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Alan Wake 2 Review (PS5) – A Surrealist Survival Horror Masterpiece

Alan Wake 2 Review (PS5) – It has been 13 long, long years since the original Alan Wake. 13 years since Remedy Games and Alan Wake himself left their best seller on a cliff hanger, and after years of fans clamouring for a sequel, it is finally here.

Alan Wake 2 suitably arrives just in time for Halloween, yet perhaps not so suitably surrounded by the release of several high-profile games, in a year already flush with all-time greats. So if you’re wondering if Alan Wake can stand amongst them, or better yet, trump them, then oh boy; do I have some good news for you.

Alan Wake 2 Review (PS5) – A Surrealist Survival Horror Masterpiece

Pure Survival Horror

Less third person action-adventure like its predecessor, Alan Wake 2 has refocused as a true survival horror game. Featuring limited resources, whether that’s ammo, batteries, throwables or healing items, also adding safe rooms, and even inventory management, it is a true survival horror experience.

By combining its survival horror mechanics with some emphatic and visceral shooting functionality, Remedy’s long-awaited sequel utterly thrilling to play. Even with a more limited arsenal, fans of other survival horror games will still feel right at home here. The only thing really missing is a more satisfying melee attack/weapon.

Both playable protagonists have different sets of weapons to locate and add to your kit, although they both have variations of the same guns, they’re slightly different. For example Alan has a long barrel shotgun, and series debutant, FBI agent Saga Anderson, has a sawn-off boomstick.

Given that both playable characters exist in different realities, their means for upgrading themselves is also different. The novelist will be using his flashlight to locate the aptly named, and otherwise invisible “words of power” to broadly upgrade both himself and his weaponry.

On the other hand, Anderson will find charms to add perks to give her an edge, of which you can equip three and also locate lunch boxes which contain parts to upgrade her firearms. All of these mechanics play into a very methodical approach to combat.

Taking a fight on Alan Wake 2 always feels structured and systematic in a way that will have you considering how you will fight each enemy. What weapon will you use? How you can save ammo? What upgrades to prioritise that will give you an edge over the games enemies known as the Taken?

Use your torch to stun enemies, bring them into the light, break down their shadowy armour, and then line up that headshot, but keep an eye on your resources. Tactically choosing where to use those resources is key, especially on higher difficulties.

Throw in a healthy dose of puzzle solving, which range from straight forward to downright head scratching, and you have yourself a recipe for a near perfect and traditional survival horror, that if not for its modern presentation, you might have mistaken for one that released a couple of decades ago. Alan Wake 2 is the purist’s survival horror.

True Detective

When playing as FBI agent Saga Anderson, you’re tasked with solving the mysteries and cases that plague Bright Falls. Things take a very surrealist turn early in the game, when you’re introduced to the Mind Place.

The Mind Place is essentially an FBI field office that Saga can project herself into, and functions as a space outside of the physical reality where her part of the core game takes place. This space acts as a hub, where you can find collectibles you’ve found, evidence, and the profiles of the people of interest, that pertain to the various cases. Saga’s Mind Place is complete with a crazy wall, or an evidence board if you will.

By gathering evidence, placing them accordingly on the wall, and connecting the various evidence with string, the player will be able to advanced Saga’s story forward. Selecting certain photos on the board even come with voice over from the characters they pertain too.

There is more to this room, especially when it comes to profiling, but for the sake of spoilers, I will stop right there. Alan Wake, on the other hand, is exactly where we left him 13 years ago: The Dark Place.

The best selling novelist, fittingly, has a plot board in his writing room, where he can find key words throughout his chapters. Selecting these words and placing them on the plot board, will change the corresponding environments in the reality he otherwise inhabits.

However, these are not safe spaces. When you press the touch pad to enter either room, you’re highly vulnerable to being attacked. For example, on one occasion I exited the Mind Place to come within inches of being hit by a brute-type enemy. It was terrifying, and it was awesome. It feels incredibly cool to exist in these spaces, and I adored this aspect of the game.

