Review: Alan Wake 2 Is a Mind-Bending Narrative Masterpiece

Alan Wake 2 is not only the best game I’ve played all year, but I believe it’s also one of the best narrative thrillers the gaming industry ever released. The mind-bending story parallels masterpieces such as David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective.

Screenshot by Siliconera

Alan Wake 2 wastes no time pulling punches, as the game’s story opens with a disturbing scene of a bloated, naked man crawling out of a dark lake in the middle of the night. Before any questions can be answered, the opening segment abruptly ends with a violent murder. It’s been thirteen years since the events of the original Alan Wake in 2010, and the city of Bright Falls changed. Instead of nightmares and shadow monsters, we now have a ritualistic cult thirsty for blood. The people who went missing in the first game are now re-appearing decades later and being brutally sacrificed for mysterious reasons.

The long-awaited sequel from Remedy Entertainment isn’t just more mature in tone, but it’s also incredibly ambitious. In Alan Wake 2, you take control of FBI Agent Saga Anderson. She arrived at Bright Falls to investigate the recent murders of victims who went missing in 2010. However, the detective quickly finds herself directly at the center of Alan Wake’s nightmarish story as the author tries to escape from the Dark Place at the bottom of Cauldron Lake.

Although some fans may have initially been weary of the game having a new protagonist, Saga quickly earns her stripes by being a fascinating lead. She not only loves mysteries, but is compelled to understand why people do horrible things. Her inquisitive nature and ability to understand things make her the perfect foil to Alan Wake, who is in a frenzied state and is trying to make sense of his fractured world.

Screenshot by Siliconera

While the concept of dual protagonists is nothing new, Remedy Entertainment takes the idea and runs with it in a really unique way. The game’s story is broken into two sections, with both characters living out the chapters of their own novel. However, where Alan Wake 2 really shines is how Remedy visualizes the mental differences between both characters and turns the concept into one of the most innovative mechanics I’ve seen in recent gaming.

Saga Anderson has a “mind place,” which is an homage to Sherlock Holme’s infamous way of working through mysteries. The hub serves as a makeshift office, which has an evidence board and case cabinet. As you progress through the story, it’s your job to figure out how each piece of evidence connects to the larger plot. While this feature could have quickly become overly convoluted and cumbersome, the entire system is snappy and accessible.

In contrast, Alan Wake has his own writer’s room he can retreat to in his mind at any time. Whereas Saga needs to find clues in the real world to move the story forward, the author must find scenes that inspire him to write. Once you find the right plot points, you are literally able to rewrite the story real time and change the level you are in within a few clicks. The impressive feature is one of the coolest gameplay mechanics I’ve ever seen implemented in a modern AAA game. Because of how dramatically different Saga Anderson and Alan Wake’s gameplay is, I found myself constantly excited to jump back into their stories.

Screenshot by Siliconera

Alan Wake 2 is also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. While there have been many graphical juggernauts, such as The Last of Us Part 2 or Red Dead Redemption 2, Remedy Entertainment absolutely nails atmosphere in a way that is rarely seen in the medium. Whether it is the game’s red neon-soaked underworld called the Overlap or the smoky woods of Cauldron Lake, Alan Wake 2 oozes with striking visual direction in every frame.

During the opening hours of the game, there is a scene where Alan Wake finally emerges from the Dark Place after 13 years and is gasping for air after washing up on the shore. While the moment is a heartstopper, I needed a minute just to take in the gorgeous imagery of the character’s silhouettes flickering over the orange-stained sunset in the background. You can pause the story at any moment and believe it was a scene from a film or high-caliber TV show. It’s that stunning!

Speaking of TV shows, one of the best elements of Alan Wake 2 is its live-action segments. While the hybrid-episode format didn’t work as well in Remedy’s Quantum Break in 2016, the implementation of the live-action sequences feels revolutionary in Alan Wake 2. Like a character in Inception waking up from a layered dream, Alan Wake is suddenly dropped into a Late Night Show episode to promote his latest book. The bizarre sequence is surreal and disturbing, as the protagonist finds himself trapped in a never-ending nightmare. However, the live-action segments really work here, as we get a real sense of the author’s fractured mind as he continues slipping between different worlds.

Screenshot by Siliconera

Alan Wake 2 is also really terrifying. Compared to the first game, there were legitimate scenes that had me jumping out of my seat. I want to avoid getting into heavy spoilers, but there is an autopsy scene at the Sherrif station that was downright nightmare fuel. Without relying purely on jump scares and gore, Alan Wake 2 creates creepy psychological horror moments through striking color palettes and lighting. With its twisted plot constantly shifting under our protagonist’s feet at every turn, many sequences also just feel “off” on a visceral level.

Alan Wake 2 feels like a culmination of everything Remedy Entertainment has ever made. Its trippy gameplay takes a page directly from Quantum Break, while its mind-bending narrative moments borrow from its previous outing, Control. Even more impressive is the connected universe that the Finnish studio has managed to create across all of its games.

There aren’t just fun throwaway Easter Eggs in Alan Wake 2, but actual plot moments that will change how you’ve thought about past characters and titles they have created. While you don’t have to have played Remedy’s previous work to understand the narrative, it created a brilliant universe worth diving into to experience a unique connective world.

Screenshot by Siliconera

If I had any complaint about the game, it’s that Alan Wake 2 asks a lot from its players. While the story-building mechanics are accessible, some may feel a little fatigued after spending a few hours running around certain areas in the story. I felt a little tired after looping through the subway section for the twentieth time. Also, the game’s heavy reliance on using light in dark areas may lead some players to feel a bit lost on how to proceed in the story. In a neat trick, though, the game always allows you to retreat back into Saga or Alan Wake’s mind to work out the current problem.

While the game has a healthy auto-save feature, I also found the break room solution for manual-saves to be a little bit outdated. I mean, depending on how slow you play, it can take up to 3 hours until you unlock the manual save feature. Given how dense the psychological thriller is, I found certain sequences to be suffocating as I couldn’t save until I reached a designated room. But then again, I suppose it could be argued that this is a design choice that adds to the tension. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but just one of the few things I could see some players not being a big fan of.

Alan Wake 2 is filled to the brim with secrets and bonus content to discover. Whereas the first Alan Wake was structured with linear levels, Bright Falls is now an open-world-like map in the sequel. There will be sections you discover early on that you won’t get access to until the late game. I’m a big fan of the Metroidvania-level design, as it gives you a sense of progression and makes Bright Falls feel like a living world. Alan Wake 2 is also packed with puzzles and mysteries that you can spend hours trying to solve. So even beyond the excellent story, there is a lot to experience in Alan Wake 2, and it has a lot of replayability.

Screenshot by Siliconera

Alan Wake 2 is a psychological horror masterpiece and one of the best narrative games ever made. Remedy Entertainment took everything they learned from its previous projects, such as Control and Quantum Break, and delivered a riveting story experience that will leave players on the edge of their seats until the game’s final scene. The long-awaited sequel is not only groundbreaking and ambitious, but it has now set the bar for how story-driven games can be told.

Alan Wake 2 is now available on the PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.

The post Review: Alan Wake 2 Is a Mind-Bending Narrative Masterpiece appeared first on Siliconera.

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