Review | Alan Wake 2 - A horrific masterpiece

It has been thirteen years since Alan Wake was lost to the Dark Place. Remedy returns to Bright Falls, as FBI Agent Saga Anderson and her partner Casey are looking to solve a series of ritualistic-style killings. The titular hero of this story is back as well, looking to fight his way out from underneath (though not really) Cauldron Lake. Alan Wake 2 is the video game version of the Twin Peaks type of game I always wanted. It is a mix of Max Payne (in multiple ways), Control, and a triumphant culmination of all the titles Remedy has ever made. Releasing near the end of what is possibly the best year in gaming history, Alan Wake 2 is a masterpiece.

Bright Falls, Washington

The prologue of the story is one you’ll need to see for yourself and I’ll avoid spoilers entirely outside of the base setup of the game itself. It’s an incredible opening, setting the adult and dour tone of the game with a horrific beauty that permeates everything. You’ll start your journey as FBI Agent Saga Anderson, along with her partner Casey. He has Sam Lake’s face and Max Payne’s voice, and it’s the first indication of just how meta and out there Alan Wake 2 will be. You’re visiting Bright Falls, Washington after a killing matches the description of a serial killer you’ve been tracking.

The town and its residents are heavily inspired by the Twin Peaks series, in which a pair of FBI agents visit a small Washington state town to investigate a murder (we Boomers know it, but the Zoomers probably don’t). You’ll visit multiple locations with a lot of returning sites and characters from the first game. While it would certainly add a bit I don’t think the first game is a required playthrough for the sequel. The game does a solid job of reintroducing any familiar faces and hey, you can play a “catch me up” event in Fortnite!

Anderson is one of the two main protagonists, the other being the titular Alan Wake. The only thing I’ll say about Alan’s predicament is that he’s still in the Dark Place, after being stuck there at the end of the first game. Early on you’ll follow a linear path as you swap between playing both characters. After a while you can choose who to play as while you progress each of their stories with the end again bringing you back to a more rigid structure.

The world of Bright Falls is large, with a lot to find if you explore off the beaten path. In my first playthrough (on PC, Xbox code wasn’t available as early) I focused on the main campaign while doing some light exploring and finished in roughly 15 hours. The maps for the real world and Dark Place are utterly gorgeous, featuring some of the best texture work and lighting I’ve ever seen. I’m going to go out of order and go over those graphics next because Alan Wake 2 might be the greatest-looking game of its scope that I’ve ever played.

My initial playthrough was entirely on PC, as it was ready well before the console code was. I have an all-AMD rig running a 5800x CPU and 7900XTX GPU, and maxed out at 4k I averaged roughly 50 or so FPS… with raytracing off. Turning on FSR2’s performance (sadly not 3 with frame generation, Nvidia owners get those tricks) and putting raytracing to low I could average 60 or so FPS in Bright Falls. The Dark Place is smaller in scope, and I could bump raytracing up to max and maintain a similar framerate there, and no matter what the game looks stunning.

With or without raytracing it is a stunning technical and artistic achievement. The texture work is sublime, and the regular and raytraced lighting sets the mood for the story and gameplay brilliantly. Much like the first time around Bright Falls doesn’t live up to its’ name. You’ll have a flashlight out the majority of your playthrough, with proper light scattering and impeccable-looking shadows. For those with a weaker rig, you can crank everything up after turning raytracing off and still be treated to a visual spectacle. The geometry of each scene is smooth, and full of detail, with little pop-in and an excellent level of detail around your character.

Character faces emote so well that they avoid any uncanny valley except when it is intentionally there. Both in cutscenes and during gameplay I was floored at just how good the characters looked with only a few exceptions on some of the generic town residents and their looping animation sets. Playing on an OLED display the HDR colors were mesmerizing. Sunsets, daybreak, and rainstorms at night would have me staring at the horizon for minutes on end. The most important part of any game is its gameplay, but Alan Wake 2 is the rare game that looks so damned gorgeous that it almost matches it.

Mind Places & Writing Spaces

Saga and Alan have similar combat systems but differ massively in how the puzzle and exploration elements of their campaigns go. Starting with Saga, as the game does, she has a Mind Place. This is a space in her mind in which she makes deductions on an evidence board, can have visions of suspects while doing profiles on them, upgrade her weapons, and access the game’s map. That map is a massive improvement over the one in Control and came in handy, making sure I didn’t get lost while traipsing through the woods.

For her deductions Saga will compile evidence by experiencing events or finding objects in the real world. You’ll do a lot of pressing a button to interact with something and then hovering over various parts of that object to highlight and collect clues or read notes. As you compile them you’ll be given instant photograph-style pictures to pin on your imaginary evidence wall. Where each piece of evidence goes is set by the statements available. See a picture of someone who was in a particular group? Then their picture most like goes in the “Who are the members of this group” section.

