During Summer Game Fest 2023, I had a chance to get a behind-closed-doors look at Alan Wake, the highly anticipated sequel 13 years in the making.
The road to Alan Wake 2 was full of speed bumps involving publishing rights and finding the right ideas, hence the 13-year gap. “We’ve been trying and now finally everything just clicked into place,” co-director Sam Lake says. “We got the publishing rights of the original game back, so we were in a position to create a remastered version for the PlayStation audience as well as a wider audience. And we were trying to do Alan Wake 2 before we went and created Control. And so there was a concept. It’s not this concept; it was different, and we felt that it doesn’t quite feel like Alan Wake, but maybe cool ideas on this kind of almost superhero action and is more kind of a nonlinear game. We took those design ideas and we created Control.”
The game universe has progressed in real-time, taking place 13 years after the 2010 first entry. Alan Wake II utilizes a dual-protagonist system, introducing Saga Anderson. Alan Wake has been trapped in the Dark Place, a nightmarish version of New York City, ever since the events of the first game. While there, Alan attempts to rewrite his reality and escape this alternate dimension. His story centers on Saga Anderson, an FBI agent investigating a string of murders in the Pacific Northwest.
My demo follows Saga as she follows the trail of a killer alongside her partner Casey. The two make their way through a beautiful forest, but it won’t be a pleasant stroll for long. Saga is looking into the Cult of the Tree, so naturally, she investigates a tree deep in the woods. One name keeps coming up: Nightingale. By shining her flashlight on a spot in the tree that’s shrouded by darkness, she’s able to dispel the darkness covering up her next clue and learn that she needs to go to a witch’s hut.
After illuminating the house by replacing the fuse, she learns that she must go to the convenience store to retrieve a tattooed heart. But first, it’s time to take a coffee break… kind of. When you find a thermos, you can save your game or, in phases of the story later than where this demo takes place, switch between playing as Saga or Alan.
“The idea that we would have two playable characters in this was around for a while and we were thinking about different aspects of it and it just feels really important to us that even if we have a connected universe and we can bring a ton of lore and things to be discovered – these threads that go into different games – it’s really, really crucial that it’s approachable for somebody who has never played around with the game before,” Lake says. “Knowing the situation that we left Alan Wake in, and his experience with everything, it just felt that it’s tricky to make that approachable for a newcomer. And we wanted to bring in a character who is a newcomer to all of this crazy supernatural stuff as well.”
After saving the game, Remedy also gives us a look at the Mind Place, a physical representation of Saga’s thought processes. This construct within Saga’s head, which is essentially a 3D, interactive menu for options surrounding the investigation at hand, features a case board for Saga to organize clues to progress the investigation, profiling options to learn more about her suspects, and even ways to upgrade her weapons. The Mind Place is exclusive to Saga, but Remedy teases that Alan will have an area that functions similarly.
“We wanted to build on [Remedy’s history with giving players power] and give the player more verbiage connected to the power fantasy of being an FBI profiler or tortured writer,” co-director Kyle Rowley says. “Trying to build mechanics that allow us to pace the game better and give the player more things to do.”
Speaking of weapons, Saga arrives at the convenience store, only to find a massive monster inside of it. Using the flashlight to expose its weakness, she blasts it away. Combat is more methodical and strategic this time, but it’s still often about using your light to disperse the darkness. In one sequence, Saga hides under a spotlight and the monster loses sight of her. After defeating the enemy, Saga finds the tattooed heart in a fridge. She also finds a shotgun. Inventory management in Alan Wake 2 takes a lot of inspiration from the Resident Evil series, which understandably has a lot of survival-horror fans excited.
The words tattooed on the heart instruct her on how to reach The Overlap, a place where her reality seemingly shares space with the Dark Place. Saga returns to the tree from before and by following the instructions, she reaches The Overlap. It looks like the forest Saga was wandering around before, but something’s just a little off.
Images of a city superimpose over wooded landscapes, unsettling red lighting illuminates the trees, and the gruesome face of Nightingale keeps popping up in front of the screen, creating a massive jump-scare. With this being Remedy’s first survival-horror title, we can expect jump-scares and horrifying situations against the atmospheric backdrop and engaging storytelling the studio is known for.
At long last, Saga reaches the man she was pursuing: Nightingale. The supernatural killer is overpowering, and Saga needs to be strategic to stand a chance. After unloading her pistol and shotgun into him, she needs to run through the woods to buy time. I don’t want to go into too many details about the battle or how it ends, but the demo ends with Saga stumbling over to the shore of a lake, where a mysterious man has washed up on shore. She asks him who he is and he says, “My name is Alan Wake. I’m a writer.”
Alan Wake 2’s visual fidelity, atmospheric tension, and combat all look fantastic. Remedy seems to have learned several lessons from its recent work on Control, which prioritized combat in ways few Remedy titles have. Fans of Control, which took home our 2019 Game of the Year award, have more excitement to look forward to with Alan Wake 2 since the games are confirmed to take place in the same universe.
“We wanted to keep this approachable for somebody who doesn’t have [knowledge of Control], but there are a ton of connection points,” Lake says. “It’s an Alan Wake game, but it’s a Remedy Universe game, so it does have Control-related material in it. For sure. I’m excitedly waiting for fans of Control and fans of Alan Wake and fans of both to be able to dig into it. I’m expecting them to be pretty surprised about the amount of connection points to be found.”
And now with the 13-year wait poised to come to a close, Remedy is excited for the journey to end and for fans to get their hands on the game. “Creating this, it’s so much work; it’s hard work, so feeling exhausted,” Lake says. “But at the same time, it’s so exciting! This has been a dream. This has been fiction for so long, and now having it manifest for real, it’s exciting and thrilling, and I honestly like the way I’m feeling and how proud I am feeling, and how excited I am feeling about having been able to do this and what kind of crazy ideas we have put inside this and getting it made. I feel more excited than I have ever felt on any game project along the way.”
Alan Wake 2 arrives on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on October 17.