Alan Wake 2 Is a Visionary Experience That Challenges the Limits of Video Game Storytelling
Inverse Score: 10/10
As I followed the trail of the cold-blooded detective, I was given an incredible new power that literally transforms reality with a single word. With one button press, the quaint hotel ballroom turned into a grisly murder scene. Being able to alter reality around myself was initially hard to wrap my mind around, but slowly the puzzle pieces started clicking together, revealing the path forward into an even weirder adventure.
Alan Wake 2 is a rare accomplishment, a visionary masterpiece that effortlessly straddles the line between absurdist comedy and cerebral horror. Continuing Remedy Entertainment traditions established in games like Control and Max Payne, Alan Wake 2 seamlessly blends gameplay, live-action video, and auditory elements, all of which contribute to a singular vision. It’s a game that draws deeply from classics like Twin Peaks and Resident Evil, but applies the studio’s unique stamp. Alan Wake 2 feels like a revelation for both survival horror and narrative storytelling, the kind you can only get through a video game.
While you don’t necessarily need to have played the first Alan Wake, this sequel does build on heavily on story elements established there, as well as the ever-expanding Remedy Universe that ties all the studio’s games together. Alan Wake 2 picks up roughly 13 years after the original, where the title character, a mystery writer, grappled with a dark presence that brought his own story to life. The sequel follows an FBI agent named Saga Anderson and her partner Alex Casey, who are sent to the sleepy mountain town of Bright Falls to investigate a ritualistic cult murder. Supernatural forces soon come into play, and Saga finds herself in a literal horror story. Meanwhile, Alan is trapped in a supernatural realm called The Dark Place, which manifests as an eerie neon-lit version of New York City.
Narrative is at the heart of Alan Wake 2, and every facet of the game revolves around the story Remedy is trying to tell. Essentially, Alan Wake 2 is split into two halves, one where you play as Saga investigating the bizarre events taking place in Bright Falls, and the other tasking Alan with escaping the dark realm that’s trying to destroy him.
These two halves focus on disparate elements. Saga’s story features much more combat and exploration, while Alan’s emphasizes puzzle-solving and unique set pieces. Despite how different they are, both pieces feel like integral parts of the larger overarching tale.
Remedy is known for crafting narratives that veer into weird territory, and Alan Wake 2 cranks that up to 11. One minute you might be wandering the desolate halls of an abandoned bunker, the next you’re watching a full-blown musical about Alan’s life. There are several massive tonal shifts, but the game turns these into meaningful moments that begin the next phase of the story.
Alan Wake 2 also does an impeccable job of seesawing between surreal and horrifying, lending a unique spirit to the experience. It’s difficult to discuss the game’s narrative in-depth, in part because it’s complex, but also because so much of it relies on hours of build-up before paying off in the game’s second half.
But no matter how you slice it, this is storytelling that can only be done through a video game, as the player is made an active participant in events. Alan Wake 2 asks questions about the nature of stories, and how we create and consume them. What role does the reader play in a story, and how do audiences change the identity of creators? There are weighty questions that Remedy tackles with grace, weaving a compelling meta-narrative throughout the entire experience.
Of course, Alan Wake 2’s gameplay is the other vital puzzle piece, and it’s given just as much thought and care as the game’s narrative elements. Alan Wake 2’s horror is cerebral, choosing to build a sense of unease rather than rely on easy scares. It’s been years, if not decades, since a game managed to craft an atmosphere as good as Alan Wake 2’s. The neon signs of New York glint off puddles to create kaleidoscopes of color, while shadowy creatures murmuring Alan’s name stalk your every step.
This is bolstered by a combat system that feels punchier than the previous game and manages to tread the fine line of good survival horror resource management. Alan Wake 2 is not a combat-focused experience. The game sprinkles in encounters at key moments, but ensures they always support the plot. It’s a wise choice that makes fights feel like real events where you need to choose wisely what resources you want to spend.
The bulk of enemies you fight in Saga’s section are Taken (civilians warped into terrifying creatures by the darkness). While most use simple melee attacks, the sequel introduces new enemy types that mix things up, like ranged Taken that can quickly teleport around and terrifying floating Taken that can turn invisible and flank you. Just like in the first game, you need to dispel the darkness on an enemy with a Flashlight Burst before you can damage it, adding batteries to your list of resources to manage.
A key gimmick in Alan’s chapters is that enemies often disguise themselves as simple shadows, the latter of which can be quickly eliminated with your flashlight. This creates a layer of unpredictability to exploration. You can never be sure just what you’re looking at, and it’s a fantastic way to add to the overall sense of tension.
Each storyline also has a distinct gameplay feature: Saga’s Mind Place and Alan’s Plot Board. As Saga, you’ll gather clues that can be put on a detective board, which pieces together the narrative and provides a path forward. Saga’s part of the game revolves around intrigue, clearly drawing inspiration from the likes of True Detective.
Meanwhile, Alan will visit locations broken down into different “scenes” that correspond to environments. By exploring, you’ll discover words representing plot elements you can imprint on these scenes. Imprinting a word will drastically change the environment, shifting reality around you and opening up new areas and clues. It’s a trippy system that takes some time to wrap your head around, but it digs into the theme of Alan using his writing talents to change the world around him.
Changing The Game
It’s fascinating how different playing as Alan and Saga feels even though the two halves are built on the same gameplay foundations. Remedy has created an incredibly compelling world that demands to be explored and pulled apart, often with the game’s encouragement.
You can feel a purpose behind everything Remedy does with Alan Wake 2. Every little gameplay decision and narrative detail is there for a reason. It’s the kind of authorial intent not often seen in games, and so much of the studio’s history feels baked into the title. Alan Wake 2 could only exist as a video game, but the effort Remedy put into integrating live-action and auditory elements has created a cohesive transmedia experience. The soundtrack is hand-crafted with the help of Finnish artists to support the narrative, and the stunning use of lighting, shadows, and color gives Alan Wake 2 an ethereal aesthetic.
Alan Wake 2 is a game brimming with personality and imagination, offering an experience unlike anything in video game history. More importantly, it challenges the very nature of what an interactive narrative experience can be. It’s Remedy’s crowning jewel, a game that learns from everything the studio has done over the last three decades, and that will likely be talked about for a decade to come.
Alan Wake 2 is available for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and the Epic Game Store. Inverse reviewed the PS5 version.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.