You’ll do this over multiple different case files and the UI does an excellent job of guiding you on what to do next. I never felt lost on what I needed to do to progress the story, despite the feeling early on of being slightly overwhelmed by menus. Saga also has various locked Caches, strange rhymes, and side objectives to do that can add to her three-slot charm bracelet. Gifted by her daughter Logan, the bracelet offers passive buffs and is one of the main reasons to explore while playing as her.

Alan Wake is a writer, and with him you’ll look for inspiration in the form of echoes. These are visions that give Alan ideas that he can write into the reality of the Dark Place. It is the main mechanic of your playtime as Alan, and it is the typical incredibly cool “everything around you is changing” mechanic that I love in Remedy games. Each scene you can do this in is one where something particular happened. The variations on that theme are well done, and I never knew how it was going to play out as I swapped between various versions of reality in the area I was in. You can’t do this everywhere, as certain rooms are places of importance.

Alan’s other unique mechanic is his ability to use a statue with a light bulb on it to absorb and gift light to specific areas in the Dark Place. Garth Merenghi would be proud as Alan types away, weaving tales of woe and horror as he fights to escape this hellish prison. Alan can be upgraded in various ways by finding Words of Power, which are hidden in the environment and activate when you shine your flashlight on them from the proper angle. They end up being the main reason to explore while playing as him.

Visceral Combat

I never found the combat in the first game to be that satisfying, and the shoulder-changing mechanic drove me insane. Happily, Alan Wake 2’s camera hovers forever over your fight shoulder during gameplay, and it feels fantastic. Playing on normal the game could be damned hard at times, but it always felt good. Both Saga and Alan have a small repertoire of weaponry which is most effective after using their supercharged flashlights to burn the darkness protecting their enemies. Batteries are a big part of the game again, but I never found it to be a grind to get more. They are placed liberally around every environment and at one point I had over ten of the damned things, which I promptly burned through on one of the few but extremely tough bosses.

Playing on a mouse and keyboard the aiming felt terrific, and while it was on PC and not a console it felt excellent on a controller as well. Movement is just fast enough to not feel like you’re a tank, and the dodge is useful but not overpowered. Every weapon feels powerful, and shots feel heavy. Alan’s revolver especially packs a massive punch though it requires a bit of time in between shots for maximum accuracy. Ammo is just plentiful enough that I have to think that they’re working behind the scenes to only give you roughly what you need to kill every enemy in an upcoming encounter.

Multiple weapon types are joined by consumables that are extremely potent and should not be ignored. I was having a hell of a time with a mid-game boss before realizing just how flipping useful the 5 flares in my inventory were at instantly shredding her Darkness shield. Health consumables take a bit of time to use and you can assign everything to a quick select inventory system that works well on both keyboard and controller.

Enemy variety is a mix of various possessed humans who range from small stabby guy to small clubby guy, small throwy guy, and big smashy guy. In the Dark Place you get more of the same, but everything starts out as a shadow and you’re not sure which ones will hit you and which will dissipate into smoke once you walk through them. Either way, Alan will super power his flashlight (torch for the bruvs) and either burn away their cover and smote them entirely from existence. My favorite thing about the combat is that there isn’t too much of it. There’s a lot but it never overstays its welcome and gets in the way of the narrative.

A Tale Only Remedy Could Tell

Ever since Max Payne I’ve always felt like Remedy was on the verge of perfecting its unique blend of deep storytelling, interesting locations, and use of real-life acting. Alan Wake 2 is the first time I think they nailed every aspect and the gameplay in the same title for me. The first Alan Wake title was special but doesn’t hold up gameplay-wise. Quantum Break had some incredible gameplay and an intriguing story but faltered in the writing and live-action part. Control had the best setting and most satisfying powers but a main plot that I found predictable and dull.

Alan Wake 2 has Remedy’s greatest writing, most satisfying combat, best-realized setting, and by far their greatest FMV work ever. The FMV adds so much to this title during multiple mind-bending parts that I can forgive some of the wooden line reading during the more serious parts. Initiation Five and a later Return level feature two of my favorite levels in video game history, surpassing the Ashtray Maze in Control by an order of Magnitude that I thought possible.

The game is that beautiful David Lynchian blend of serious and silly. Sam Lake’s work is incredible, making that damned Max Payne face at every opportunity. It felt like a game that everyone involved in poured their hearts and souls into with no shame in their performances. The most ridiculous lines, insane scenes, and dumb shit imaginable are done with straight faces the entire time. Alan Wake 2 is brilliantly stupid. A fiendish rascal that will knowingly wink during its most over-the-top segments and then punch you in the gut with a revelation you were praying wouldn’t come.

