How Alan Wake 2 rewrites the world to escape the Dark Place

Thirteen years is a long time to spend in a Hell of your own mind’s making, so it’s a blessing in disguise that Alan Wake has a case of the video game amnesia about much of that time. There’s a glimmer of hope for him though, as Alan Wake 2 gives him a fresh chance to find a way out and get back to the real world.

It will be a long, arduous and no doubt desperate quest to get there, not least because it starts off with being sucked into a TV, shifting into live action and all the pressure and intimidating atmosphere of a public interview and an oddly taunting talk show host. I’d say that In Between with Mr. Door is probably one of the toughest gigs in late night, despite Mr. Door (played by David Harewood) being all smiles and laughs…

Alan Wake 2 Talk Show featuring David Harewood

The bewildering turns of events and confrontations don’t stop there for Alan, as he now finds himself in a dark, grimy vision of New York – an impeccable take on late 80s New York City with all of the graffiti twisted to taunt Alan and what he’s going through. A pay phone is ringing, and as he answers, the voice at the other end of the line pushes him to visit Caldera St. Station to discover more of where he is. Except the station entrance isn’t where it should be.

Drawn to a light at the end of a nearby alleyway – the fairly heavy narration by Alan nudges the player toward where they should be going next – he’s then confronted by the gritty New York cop Alex Casey, a character drawn from Alan’s old novels, and who looks like the classic vision of Max Payne, right down to the tropical shirt.

Casey’s cameo doesn’t last long, but throws up more questions and suspicions, throwing you onto the trail of a murderous cult within the city, trying to finish an investigation that Casey started.

Alan Wake 2 Angel Light puzzles

There’s two really key elements that play out through Alan’s side of this game, and both centre around modifying or transforming the world around him. In certain situations, Alan has to capture and move patches of light using the Angel Lamp, suddenly switching and restoring entrances, removing barriers, revealing missing staircases and more.

Most of these moments take place in the surface level of New York, because as he heads down to the train station, Alan starts to discover moments of inspiration for his writing. Between the various locations and scenes seen in the underground and the Echoes that reveal moments from Casey’s investigation of a murderous cult, he can start to piece together a new narrative for a novel.

Except that we know how powerful Alan’s writing can be. At any time, you can switch back to the Writers Room, a counterpart to Saga’s Mind Palace, in which you can access the Plot Board and combine locations and clues and moments drawn from Echoes of Casey’s investigation, rewriting the story of the world around Alan and transforming the environment.

Alan Wake 2 Writer's Room

Coming to a derailed train underground, the location can be combined with a plot beat of the cult preparing it to explode, which brings an Echo of a conversation between Casey and a woman recounting the Cult’s other action. Tie that inspiration to the same location, and it transforms again, now with the train cars filled with burned victims that shriek and scream in pain and anguish as Alan drags himself through to the other side.

The Plot Board is a variation the the Angel Light theme, but it’s a fascinating way to bring Alan’s writing background and the creative process into the game. There’s only one answer and combination that will give you progress, but you can try any combination and perhaps this reveals more of the lore and back story.

In both cases – Angel Light and Plot Board – the switch feels practically instant as the world objects or changes pop into existence. It’s more than just using the SSDs of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S to push ultra-fast loading, and a special trick with instanced assets and background loading that’s built into the latest stunning iteration on the Northlight Engine. Add to this the shifts to FMV scenes, moments where silhouettes are overlaid onto the scene for emphasis, and there’s some really distinctive visuals for a video game, calling back to broad eras and inspirations that Remedy have taken from film and TV.

Alan Wake 2 Combat flashlight and gun

Through it all, Alan is still beset by the shadows and dark presences, the core combat of the original game returning as you shine a light to reveal and stun aggressive shadow enemies, revealing the human within for you to then shoot with his pistol. Except there’s a nuanced degree of uncertainty to these encounters. Some will be angered by sounds, others will only react if you catch them with the torch’s light (so you can turn off the light and sneak past), and then there are, of course, the set piece moments where you’ll need to fight and survive – taking the light from a cop car, which triggers its blaring sirens, for example. The thing is you won’t know what shadows are going to be hostile, and which will just mutter and shout as Alan slinks past. It’s a fresh layer of paranoia that peels back some of the action, but keeps all of the threat and danger.

The section builds up to Alan’s first encounter with Saga, the pair barely meeting one another at a weak point between the real world and the Dark Place. It’s a moment that you will see from the other side first, and after the game has introduced you to both sides of this game’s story, you’ll be able to choose when to switch between the two.

You can play all the way through to the final chapter of Saga or Alan’s story and then head back to the start and play through the other side, or you can choose to hop back and forth using special break rooms – these act like the typewriter-laden safe rooms of Resident Evil, but instead features a flask of coffee to take a sip from.

I’m certain there’s an almost autobiographical element to Alan Wake 2 and the 13 years that Alan has spent trapped within the Dark Place trying to find a way out into the real world again. While we’re yet to go hands on with the game, from what we’ve seen, there’s good reason to be excited for Remedy’s long-awaited sequel.

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