Overall 7.50
I haven’t been the biggest Remedy fan, I found the Max Payne games and Alan Wake to be pretty simple action games. It wasn’t until Control when I feel Remedy found their voice with its incredible world building, quality level design and fun combat mechanics. With Alan Wake 2 Remedy continues to show they have hit a new level of storytelling that I feel puts them in the discussion with the best in the industry. But I feel AW2 suffers from uneven gameplay which is still hampered by gameplay elements Remedy has yet to excel at.

Alan Wake 2 is a narrative powerhouse, every inch of this game is so meticulously crafted to enhance the storytelling. Remedy has always played around with FMV in their games but here they mix FMV into the game world in very creative ways. Every area of the game including the menu areas all serve a narrative purpose and keeps the player in the world no matter what you are doing. This is a game that plays with the perception of time and respects the player enough to piece together elements of the story themselves whether through context clues or optional content. It’s a game not afraid to drop an entire musical number, a  short film, or a bunch of funny in world commercials, and mix them seamlessly into the narrative.  That sense of world building I loved in Control is back with Alan Wake 2, the confidence to push the narrative boundaries of what could be done in a game is on full display here.

The story itself is a twisting narrative filled with metaphors about many different subjects, one being a full on meta commentary on Remedy’s journey into making Alan Wake 2. Taken at face value this game is a horror story in the vein of Twin Peaks, a continuation of the first story about writer Alan Wake having the power to change reality with his writing getting entangled with a dark presence in a small town with super natural occurrences. This game has a dual protagonist setup with two concurrent storylines happening, one is of Alan Wake stuck in the dark place , and the other is new coming Saga Anderson, an FBI detective who finds she is way closer to the case than she realizes. With plenty of twists and turns of the story I was always engaged and interested with where it was going.

I don’t know if the plot is actually good though, it’s good for a video game for sure but would this work in a movie or a book? it might be a bit too convoluted, a bit too cheesy at times.  I can’t help but think if a critic of another medium just read the script they would think this is a sloppy mess of a story but it’s not meant to be viewed that way, in a game it kind of works. There is also what I feel is a deliberate choice to have bad writing, mostly when Alan Wake is writing his manuscripts, I the joke being he is a bad writer.

The strength of the story comes from the world building and how it expands the Remedy gaming universe. Nearly every side character is quirky and memorable, just exploring the town of Bright Falls is a delight as you can over hear all kinds of optional conversations which add layers to the story. Everyone puts in a great performance, especially considering how wacky things could get, this is a game where the same guy delivering a depressing monologue about his insecurities in one scene is singing a song in the next. Characters from past Remedy games show up, mostly from Control, and new named representations of past characters which Remedy doesn’t have the license for anymore, mainly Max Payne. The voice actor returns and Sam Lake once again is the face model for Alex Casey, the Max Payne like detective from Alan Wake’s novels who is now a full flesh and blood character, Payne in all but name. There is so much to delve into with the story for fans of the original, fans of Control, fans of Remedy in general. This narrative sure is ambitious but I don’t feel it has a satisfying conclusion, clearly leaving lose ends for products down the line.

Alan Wake 2 tries to go the survival horror route with mixed results. All the elements of a good survivor horror game is there and none of it is bad, it’s just none of it is great either. It includes a limited inventory with an “item box” located in specific save rooms, a genre staple, but It doesn’t focus on the limited inventory like an old RE game does. The levels aren't really made to be part of the gameplay decisions like an old RE title does, where every trip around the map is a calculation of how much you can hold, how much ammo you should bring, what routes are the safest and so on. When a limited inventory is in place I feel that’s the best way to make use of that system, without the actual level design forcing the player into situations where management of said items is key what’s the point. The only time I had to make a decision on what to carry or not was the over abundance of health items, so I stored a bunch of them. All key items don’t take up space, so its not a game about managing inventory, the limitations are only there for ammo, which is pointless cause ammo is already kind of limited by how scarce it is to find at times.

