Alan Wake 2 has grown leaps and bounds beyond its original game. Not only is the experience a technical marvel capturing all the modern-day greatness that comes from Unreal Engine 5.1 but its storytelling has never been better… and weirder. But even during its strangest moments, and I mean ‘strange’ like a random cast musical playing out on the screen with choreographed dancing and guitar solos, the game still manages to deliver its overserious charm.
Set 13 years after the events of the original game, Alan Wake 2 sees players return to Bright Falls to investigate some murders that have gripped the town. Saga Anderson takes the lead role here – an FBI profiler who has a special Mind Place where she can piece together case clues and profile characters to progress the overall investigation.
Not too far into the game, Saga discovers that all these strange notes she’s been finding around Bright Falls are actually manuscripts which come true somewhere down the line. These manuscripts have been written by a mysterious entity and of course, I won’t say anything more to avoid spoiling it.
I will say that Alan Wake 2 has been divided into two. Both Saga Anderson and Alan Wake are playable characters and each character has their own quips and mechanics as you progress the game. Alan Wake also spends the majority of his time exploring dense city streets, apartment buildings and alleyways. Saga, on the other hand, spends her time exploring Bright Falls and the outer areas.
Of course, the mystery surrounding Cauldron Lake, Alan Wake and all these murders is what makes Alan Wake 2 so enticing. While the game starts out as a sort of detective experience, it slowly unravels into something much bigger.
Wake’s gameplay explores his career as a writer as he is able to write new themes into his ongoing story which then completely change the environment around him. As he explores new chapters and dives deeper into his objective, these simple theme changes get much darker and if anything, more exciting.
One early chapter of the game, for example, saw me explore a subway. The theme starts out with a missing FBI agent. I watched a short character interaction before swapping this theme with a crazed cult. This gave the area a whole new look and feel to it while also providing some underlying narrative to explore. I then swapped it to a ritualistic summoning theme and it further expanded on the area around me. If anything, it opened new pathways to explore too.
These themes aren’t just around for padding. If you pay attention, they tie into the main story and provide a decent plot point for the area around you. I thoroughly enjoyed this mechanic. Not only did it mix up the exploration but the seamless link between the area and the chosen theme always stirred up some excitement for what was to come.
Wake can also alter the world around him using a “Clicker”. This glorified light bulb can absorb light from existing street poles and lamps. As a result, it would change the area from light to dark. Some dark areas housed enemies, secrets and loot to collect. Some light areas opened up doorways to go through and explorable areas to ransack.
The Clicker mechanic also forced me to focus on the world around me. I had to constantly be on the lookout for light to absorb in order to save up a charge. I then had to look out for bulbs to use those charges on. Once turned on, gates would instantly flash open, walls would no longer be in the way and crawl spaces would appear in the blink of an eye.
In a way, it acted as environment puzzles and later in the game, these required carefully managing charges and using them in the correct order to progress through an area. I wouldn’t say any of these sections were overly difficult to solve though. I got stuck once or twice here and there but after walking around and charging a few lights, I finally discovered the correct sequence of bulbs I had to turn on and off.
While Wake was exploring these areas, turning bulbs on and off and collecting all the loot possible, I also had to fight the dark figures. The combat in Alan Wake 2 follows closely to the original game. Focusing a torch charge on an enemy would “clear” the darkness away. Sometimes this would kill the figure causing it to vanish while other times, it would simply reveal a person behind the darkness.
These people would then hunt Wake down with weapons and try to bash in his noggin’. I could shoot them with my revolver, blast them with a shotgun, flare them away with my flares or just run away. Resources are incredibly scarce in Alan Wake 2. So much so that the latter would often be the best bet. I was constantly running low on torch charges and my ammo was almost always in the single digits.
This definitely elevates the horror aspect of the game. If anything, it is likely the only real “horror” going on here because these shadow creatures are freaky. Walking near one would result in them mumbling “Wake”. That was my cue to bolt it. There was nothing more frightening than walking down the stairs into a large room and just seeing a mass number of dark clouds lingering in the distance.
