Originally published at: Preview | Alan Wake 2 "The Dark Place" - XboxEra
In a unique experience, the folks at Remedy wanted to really show Alan Wake 2 in the very best light – or perhaps, the very best dark that they could, and after being shuttled via coach to a local cinema, I was treated to a 40 + minute long presentation of Alan Wake 2.
The specific focus this time is actually on the troubled writer himself, as he finds himself trapped in what he calls “The Dark Place”. We’ve already seen a pretty good look at the other side of the game earlier in the year, as we followed FBI agent Saga Anderson investigating strange murders in the town of Bright Falls.
Alan’s world is far…stranger. We start off once again indulging Remedy’s love of real-time actors and film, as Alan is a guest on some weird Late Night Talk show called “The Inbetween with Mr Door”. Alan is seemingly very confused, and I can imagine the audience might well be just as confused alongside him – but regardless, I was absolutely intrigued and I can’t wait to unravel the mysteries of Alan’s predicament.
The gameplay portion of the demo was running on PC with all the trimmings, bells and whistles in place, and featured some of the best path-traced lighting I’ve seen to date. Worth mentioning, and I did ask – none of the raytracing shown here is coming to console, on either the Series X or it’s little brother.
This twisted version of New York was an impressive real-time graphical powerhouse and once again really showed off how versatile Remedy’s Northlight engine is. The entire environment oozes atmosphere, with elements of Alan’s psyche peeking through in road signs and occasional graffiti. It’s no open world, but the streets of Alan’s twisted New York feel alive and incredibly dangerous.
In the guided presentation, Alan meets detective Alex Casey (a detective type character who Alan has previously written novels about), who, in a fun meta twist, is wearing the face of Remedy boss Sam Lake. I don’t want to spoil too much story stuff here, but things get super weird, and it’s here we start to learn that as much as Alan is trapped here, he can influence things in unique and surprising ways.
First of all, light and shadow play a massive part in navigating the world. Alan has an Angel lamp, and he can steal light from certain sources and then deploy that light to open up new entrances and pathways. In one scene, Alan needed to access a subway station, and what was a pile of shadowy garbage and debris magically warped into the subway entrance before your very eyes. Watching the world adjust and reveal itself in real time, including all the lighting alongside it was very impressive. These larger light sources also acted as safe zones where the darkness couldn’t threaten you.
Of course, combat is another element Alan has to navigate. Armed with only a torch and an old-school six-shooter, Alan can use the torch to burn away certain shadows that become more tangible and real threats, allowing you to actually hurt and kill them with your weapons. What’s great is the level is often FILLED with these menacing half light creatures, often whispering Alan’s name in a threatening way. Not all of them come to life, some will advance towards you and it really can make the player feel very on-edge indeed. Best bring a spare pair of pants with you on this adventure. You’ll need it.
Outside of these more tangible puzzles of light and dark, Alan is a writer, and Remedy have really leaned into that aspect of the character this time around. As Alan discovers new locations and clues, he effectively is uncovering more of the plot and story of the pages of a book he can’t remember writing. He can visit his “Mind Palace” or “Writers Room” at any time, and change up what plot points and clues can go where. From what I understand, there is always a correct combination of locations and plot points, but the game still lets you experiment and investigate.
It gives a real sense of ownership onto Alan’s world, and truly let’s the player figure things out on their own. One of the most haunting examples of this is when Alan, deep underground in the subway, comes across a crashed train, its doors sealed, the carriages buried under rubble and debris. He links the location to a murder cult from his stories within his writers room, and suddenly the train is open, having been set alight with the passengers trapped inside. The player can navigate through, but strewn throughout the aisles and seats of the train are the charred and ashy remains of the victims. Remedy took the opportunity to let us hear their screams as we make our way through. Chilling stuff.
It’s been a long while since I played Alan Wake and the American Nightmare mini-sequel back on the Xbox 360. Now, over a decade later, being able to return to this world is a tantalising prospect, and it’s clear that Remedy are bringing all of their talent and experience to bear for Alan Wake 2. There are elements of Quantum Break (a great cameo from Shawn Ashmore occured during the demo) as well as the ‘weird’ of the fantastic Control. Horror games aren’t normally my thing, but there’s enough intrigue and strangeness here to make me more than willing to join Alan in the Dark Place and see if together, we can find a way out.
Alan Wake 2 releases October 27th available as a digital purchase only. We’ll bring you our review closer to the time.