Alan Wake 2 review: A slow burn that's more of a sidestep than an upgrade

Alan Wake 2 review
The hotly anticipated horror sequel is interesting in more ways than one (Image via Epic Games Publishing)

After a decade of eager anticipation, fans can finally get their hands on Alan Wake 2. The 2010 original continues to be one of the most celebrated cult classic games to date, so to say that expectations are high is a sore understatement. Yes, developer Remedy Entertainment has released a bunch of excellent games between the first and second titles, which tie into the overarching "Remedyverse."

However, they only offer a foreshadowing of what's to come. Published by Epic Games, this sequel is bigger, more bizarre, and creepier than fans would expect. But is that enough to live up to the hype, or does Alan Wake 2 ultimately blow out like an old lightbulb?

Welcome back to Bright Falls in Alan Wake 2

The horror show begins with a string of murders (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
The horror show begins with a string of murders (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

This brand new journey picks up 13 years after the events of the first game. Players return to the quaint but mysterious town of Bright Falls, which was also the setting for the original. Except this time, a murderous cult has been wreaking havoc across the town, bringing brand new protagonist Saga Anderson to the forefront.

Working alongside Agent Casey - who is played by none other than Alan Wake 2 writer Sam Lake himself - she is an FBI agent tasked with spearheading the investigation into the cult murders plaguing Bright Falls.

In fact, much of the opening hours move along at a snail's pace as the game puts together the tidbits needed to push the narrative in motion, with new characters and familiar faces to follow suit eventually.

After a mindboggling encounter with a re-animated corpse and mysterious manuscript pages that pop up around the world, Anderson quickly realizes that she is dealing with dangers beyond her understanding. This is where Alan Wake 2 spreads its wings to let the supernatural Remedyverse connections flow.

For one, the game directly mentions the FBC, the key organization that protagonist Jesse Faden worked for in Control - their anomaly detection machine is here, too.

Explore the town of Bright Falls as Saga and meet the locals (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
Explore the town of Bright Falls as Saga and meet the locals (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

Not long after, Saga manages to meet up with Alan Wake himself, the writer who has been trapped within the Dark Place after the finale of the first game. Players will once again step back into the boots of Alan as he tries to escape an alternate dimension of evil shadowy beings and reunite with his wife. Sounds confusing so far? That is because it is.

Those who want to get the most out of Alan Wake 2 will need to have played not just the original game but also the AWE DLC expansion for the 2019 supernatural adventure from Remedy Entertainment. Otherwise, much of the terminology and concepts will bounce off of player's heads. Alan Wake 2 is absolutely a game for longtime fans, even with its various changes, tweaks, and advancements.

Get into that headspace

Organizing things is a good way to start an investigation (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
Organizing things is a good way to start an investigation (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

The first major inclusion is a separate "safe" location for both Saga and Alan. In the case of the former, her Mind Place is a cozy indoor area. Here, she can clear her thoughts and focus on piecing together evidence and clues encountered throughout the investigations. The main board allows players to pin up these tidbits to create a flowchart of events.

Unfortunately, none of this detective work demands any thought or significant effort from the player. It can be summarized as tedious paperwork with players having to assign the correct evidence to the relevant case file to progress the story. Other than that, players can also keep track of other elements.

Track events using the flowchart (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
Track events using the flowchart (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

This includes a world Map as well as tracking collectibles like Radio snippets, TV clips, collected Manuscript Fragments for investing in upgrades, profiling suspect characters, and so on. Alan gets his own area, too, which is the writing space in the Cauldron Lake cabin from the original game. Instead of a crime tracker, he instead has a storyboard that can be tweaked using plot points.

Using ideas from Echoes scattered around the map, he is eventually able to rewrite the Dark Place to fit his vision. This alters space instantly, allowing players to progress and get closer to escaping the terror. But there's more to Alan Wake 2 than that.

Living the nightmare

Face dangers in both the real world and the nightmare realm (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
Face dangers in both the real world and the nightmare realm (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

Just like its predecessor, Alan Wake 2 is a third-person shooter regardless of whether players are in control of Saga or Alan. The former will scout in and around Bright Falls, dealing with the Taken - townsfolk possessed by the Dark Presence. Alan will do the same, except in a twisted, noir-inspired cityscape where nothing can be trusted.

The explorable areas are also much bigger around. While a far cry from being fully open-world, there are many nooks and rooms for both Saga and Alan to sift through, like abandoned trailers and creepy underground subways. Players will find various collectibles, from extra ammo and healing supplies within crates with combination locks to text entries and key items (like bolt cutters) to use for progression.

In other words, Alan Wake 2 handsomely rewards players for leaving no stone unturned. Both characters also have access to a set of distinct but similar weapons, some of which are found organically via exploration, as well as a flashlight to keep evil at bay. Returning fans will be delighted to see the light mechanics in action as the fundamentals remain unchanged.

Players can focus the light beam on the Taken to burn away the shadowy protection surrounding them and shoot at the vulnerable mortal husk within. While there are a few new enemy types, most are familiar humanoid foes. More creative designs would have been appreciated, especially after the excellent example set by Control.

On that note, the upgrade system for Alan Wake 2's weapons is as shallow as that in the 2019 Remedy game. Most upgrades are nothing game-changing, and players can honestly even get by without them. But that is not to say everything is rinse and repeat. While stamina is unlimited now, characters are unable to sprint as Alan could originally.