The music is unbelievable, both the licensed songs and those made for the game are top-tier. During some of the climactic combat the orchestral sounds swell, though my favorite scenes were full-on rock & roll delights. Playing on PC I ran into only one bug where extremely late in the game I had the UI become unresponsive. A quick restart got me right back to where I was and other than that it was a smooth and stable experience. I do not know what the game is like on console outside of being assured on Twitter by the game’s PR that it’s in great shape. Make sure you check and find out if that is the case before taking the plunge on your Xbox Series device.

It’s Not A Lake, It’s An Ocean

Alan Wake 2 is the culmination of all that Remedy has learned over the past 20+ years. It is a triumph in every way and you should play it, now.


Great review!

Am I really going to be picking up a horror game on day one or soon after? I’m trying to resist, hehe.

I don’t want to be buying a game and then putting it aside because I’m not in the mood for horror games, which sadly is often. :expressionless:


Wow, this is so incredibly exciting. I wanna avoid reading for spoilers, but I still wanna ask, I always found Remedy games to have repetitive encounters and that was always their weakness to me, is this issue resolved here?

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Solid review as always.

I was very underwhelmed by the first AW. Strong narrative that kept me playing, but horrible camera, meh combat and repetitive af.

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I feel the same way. Finished it on 360, started playing it againwith the Remastered version and only made it through 2-3 chapters.

Definitely buying this one though. It looks incredible.

I can see where you’re coming from. It did get repetitive. But that atmosphere really did it for me. Those parts in the woods with the swaying trees, the spirits chasing you, tense!

But I am a bit wary still, Control got praised to the high heavens too and that first hour did not really do much for me. Still, a hour is nothing but several friends of mine said it didn’t get much better. For them, that is.

Yeah this seems a lot better. My backlog allows me to wait though :wink:

Yeah, I’m sceptic but by the time I get around to playing this everything should be clear heh.

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The trailer yesterday was enough to sell me on the game, not these reviews, just don’t trust them anymore.

Besides our guys here at Xbox Era of course :wink:

I suggest everyone check out the full review page to see some lovely Predrag artwork and stylings: Review | Alan Wake 2 - XboxEra


Any xbox impressions? Getting annoyed with publishers only providing pc or ps5 codes.

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Yep, excellent as always. I always read the review there first.

Looks and runs great on Xbox - Shpeshal Nick


Shit man, this sounds right up my alley and perfect timing for spooky season, but sixty bucks is a little much… but a 10/10 from Jesse is very impressive…

Edit: Actually, do we have any insight on the expansion content? I see there are two story expansions.

Second edit: Answered my own question. Fuck it, I’ll cash in some rewards points!

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I read Xbox has the edge on resolution too (not by much tho), cant confirm myself.

Finally, something worth waking up to!

I’ve been mostly dissatisfied this year.

Starfield missed the mark, Redfall gave me nightmares, The economy is in ruins, My wife divorced me. I’ve been living out of my honda civic.

But, finally it is here. I walk around with a spring in my step. This game has delivered on what it has set out to be. I mean sure, they are ripping straight from neo noir’s of twin peaks and anything by david lynch. But if you are going to steal why not steal from the best.

It is so refreshing to play games like this it is such a remedy to whatever’s this repetitive same spiderman, mavel, starwars ip merry go round that we somehow have purchased tickets for.

This game is actually scary, “jump scares tire easily.”. People often say that and I can’t help but agree. But the physiological effects of this game are ever lasting. Like when my father left to go get cigarettes back in 94’ and never came back.

This is a call in sick to work today type of game, that’s what i will be doing. By work i mean sitting on cakes for elderly gentleman on the internet but you get the point.

I cannot fault this game, from the puzzles to the slight difference in gameplay provided by switching between the two characters.

This game is in the running for goty! Can it beat the likes of baldurs gate 3 and zelda? One can hope.

One thing i would like to add is that i think it is a very big misstep to loose exclusivity to this franchase for xbox. This is if not the best, one of the best games to come out this year.

If anyone is interested in me sitting on a cake for them, looking at the web cam and saying “oooopsie” let me know.

Irrelevant reviews Donnie Johnston 10/10

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It would be good to see Remedy having gone the extra mile for Xbox. It could be one of those games where the resolution is higher, with the cost of a few fps. Ideally that’s not the case.

But who told you this?

I did see that Jez has played it on XSX and also said something about S in a tweet.

Youtube comment, so truckload of salt.

It wouldnt be surprising though, Xbox is slightly more powerful so it makes sense that resolution would be a little higher.

Im interested in the s version too. I have both and my s is my office device

So I’m excited to play this game and I’m aware it only came out today but I have a question, does Alan die?

From the first trailer I was convince Alan was going to die it just seemed to point in that direct to me. I’d rather he live and honestly if he dies I don’t want to play the game (will leave a sour taste forever). Hopefully I wont get disliked into oblivion for asking this.