Not every survival horror game is about item management, sometimes they are tense danger filled experiences where death is around the corner. I didn't find the game to be all that tense or dangerous, once you kind of know the tricks for the enemies it all becomes really repetitive. The enemies in Alan Wake 2 are pretty basic, there are about 6 different enemy types and they all follow the same “trick” to kill then which is to shine light to break their darkness shield then shoot them in a weak spot or just unload until they die. Saga gets most of the enemy variety and combat scenarios, she has more weapons and her levels are larger to allow for bigger action moments. Even in the most complex of action sequences the most that happens is waves of enemies coming at you, usually in an area with no cover, it’s just a flat piece of land.

Combat feels cumbersome, probably on purpose to push the feeling of being underpowered as most survival horror games tend to do, but this means when the game does throw out a big horde attack it shows the deficiencies of the combat. Movement is slow on purpose, your only defense mechanism is a dodge move which allows you to avoid an attack. Reloading is painfully slow to the point where it’s probably best to use every weapon you got before reloading one. I found it cumbersome to switch between throwable items and weapons, for some dumb reason if you have a flare ready to throw out and get hit you automatically go back to your firearm, meaning that desperate attempt to use a wide area attack can be stun locked. Also say you get backed into a wall or against some object an enemy can hit you to death as the dodge move starts to mess up when against objects. Some enemies can throw projectiles and they magically go through any solid objects so trying to use the environment as protection is not possible. It’s as basic a combat system as there is, the only interesting part is how to manage your light attacks and finding the most efficient ways to defeat the enemies. With so few enemy types the battles get repetitive quickly and once you learn when to run, a lot of it can just be skipped.

This comes into play a lot more on the Alan Wake sections which play out in way more cramped hallways that reminded me a lot more of the RE style level design I love. These locations are constantly filled with enemies which is a big difference from Saga where about 70% of her locations have absolutely nothing. The issue is these enemies for Wake are all the same, these black shadows that stand around and only attack if they notice Wake coming close. Well if you turn off your flashlight you are practically invisible to them meaning you can just shut off the light and just run past nearly all of them. A few times one of these shadows will turn out to be a full on human enemy much like Saga’s enemies, many times you can out run them but there are moments where the game will force you to battle them where all the same issues of combat come into play. It’s not bad in anyway, it’s just not great. You might ask “well old RE games had shitty combat but you loved those games”, with those games the combat was directly tied to the process of managing items and finding your way through a dangerous location, I don’t feel that’s the case with this game. At least Wake’s sections had always had threat, for those reasons and others I will mention soon I enjoyed the Wake portion of the game more.

There are some standout sections of the game that I do want to speak about, could be a spoiler so skip this paragraph if you want. The big musical number is easily the most memorable moment in this game, a show stopping spectacle of a stage with a song that I cannot get out of my head. I loved it, I think it’s artistically brilliant BUT the actual game part of that level is as simple as it comes. You walk forward for many minutes then get a preset stash of weapon and ammo to dispatch a bunch of standard enemies as they come at you one by one, pretty basic. The other is with Saga, the Valhalla nursing home which is her best level, but even that is basically a slow linear walk through a location. The atmosphere and buildup of tension through the story is top notch during this section, the payoff doesn’t really come though. There are about three enemy encounters in the entire section, so while the game is throwing out every trick in the book to make you fear what’s coming around the next corner, the only real danger is a few enemies that are easily taken care of. So here are two of the most memorable levels of the game and to me it’s clear they aren’t memorable because of the gameplay, it’s all the other factors.

I will give some props to the boss battles, they are all different from one another with unique strategies to beat each one. These aren’t going to win any points for originality, I’ve seen these kinds of boss battles done before, and usually better, in other games but it’s an improvement on most Remedy games from the past. For a game that’s extremely long only having four boss battles seems low and more of them could have served to really break up the repetitiveness of the normal enemy encounters. At least they are highlights.

