There was an unsettling sense of dread as I stalked the streets of a twisted New York. Never sure which shadows could turn into enemies and which were harmless, I’d simply have to be ready to fight at any moment.
Alan Wake 2 is a survival horror game unlike anything else out there, equal parts surreal, wonderful, horrific, and gripping. It’s a slow-burn, True Detective-style story with a supernatural twist that weaves layers of mystery and intrigue infused with intense action and horror. But the game’s defining feature is its dual-protagonist narrative, in which two parallel stories come together to reveal a groundbreaking work of interactive entertainment.
While there are hints of Remedy Entertainment’s past sprinkled throughout the game, it’s this dual structure that elevates Alan Wake 2 into something new and bold beyond anything we’ve seen before, from the studio or otherwise.
Remedy provided Alan Wake 2 to Inverse for review on Sunday, October 22. While we didn’t have enough time to finish the game before the embargo, we wanted to share our thoughts at this point. Stay tuned for a full review next week.
Alan Wake 2’s narrative revolves around two protagonists: FBI agent Saga Anderson and Alan Wake himself. The sequel picks up 13 years after the original game as a grisly new murder occurs in Bright Falls, Washington, prompting the FBI to investigate.
There are two plotlines. Saga’s narrative takes place in Bright Falls and the surrounding area, while Alan’s is set in the horrific otherwordly realm of The Dark Place. After a certain point in the game, you can switch between them on the fly.
These two tales have markedly different tones and feels, but are both essential parts of the whole. As Saga is an FBI agent, her story largely revolves around methodical investigation and discovery, while Alan’s story focuses on piecing plot elements together as he desperately tries to escape The Dark Place.
Alan Wake 2 is a slow burn in every sense, taking liberal time to set up its world, story, and characters before getting to any action. It’s a clear choice on Remedy’s part to make you invested in the story and then slowly ratchet up the tension and mystery.
Improving on Old Concepts
One of the game’s essential mechanics revolves around the Plot Board, which Saga can access from her “Mind Place,” a pseudo-pause menu inside her head that allows the agent to piece cases together.
Of course, Remedy has always used plot and narrative as a mechanic. In the first Alan Wake, manuscript pages gave you glimpses of future events before you played them. And in Quantum Break, collectibles could often influence the live-action TV segments. The Plot Board feels like a natural extension of that, giving you a direct gameplay mechanic to influence the plot.
As you explore, you’ll gather various clues that can be placed on the Mind Place board. There are multiple cases to keep track of, both in the main story and through sidequests. It’s a fascinating way of keeping story progression tied to a mechanic the player has control over. You can often figure out puzzle solutions or deduce how to progress without using the board, but it's always there to help you piece things together if you need it. Crucially, however, the game doesn’t spell everything out but rather gives you the pieces to figure things out yourself, once again reinforcing that sense of a “detective” experience.
Each chapter or “part” takes place in an open area, where you can progress the story down a mostly linear path, but if you split off and explore, you can discover a wealth of Easter eggs, narrative clues, supplies, new equipment, and more. Because of the Plot Board, exploration doesn’t just lend tangible rewards like ammo. It often helps you piece together more of the story. Interspersed among all this exploration and investigation are intense moments of hand-crafted horror, like set pieces or boss battles. In a sense, this idea stems from the studio’s work with Control, which largely focused on quiet exploration but would often sprinkle in big boss battles and shocking revelations at the most unassuming of times, especially during sidequests.
This gives Saga’s sections a constant sense of discovery, as nearly everything you do either contributes to your survival or a further understanding of the story. That’s where Alan’s story comes in, serving as a prequel to Saga’s section.
The Dark Place
Alan’s plot works in concert with Saga’s, running alongside her story and packed with revelations to understand the overall narrative.
While Saga’s part feels like a slow-burn episode of True Detective, Alan’s tale is much more focused on horror and spectacle, with tightly designed spaces that feel like big puzzles, much like Resident Evil 2’s police station. His side of the game revolves around piecing together murders that happened at these locations, using his talents as a writer to change reality and the layout of these spaces. Enemies also work interestingly in Alan’s story, materializing as shadows that roam the streets of New York. However, some of these shadows are harmless while others are deadly enemies that will assault you — and it’s nigh impossible to know which way things will go. This gives Alan’s story a constant sense of tension and uneasiness, which is only heightened by a phenomenal atmosphere and art design.
It doesn’t feel like there’s a way you’re “supposed” to play through the game. After the first two chapters of both Saga and Alan, you can switch between their stories at will. If you want to mainline Saga before even touching Alan, you can do that. There’s no one “right” way to play Alan Wake 2, and that comes down to how compelling the narrative feels thanks to a perfectly calibrated drip of new story details.
This has long been a trademark of Remedy’s approach to development. The studio always sought to tie narrative and gameplay together closely. Max Payne made liberal use of the character’s internal monologue that would react to what the player was doing, Alan Wake gave you a written story that told you how things would play out, and Control put a huge emphasis on making collectibles narratively important, rewarding your exploration with rich story context. All of those ideas are present in Alan Wake 2, with everything working in concert to further these two interweaving stories.
It’s a novel way to structure a game that’s unlike anything else out there, and it’s fascinating how these two halves work in concert, each feeling unique but equally vital. Remedy uses clear inspirations like the intrigue of True Detective and the survival horror of Resident Evil, but applies trademark narrative focus to create something with an entirely unique flavor.
The only worry I have is that Alan Wake 2’s runtime might make its dual protagonist approach feel too drawn out. But 12 hours in (out of what’s meant to be a 20-hour experience), the game is constantly throwing surprises to keep things interesting. There are lessons that Remedy has learned over the last two decades that are on full display here: the exploration and progression of Control, the tight and interesting combat of Quantum Break, the character introspection of Max Payne, and the ambitious complex storytelling of Alan Wake. This feels like the culmination of everything the studio has done, and very well could end up being its best game yet.