Alan Wake 2: Review

Alan Wake 2

It’s been a long journey to get to Alan Wake 2. For thirteen years, developer Remedy left fans in the dark as they restructured the game’s concepts and gameplay. Meanwhile, Alan has been struggling to escape the Dark Place he’s been trapped in ever since the end of the first game.

Now, after more than a decade of anticipation, it’s finally time to wake up and smell the coffee. The question is, is the sequel’s brew still as strong or has it lost its potency after spending too much time on the shelf?

Alan Wake 2

Previously on Alan Wake

When the original Alan Wake was released in 2010 it was labeled a “psychological action thriller” by concept designer/lead writer Sam Lake. The game eschewed traditional survival horror elements like blood and gore and instead focused on building atmosphere and mood.

The story of the first game followed bestselling author Alan Wake as he tried to uncover the mystery surrounding his wife Alice’s disappearance during their vacation to the small town of Bright Falls, Washington. Throughout his search, Alan came across pages of a manuscript he didn’t remember writing, the events of which begin to come true. Alan also faced off against shadowy figures named “Taken,” which were local townsfolk possessed by the same dark presence that abducted his wife. At the end of the game, Alan is able to save Alice, but at the cost of his own freedom, and sacrifices himself to the darkness, in place of his wife.

In Alan Wake 2, the genre has changed from a thriller to a horror story. Alan is still trapped in the Dark Place, and the surviving remnants of the Dark Presence are attempting to manipulate the story to make it darker. This forces Alan to adapt and work within the confines of the genre and its rules so he can escape and prevent the horror story of another manuscript, entitled Return, from coming true and enveloping the world in darkness.

As soon as you start the game, Alan Wake 2 wastes no time in establishing its tone right away. The opening moments proclaim in no uncertain terms, ‘This is a horror game,” in bright bold letters. Things only get wilder from there.


Thankfully, Alan Wake 2 is not simply a retread of the first game. The sequel retains the core gameplay and narrative elements of the original while doing something new.

The game starts with FBI agent Saga Anderson and her partner Alex Casey sent to investigate a series of gruesome cult murders in the small Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls. The bodies of townpeople missing since 2010 are being discovered with completely baffling causes of death. As their investigation broadens, the pair face impossible supernatural events that defy logic and shake their beliefs to the core.

The two agents must adapt quickly in order to get to the bottom of the cult’s identity and motivations, which suspiciously keep linking back to a famous author who also went missing from the area in 2010.

Alan Wake 2Meanwhile, Alan is actively trying to write himself out of the Dark Place, constantly having to deal with the rules of how it affects reality, and by extension, how he can affect that change. He spends most of his time in a nightmare version of New York City, depicted in a near-post-apocalyptic level of decay and corruption made famous in his Alex Casey crime novels. These sections are a lot more confined and claustrophobic than the wide-open spaces in and around Bright Falls. The hardboiled, nihilistic aesthetic of Wake’s novels dominates and informs every corner of this rain-soaked and perpetually night-bound metropolis.

In this world, doubt overshadows everything and forces Alan to reevaluate every impulse and idea he has to thwart his evil doppelganger, Mr. Scratch, and the Dark Presence. He must navigate a paranoid world full of whispy shadows who parrot back his fears and paranoid rantings. These shadow entities are usually benign, but if triggered, can instantly turn aggressive.

Bestselling Authors

It’s great to see Alan finally back. I was completely invested in his story and it was like nothing I had experienced. The story, presentation, and execution of all the game’s concepts are ingenious, inspired, and inspiring. The way its narrative deconstructs the very structure of story itself is ambitious and dovetails perfectly with the premise of an author trying to write his way out of a nightmare.

Sam Lake and company have outdone themselves with this mind-bending, genre-twisting horror story, and that’s saying a lot, seeing as how the studio’s last game, Control (2019), was a cosmic mind-fuck. The developer has confirmed that Alan Wake and Control both belong to a “Remedy Connected Universe.” One connection between the two games is the Federal Bureau of Control closely monitors the town of Bright Falls, and FBC agents play a crucial role in the game’s final act.

While Alan Wake 2’s story is gripping and satisfying, it also leaves many questions unanswered. The game’s ending very deliberately leaves things ambiguous and sets the stage for the forthcoming DLC, whose titles, The Lakehouse and Night Springs, allude to names and locations familiar to anyone who has played through the main campaign.

Alan Wake 2Gameplay

The biggest difference gameplay-wise from the original game is that this time there are two playable protagonists. Newcomer Saga Anderson joins Alan Wake in his fight against the darkness and is the player’s way into the events of the sequel. I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about Saga at first but I quickly accepted her and became invested in her story. She complements Alan well and allows the player to see him from an outsider’s perspective.

Like the first game, Alan Wake 2 breaks up its story episodically into chapters. After roughly the first third of the game, players can switch between Saga and Alan and play their respective stories in any order they wish.

Both Saga and Alan have hub worlds you can switch to on the fly that let them examine and dissect clues and information they come across. Saga’s hub is the Mind Place, where she can pin up clues on a case board, profile characters she meets during her investigation, read manuscript pages, and upgrade her various weapons and abilities. Alan’s hub comes in the form of a writer’s room, complete with a plot board, typewriter, radio, and TV. Alan can use various plot threads he comes across to change reality to help him escape the Dark Place. Players can flip between gameplay and these hubs at any time to review clues, form deductions, and upgrade abilities.