My favorite parts of Alan Wake 2 were the optional upgrades scattered around the world and some of the neat tricks and puzzles associated with world traversal. Saga had most of the optional content with locked supply chests that required different puzzles to unlock and a series of doll riddles used to gain charms. The supply chests often had environmental puzzles that require you to be observant of some symbols or patterns, some made you do some simple math. I generally enjoyed these as it was the most puzzle solving the game has. The doll riddles give you a simple nursery rhyme and you need to determine which doll to place on which environment based on the rhyme, pretty simple stuff but fun little diversion nonetheless. There were plenty of locked doors which had to be accessed later on when you gained the ability to open them, rarely was it anything substancial. I enjoyed collecting all the optional content but traversing the locations with Saga is such a major chore, it hurt my play time. You always start at the bottom right of the map and if the location you want to explore is the top left, we’ll get ready for like 10 minutes of mindless walking to the map, with the occasional random spawning enemies which you can just run past.

Saga has an odd gameplay mechanic where she files away everything she sees in her “mind place” which is like an office with a string board. Prerelease previews touted the ability to “investigate” these murders but this entire mechanic is nothing more than a glorified encyclopedia that catalogs the events you see. There is no puzzle to be solved, no deduction to make, you can only place the files on the specific spots they are meant to be in, it’s always solved the same way, it’s all very linear and happens as part of the story. What it does do is make you enter menu over and over and over again. This is not RE style pop into a menu to make a quick selection and get out, nope, every file you find, every new clue in the world you can go to the menu and hear a minute long speech about it. I could have ignored most of it but I try to see everything so this interrupted my flow of the game.

Alan Wake I felt had the way more interesting environment as the stages themselves could be manipulated and were the puzzles. Wake’s game takes place in a dark version of New York, it’s not a large map but it’s dense with subways, hotels, backstreets, a theater and more to explore. The key gameplay mechanic is Wake’s ability to change the world around him first with an object that can capture light and transport it to other areas, the light instantly changing a location to reveal more paths. At specific locations Wake can change the story on the fly and write a new version of the location. In one of the best uses of an SSD I have seen you instantly see the world snap into a new version. You are limited to preset choices and preset locations that can change, it’s not something the player has to think about or anything, it’s all kind of linear with optional switches if you so choose. Still I found it to be a very interesting unique gameplay mechanic that made exploring Wake’s location much more engaging. Hidden around the world are yellow arrows that only show up when you shine light to them and they point to various words of power which enhance Wake’s abilities. This made me want to pay close attention to every inch of these locations, to make sure I saw every possible permutation available. To me this aspect was more engaging than the combat.

That’s essentially the game, as you play the locations expand and you enter a new area but the mechanics don’t really evolve past the first 6 hours or so. The game does let you switch between Saga and Wake in different save locations, I guess the devs figured this might be a neat option but I fail to see how it impacts the game in any meaningful way. I would say it hurts the game as players might ruin the pacing by switching at inopportune times. Hey developers, you manage the pacing for me, that’s your job not mine. For as long as the game is it does stay interesting, so for sure Remedy managed to craft a compelling world with enough interesting gameplay moments to keep me engaged for nearly 30 hours.

Graphically the game is stunning, easily one of the best looking games ever made. The lighting is some of the best around, especially with how they play with light. This game easily has the best soundtrack of the year with loads of original songs, almost all very memorable and are stuck in my head long since I stopped playing. Every chapter ends with a new song, multiple singing interludes occur during the game and all the lyrics matter to the story. Plus the sound on a 3D headset is superb! This game is a technical marvel. Sadly though there were some performance issues on PC, seems to do with some memory leak as textures would stop loading in the further I played. By the end of the game I was needed to restart the game nearly every 30 minutes just to get the textures to stream correctly, extremely annoying.

Alan Wake 2 has a lot of good going for it, it’s bold in its storytelling in ways a few games are. If there was ever an argument for best game to watch on YouTube this one might be it. For me though the playing part just felt too standard for a horror game. It didn’t do anything particularly great, combat was average, exploration was interesting but tedious, it failed in any inventory management; the worst thing I can say is that I found a lot of the play to be boring, that’s never good in a horror game. I can still see lots of the greatness in there, Remedy is close to hitting on a masterpiece they need to shore up their gameplay variety and mechanics to get there.

Posted by Dvader Fri, 22 Dec 2023 04:54:07
Sat, 13 Jan 2024 12:08:33
Yikes I thought this was goty material?
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