as the focal point for the franchise either. The action is the immersion itself. Even in just over 40 minutes of gameplay that we saw, there’s enough here to know that Alan Wake 2 is going to be an incredibly special experience. Perhaps one of the best horror games to release in 2023 if the full game can sustain this palpable feeling. Rammed full of lore to send you into your own Wake-style rabbit hole and a world I didn’t want to leave, Alan Wake 2 is just as slick as the author’s prose.
Keep your eyes peeled for more previews, interviews, and coverage of Gamescom from The Loadout over the coming days.