A Light in the Darkness

Alan Wake 2 retains all the core gameplay mechanics from the first game and expands on them in new and compelling ways. The primary mechanic the game innovates on is the light-based gameplay, which again serves as both a weapon and a means of revealing new pathways and negotiating through the game’s nightmarish looping environments. In addition to the standard flashlight used by both Saga and Wake, Wake carries an angel-shaped lamp which, when used near specific light sources like street lamps and car headlights, can capture and release the light to a receiving source, which then transforms sections of the environment and reveals new passageways.

Wake’s ability to reshape reality through his writing has also received upgrades. Throughout the game, Alan encounters various plot threads he can use on his writer’s board to alter the context of the story and physically reconstruct the reality of the world around him.

In one instance during an early section in New York, he witnesses a vision talking about ritualistic cult murders in the subway. You then get the option to overlay that plot thread onto a photo of the subway on the writer’s board which allows Alan to modify the narrative to create a new avenue of investigation and navigate deeper into the story.

Alan Wake 2


Enemy encounters in Alan Wake 2 are much less frequent than in the first game but are much more intense and challenging as a result. Each one feels like you just barely survived. Fewer enemy encounters also help to build up a sense of dread, something very hard for horror games to successfully achieve.

The same goes for overlaps, which are areas in the game where reality and the Dark Place coalesce, allowing characters to traverse through them. Each overlap is unique, but they’re all much more concentrated in terms of challenge and spookiness. There aren’t a ton of them, but the developers make each one count. The boss that appears in the first overlap of the game took me a couple of tries to defeat, which I did only by the skin of my teeth.

The dodge mechanic also returns, which lets you dodge enemy attacks on the ground as well as when enemies knock you down. You can also utilize one-time-use items like flares to get out of a grapple. When prompted, players can ignite a flare (as long as they have one in their inventory), ignite it, and jam it into the mouth of a taken, disintegrating them from the inside out.


Exploration is very satisfying and rewarding in the game. You can find numerous upgrades, stashes, and collectibles scattered across Brights Falls and Nightmare NYC.

By solving certain riddles, Saga unlocks various charms she can equip to modify her abilities, like being able to increase her maximum health and adding an additional charge slot to her flashlight. Alan’s version of upgrades are ‘Words of Power,’ or circular glyphs of luminescent text hidden throughout the environment that only his flashlight can reveal. Depending on the specific word of power, Alan can acquire perks for seven different abilities, including upgrades to his inventory space, weapons efficiency, and the ability to reveal nearby resources.

Resources are scarce, and managing them is as important as ever. The game gives you just enough to get by, but you’re constantly scrounging for ammo and flashlight batteries.

The game is consistently spooky with a pervading ominous and oppressive atmosphere. Well-placed jump-scares manifest as black-and-white screens and feature monstrous versions of characters accompanied by high-pitched screams. More potent are the scares that linger and Alan Wake 2 excels at exploiting that elusive sense of dread. A particular instance that really got under my skin was during an overlap that featured a looping flooded sewer and a drowned taken. I navigated from one raised platform to the next and had only enough time to get to them before the taken popped out of the water and tried to drag me under. My nerves were on edge the whole time! Luckily I made it through that section without dying, which was thrilling.


Graphically, Alan Wake 2 looks absolutely amazing. The developers convincingly rendered the foliage of the wilderness surrounding Bright Falls organically, as well as the sunlit streets and structures of the town. The town has fallen on hard times since 2010, and they show its decline in stark detail, including familiar spots like the main drag in disrepair, many closed businesses, and less traffic than before. The once-thriving is shown as down on its luck and stuck in the shadow of its tragic and debilitating past.

Normally I’m not very fond of live-action footage in video games, especially in commercials used to advertise video games. They feel cheap. In this game, they directly tie in with the narrative to illustrate the duality between fiction and reality and drive the story forward. They supplement the game’s cinematic cutscenes and enhance the overall story by leveraging the two different mediums to form a stronger cohesive whole.

These well-crafted scenes skillfully integrate into the game, often using complex choreography and providing a showcase for their actors. Standout performances include Ilkka Villi and Matthew Porretta as Wake, Christina Cole as Alice, and David Harewood as the enigmatic Warlin Door, among others.

Necessary Edits

During my playthrough, I did notice a few small issues that were a little distracting and took away from the experience ever so slightly. It appears the developers repeated various props and environmental details, especially in the nightmare New York areas. Admittedly, specific sections of the game are repetitious on purpose, but others look conspicuously homogeneous.

At times, I also felt like I was losing the plot and didn’t feel like there was a strong enough motivation to drive the story forward. The NYC sections are more linear than the others in the game and I often felt as though the plot threads were leading me on without much involvement from me rather than as a result of my own actions.

These minor blemishes stand out that much more because the majority of the game is so polished. Unfortunately, they did take me out of the experience, even if it was only for a short time.

Alan Wake 2

Final Thoughts

Alan Wake 2 is an extraordinary achievement. It takes everything Remedy has done before, refines, and amplifies it. Its story is a masterclass in suspense, terror, and the madness of creation. It’s so mind-bendingly complex, interwoven, and expertly crafted, and pushes the boundaries of the psychological horror genre and redefines narrative in games. Its gameplay retains what made the original’s combat and exploration so satisfying and successfully expands on those elements in new and compelling ways.

It took me thirty-six hours to beat the game, easily making it nearly triple the length of the original. That includes a robust amount of time spent on exploration and upgrades. This length is pretty unheard of for a single-player title, especially one with this level of quality.

While Alan Wake 2 boasts a virtually perfect story, it’s just shy of a perfect score due to some issues I had with some repetitious visuals and certain pacing issues. In spite of that, I still consider the game to be a horror masterpiece and wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of the genre.

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)


Rely on Horror Review Score Guide

A review code for the PS5 was provided by the publisher.

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