Also On: Xbox Series X
Publisher: Epic Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
13 years is a long time to wait for a game sequel, and during that time a lot can change. Chances are the studio behind the last game isn’t going to be the same studio now, as people come and go, move on to other positions, companies, and industries. Video Game development is a pretty tumultuous career as this year has proven, so while the name on the front of the box might be the same, the team behind that name likely isn’t.
When Alan Wake II was originally announced, like most, I was pretty excited despite the long gap between this entry and the original Xbox 360-era release. Developer Remedy had just knocked it out of the park with their last release, Control, and the tie-in DLC A.W.E. that sort of breathed a little life into Alan Wake ahead of the announcement of a new game. Still, you couldn’t help but wonder if they’d manage to completely recapture the magic that made the original Alan Wake such a cult hit.
Thankfully, having now played through the entirety of Alan Wake II, I think it’s safe to say that Remedy is definitely at the top of their game right now. In a year that’s seen a new Zelda, new Mario, a new Bethesda RPG, and plenty of other huge, acclaimed hits, Alan Wake II currently resides at the top of my must-play list.
The original Alan Wake did such a great job of capturing that weird northwest America vibe that shows like Twin Peaks have often found success with, and revisiting the fictional town of Bright Falls in the sequel just manages to magically recreate that feeling and vibe all over again. Obviously it’s a much better looking experience than it was 13 years ago, but that slight otherworldly charm still shines through, making the experience of exploring those areas creepy and somewhat magical at the same time. There are very few games that manage to capture a similar feeling to me (Kentucky Route Zero springs to mind), which certainly helps make Alan Wake II stand out even more.
It also helps that Alan Wake II is just a better game than the original in every way imaginable. The new dual protagonist set-up serves the story extremely well, and FBI Agent Saga Anderson is a fantastic addition to the cast here. Playing as either Saga or Alan offers up two very distinct stories and perspectives that weave around each other, complimenting each character’s experience in the game, and making for a narrative arc that’s hard to pull yourself away from. After some early game moments you can opt to switch between the characters at various points if you choose, but you’ll also be fine if you just allow the story to unfold by itself, so if you want to knock out a few Saga chapters before switching back to Alan you don’t need to worry that you might be missing key info or plot points.
Combat isn’t too wildly different than the original Alan Wake, you’ll still be blasting enemies with light from your flashlight before laying into them with traditional weapons, but I felt like Alan Wake II did a better job with the survival horror element of it all. I often felt strapped for ammo, which in turn made me think about each fight and how best to use my resources to get past encounters. I always felt like I was walking a tightrope of sorts when it came to my inventory, which just helped to ratchet up the tension throughout the game.
Finally, I want to mention how much I adore Remedy’s use of live action video in Alan Wake II. If you’ve played prior Remedy titles, you know that they like to utilize live action segments to varying degrees, usually via TV’s that show off fictional programs like the Twilight Zone inspired Night Springs. But Remedy really turns that concept up a notch in Alan Wake II, mixing in-game cutscenes and moments with live action video constantly throughout the game, and to great effect. There are segments and sequences in the game that you don’t want spoiled, and I really dug the idea that something like this only really works in a video game. Adapting this experience to film or TV would be pretty tough to pull off, as you need that mix of real world elements with video game spaces to sort of drive home the visual style used here. It’s just extremely well done, and one of many reasons that I love this game.
If you’ve not had the chance to check it out yet, then Alan Wake II comes highly recommended. In a stellar year of top-tier releases, sequels, and new IPs, I didn’t expect Alan Wake II to rank as highly on my personal top game list as it does now, and while we’ve still got a couple months to go, I’m fairly confident that Alan Wake II is going to be my personal game of the year.
Note: Epic Games provided us with an Alan Wake II PS5 code for review purposes.