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Alan Wake 2 review: Horror-psychological thriller masterpiece

Alan Wake 2 im TestImage: Remedy Entertainment

At a glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

Brilliantly written: The best mindbending storytelling since BioShockWicked transmedia mix of game, novel and late-night TV showInnovative gameplay: We write scenes as Alan that transform the levelExcellent acting: This is Us star Melanie Liburd is fantastic as the FBI profiler and Ilka Villi plays the schizophrenic novelist to perfectionWacky dream worlds: New York in film noir whets the appetite for the Max Payne remakeRemedy never plays it safe, but always maximizes creativity

Cons

Shooter sequences play somewhat monotonouslyVery small arsenal of weapons

Our Verdict

Alan Wake 2 is a huge experiment in which the Finnish game studio Remedy explores how far the horror genre can be developed in the direction of psychological thrillers, but in such a subtle, incredibly smart way.

It is a much bigger adventure than Alan Wake 1, which took place in just a few locations. New York in particular, as The Dark Place, this dream world cast in film noir, sets enormously exciting artistic accents and is already getting us excited for the Max Payne remake.

Narrative is the most sophisticated video game of recent years, blurring the genres of horror, psychological thriller and art house in an artistic way and never playing it safe, but always taking full creative risks. A masterpiece.

The pen is stronger than the sword, the mind sharper than any axe – Alan Wake 2 is a game like we’ve never seen before. There is no work, no TV series, no film, no game that even comes close to this experience. It has moments of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and True Detective. Lots and lots of The X-Files, especially in its characterization. The horror of Silent Hill.

The brilliance of its storytelling lies in this completely convoluted way in which the brains of Remedy Entertainment tick. Chris Carter meets Stephen King meets Clive Barker meets the stylistics of Max Payne, in a way that only Remedy can turn into a triple-A game.

Crisp textures and excellent lighting via global illumination combined with full ray tracing are mixed with an art house feel that perfectly captures those horror moments. Okay, this review is going to be a wild ride. Please buckle up: let’s try and break Alan Wake 2 down:

The way actors play with our heads here is just brilliant. It has that fourth-wall effect when actors suddenly speak directly to us – like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards and Damian Lewis in Billions. But in a different way: we all know Sam Lake, the man who plays Max Payne. But he’s also Remedy’s creative director.

Here he plays FBI Special Agent Alex Casey. And a guest on a late-night show called “In Between with Mr Door.” And the TV guest on the couch is also called Alex Casey, but he’s making a film about Alan’s book. And all of this takes place in Alan’s head. After all, he writes characters into his story to help him out of it.

So he meets a character in real life, for example during his book journey, who he then writes into his novel, alongside whom we play. Or did he just dream it? Because Alan shows schizophrenic traits, sees himself in an evil version as Mr. Scratch, who rewrites his novel as horror fiction..

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Anyway, we find TVs that we can switch on, in which we then see ourselves (i.e. Alan) sitting in a late-night show. Like Jimmy Fallon on the couch, where we then have to answer questions as the author, which in turn influence the game.

It’s so meta, so Remedy, so ingenious, but also hard to describe – you have to experience it for yourself. But one thing has to be said: You have to be able to get involved with Alan Wake 2, you need the muse for the art, which discharges much more slowly than, say, a Quantum Break.

Brilliant storytelling that you have to get involved with

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Alan Wake 2 feels more like a TV series in its structure and less like a game. Because it develops very slowly and takes a lot of time – where modern games and films tell us straight away what’s going on – Remedy enjoys the uncertainty, which has deep appeal.

We don’t know what’s going on for a long time. It has an incredible number of WTF moments: Alan writes this FBI agent Saga Anderson into his story, who we play a large part of. And she’s constantly talking to herself and wondering whether she’s actually going crazy because so many strange things are happening here:

“Saga, there is no magic. No magic at all. It’s not real,” she keeps telling herself. If you liked the first episodes of The X-Files, you’ll love Alan Wake 2, because Saga is basically Dana Scully, who also asks herself the whole time: “I’m with the FBI, what am I doing here? Why am I constantly dealing with these strange otherworldly creatures? We’ve been given another case, Mulder. It has another monster in it.”

If you’ve been following Remedy for a while, you’ll find plenty of Easter Eggs, such as an engineer investigating volcanic activity for the Federal Bureau of Control.

This clip shows how brilliantly Alan Wake 2 is structured, choreographed and written:

Alan Wake 2 is so Remedy in its storytelling. If you like this studio’s other works, you’ll love this one too. It’s a much bigger game than Alan Wake 1, which focused on a small setting. Alan Wake 2 has a lot more locales, a lot more variance, which allows Remedy to load up with loads of atmosphere: via LED advertisements in the rain here, underground tunnels there, the Oceanview Hotel, saving sunrises at Cauldron Lake, and a sort of dream version of New York City – The Dark Place – with film noir colour grading, which again has its own unique vibe, at times feeling more like a drug trip than reality. But how does it all actually play?

The gameplay: survival shooter, art house novel, adventure, detective thriller, all in one

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It’s interesting that Alan Wake 2 works in a very classic way on the one hand: Shine your Maglite on the dark enemy, pull the trigger on the Glock. But then it also has so many CSI-like elements in which we, as FBI agent Saga, have a wooden wall in our heads on which we sort evidence (this doesn’t actually happen, she only sorts it mentally).

And these chains change because Alan is forced to rewrite the story, which is a constant in this game. You always think to yourself: Now the good man is going completely crazy.

The shooter passages are perhaps the biggest weakness because they are too repetitive and always play out the same way due to the limited choice of weapons. There is a high-tech crossbow later on, but we shoot a lot with the FBI Glock.

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This is surprising, as Control was one of the best shooters of recent years, with the most impressive physics engine, which is not utilized here at all. But the game also has a very extended adventure component, which breaks up the horror passages in which we are mostly alone. Where we’re talking to normal people in a diner in daylight, doing normal FBI investigative work. With some of the best acting we’ve ever seen in a game.

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This is Us star Melanie Liburd is so fantastic as the FBI profiler, we’ll be hearing a lot more from her. And Ilka Villi plays Alan Wake, who is practically tortured by his own thoughts, to such perfection, it’s a sight to behold.

Alan Wake 2 may not be as strong in its shooter gameplay as Control, but the storytelling, atmosphere and all the ideas that go into it make it one of the most remarkable and unique games we’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. A masterpiece that raises the bar for its genre and leaves us thinking about it for a long time to come. Real art, after all, does that.

Get Alan Wake 2 at Epic Games

This article was translated from German to English and originally appeared on pcwelt.de.

Recent stories by Benjamin Kratsch:

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