The Angel Lamp is one of the handful of new elements in the game (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
The Angel Lamp is one of the handful of new elements in the game (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

New mechanics have also been introduced, the most notable of which is Alan's Angel Lamp. Remember the safe light zones from the previous game? They are here too, but this time, Alan can capture the light from one point and attach it to another. This also has the side effect of altering the surrounding reality, which also brings to mind Control.

This makes for some unique and creative environmental puzzle-solving as players simultaneously try to ration limited supplies and gather collectibles for upcoming encounters against threats.

Survival horror... or not?

This alternate realm is cold, lonely, and deadly (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
This alternate realm is cold, lonely, and deadly (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

One key element that may throw off old fans is how different this game feels from the original in terms of pacing. While 2010's Alan Wake was a linear affair with snappy combat, the successor is more laid back. The dodge mechanic, flares for crowd control scenarios, and more still exist, but the combat feels less impactful even though the fundamentals and mechanics have been improved.

More noticeably, players will find that most of their time is spent going from A to B with interspersed storytelling instead of fighting. In fact, combat encounters are few and far between, so the most excited players will be during the handful of varied boss fights encountered throughout the game. Despite that, the Resident Evil influence is obvious thanks to the new grid-based inventory and quick-slot aspects.

Face dangers and discover secrets (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
Face dangers and discover secrets (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

Ammo and healing are also scarce. Payers braving the game's horrors at higher difficulties should take a conservative approach to combat. Bizarrely, Alan Wake 2 is happy to backtrack on this grounded mantra with cheap jumpscares in certain sections that throw off the mood and atmosphere. This is a shame because, more often than not, Alan Wake 2 is dripping with the perfect atmosphere around every corner.

The unnerving whispering of shadowy Taken around the corner, the eerie sounds only interdimensional anomalies can make, and more, sandwiched between cinematic bread slices, need to be experienced by genre fans. Even though it is not a scary game, Alan Wake 2 perfectly captures the WTF experience Remedy Entertainment is known for.

Graphics, performance, and sound

Not many games come close to this level of real-time detail (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
Not many games come close to this level of real-time detail (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

As always, Remedy Entertainment has made strides in ensuring their game stands out from the rest. Not just because it is infamous for its ridiculously high PC system requirements while also boasting an impeccable level of detail but also due to its consistently solid art direction.

From the haunting, otherworldly red lights that flood the natural outdoors during Saga's sequences to the brooding, dark, and creepy version of New York reimagined when playing as Alan - the game does not miss a beat. Yes, there is an argument to be made that the forest segments are passable, but even they can end up looking striking, thanks to the moody lighting and attention to detail.

That's without even touching on the gorgeous character models, which are nearly indistinguishable from a CGI movie or even real life at times. Remedy's custom Northlight engine deserves props for this one. Perhaps, to no one's surprise, all these bells and whistles come at a cost. Alan Wake 2 was reviewed on PC with the following specs:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-12650H @4.7 GHz
  • RAM: 16 GB DDR4
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti (8 GB)
  • SSD: 1 TB NVME
Sam Lake in the virtual flesh (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)
Sam Lake in the virtual flesh (Screenshot via Alan Wake 2)

At native 1440p and Medium preset, most of my time was spent in the 30-50 FPS range, with the latter being more feasible in enclosed areas. Given this was without raytracing, this is indeed a very demanding game. Those who can run it well, however, will be treated to one of the most visually striking games of the past decade.

Concerning sound, Remedy excels here, too, with goosebumps-inducing sound design, whether it concerns ambient sounds or the beautiful musical score itself. Not one bad thing to point a finger at here.

However, there are some technical problems to note. I noticed some areas ran worse for no reason, and reloading them seems to fix it - such as the Talk Show part.

Albeit a relatively minor issue, the menu cursor does not appear for me most of the time, and I am at a loss for a solution. Hopefully, these will be fixed with subsequent patches and updates.

In conclusion

Alan Wake 2 is a sequel that most players will largely be happy about. In fact, Remedy's latest project is on top of its game when it comes to visuals, aesthetics, and atmosphere. The gameplay has been modernized, too, after being generously sprinkled with modern survival horror elements.

But while most of it works and even does so well at times, it does not feel particularly cohesive. This is especially true when it comes to pacing, particularly due to the barebones investigations and drawn-out sequences.

The new character, Saga Anderson, is a solid addition to the roster. Seeing how her and Alan's realities collide - and the bizarreness that results from it - is a fun ride through the nearly 20-hour campaign.

Is Alan Wake 2 a better sequel? The answer to that question will vary depending on who you ask. For me, it lacks the diversity of Control and the pin-point precision of the original game, while many of its inclusions do not feel substantial, like the weapon upgrade system. On top of other formula changes, it is more of a sidestep than an upgrade in some ways.

Thankfully, by no means does that suggest this sequel is a bad game. In fact, it is a solid title, all things considered. While I personally still prefer the more action-centric original title, fans who want more of the titular writer's gripping adventures should not miss this one, even with the handful of issues that occasionally tend to haunt the experience.

Alan Wake 2

Final verdict (Image via Sportskeeda/Epic Games Publishing)
Final verdict (Image via Sportskeeda/Epic Games Publishing)

Reviewed on: PC

Platform(s): PC (via Epic Games Store), PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S

Developer(s): Remedy Entertainment

Publishers(s): Epic Games Publishing

Release date: October 27, 2023

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Edited by Angshuman Dutta
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