Alan Wake 2 Wears Its Inspirations On Its Sleeve

Avoiding spoilers, Alan Wake 2 picks up right where they left off with Alan Wake 1, but also continues on from the thrilling and magnificent Control. There is so many moving parts, and compelling aspects to its story.

Remedy do not shy away from their inspirations when it comes to their narrative and aesthetic choices, and it’s something I’ve always appreciated and respected them for. They have especially honed their craft in the sequel.

Alan Wake 2 is macabre in a way that’s similar to True Detective with its ritualistic cult murders; it’s surrealist and strange like something you would see on Twin Peaks. It’s a hint of The Twilight Zone, and a dash of Stephen King. It’s meta, quirky, delightfully off-kilter, bold, atmospheric, and terrifying.

It can be an atmospheric horror, or can assume the role of a hard boiled thriller that Alan Wake himself is actively writing. It is so impressively versatile, and as a result, unpredictable.

The long awaited sequel is all of those things and more. In combining so much of their inspirations, with their remarkable creativity, that is so unique, and original, especially when compared to anything else on the market, Remedy has created their finest work yet.

The studio’s use of FMV in their survival horror follow up without a doubt is their best effort so far. Players will witness exceptional use of overlaying silhouettes, just like we saw in Control, as well as interesting and appropriately bizarre live action sequences, interlaced between brilliant set pieces. Needless to say, Alan Wake 2 is a tour de force in narrative, atmospheric, and thematic design.

Anxiety Inducing Audio

The weapons sound impactful and satisfying, with a distinct feel to each firearm as a result. Meanwhile, hearing the whispers of the Taken around you, but unsure where to find them between the trees until they’re screaming the ramblings of an insane novelist, charging you down, will have you on the edge of your seat.

The soundtrack itself knows exactly when to ratchet it up, when to dial it down, and when to be patient. Quite often you will hear a deep unsettling base grinding away in the background, and it so effectively anxiety inducing, that I had to remind myself to take a breath.

Remedy has an absolutely stellar cast in Alan Wake 2, and all of them play their roles perfectly. Matthew Porretta absolutely nails those moody transcript readings. Melanie Liburd as Saga Anderson is superb, with a very genuine and natural performance. Additionally, David Harewood as the mysterious Mr. Door is a particular highlight in the supporting cast.

Whether you’re skulking around the beautiful yet foreboding forests of the pacific north west as Saga, or roaming the urban noir city landscape as Alan himself, the tension is palpable, and the presentation is beautiful. Remedy are experts at making seemingly normal, every day objects feel intimidating and scary.

Each aesthetic is masterfully crafted, and will have you questioning your surroundings; with hallucinative overlaying environments, or have you (quite literally) shooting at shadows, not to mention its eye catching use of lighting, and sky boxes. Without a doubt, Alan Wake 2 offers a near perfect marriage of audio and visual design.

Everything I Wanted From A Sequel

Beyond some frame rate drops and minor texture frustrations, the most egregious issue I ran into during Alan Wake 2 was a black screen on two occasions, which resulted in me having to quit the game to load it back up again. However, it was hours apart, and was a negligible inconvenience that will undoubtedly be patched.

The load times are fast, which essentially make it a nonissue in the first place. With a new game+ mode that offers an alternative narrative, new video content, tougher difficulty level, and more manuscript pages, there is every reason to replay the game once you’ve finished the story.

Alan Wake 2 is everything I wanted and more from the sequel, and I am so grateful that a studio like Remedy Games exist, and playing through this game was a stark reminder of why this industry could do with more developers just like them.

In a year full of truly great games, Alan Wake 2 easily ranks among them as a must-play and is my personal game of the year so far. It is the perfect game to play this Halloween, so do yourself a favour, and pick up this page turner.

Alan Wake 2 is available on PS5, PC, and Xbox Series X/S on October 27, 2023.

Review code kindly provided by publisher.

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The Final Word

13 years since its predecessor, Alan Wake 2 was absolutely worth the wait. Improving on the original in every way, with Remedy embracing their inspirations, and honing their craft, Alan Wake 2 is a surrealist horror masterpiece.