Alan Wake can also get upgraded using various hidden symbols scattered around his chapters. These upgrades would enhance his health, boost his gun damage and much more. By the time I finished the game, I had almost everything maxed out. I missed a few of these symbols and each one is tied to a set skill type upgrade. So you’ll want to search around for every single one of them.
Saga Anderson, on the other hand, takes a different approach to her gameplay. While the general focused light and combat are the same, she faces her own threats and the general gameplay feels a lot slower. Progression with Saga relied on conversations with people regarding her case findings, piecing them together in a literal Mind Place board where I had to place down documents and topics and more investigation-themed gameplay.
That is to say, the gameplay didn’t vary off the same path. It still provided the same level of intensity but it was less mind-altering and supernatural and more real-world focused. She can also upgrade her weapons using collected Manuscript Fragments and equip charms to provide buffs and special features.
Given the two protagonists, the game let me swap between them at the end of each chapter. I could simply pick up from Alan Wake’s story at any time by going to a strange puddle of dark water in the janitor’s closet. As I played through both stories, they constantly linked back and forth in some brilliant ways.
I especially enjoyed how some gameplay moments would come across as incredibly confusing only to have it all explained later down the line with another character. It is storytelling at its best – even if the story does take itself a little too seriously at times.
Alan Wake 2 manages to also keep every chapter interesting and exciting. Be it with new locations to explore as Saga or Wake’s unique storytelling, and theme-switching mechanics. Sure, there were some chapters that dragged on a bit longer than I hoped for. It also doesn’t help that combat generally starts to get repetitive after a while.
The Resident Evil combat approach and item management meant I was always micromanaging my bag to fit more stuff. However, unlike the Resident Evil series which provides a vast number of guns and weapons to use, Alan Wake 2 is much more limited. So after I while I gave up and stuck with one gun.
One thing that definitely kept me going in Alan Wake 2 was its beauty. The game is absolute eye candy. I ran Alan Wake 2 on my RTX 4070 Ti and managed to get it running at 30FPS 4K most of the time. I know, 30FPS is blasphemy but I accepted that it meant the game looked at its best. There were chapters which proved to be more demanding and I had to increase DLSS.
Every single chapter in Alan Wake 2 delivered gorgeous visuals and the technical aspect of the game enhanced these in so many ways. Path raytracing, for example, brought the wet city streets to life as bright HDR specular highlights reflected off the surface. Dense forest scenes slowed down my PC as thousands of leaves swayed in the storm while rain scattered across the puddles. It is remarkable.
What isn’t so remarkable is its live-action sequences. These are encountered throughout the game with most of the main characters played by their real-life actors. They often feature some awkward acting, bad wigs and dodgy editing. Alan Wake is especially showcased during these scenes and is played by Iika Villi.
They just left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Sometimes a game medium can only portray the scene the way it was intended. These live-action shots came off cheap and instead of connecting me with the characters and story, did the opposite.
Would I say Alan Wake 2 is the best game I have played in 2023? Definitely not. But it is the strangest game I have played and I enjoyed it. At times it does take itself too seriously and, in my opinion, tries a little too hard to be an edgy horror game at times. There’s just a lot of flickering and loud sounds with the same repeated “vision” sequence going on over and over again. It gets a little too desperate for those jump scares.
Its story is also that typical hipster-esque, artsy-fartsy try-hard tale that people will love just because it is the cool thing to love it – even if they have no clue what the hell is going on in the game. But where Alan Wake 2 succeeds is in delivering a robust sequel that we have been waiting for.
This Alan Wake 2 review is based on the PC version of the game. Alan Wake 2 releases on 27 October for PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC. You can pick it up starting at R794.
Alan Wake 2 is a visual and technical showcase that brings some fresh ideas and mechanics to the series. Some evolve into fun activities while others get repetitive. The game is also marred by some awkward live-action sequences that feel out of place. But there’s no doubt a captivating horror to enjoy under the surface. It is the strangest game you’ll play this year in all the best ways.