It started like a dream. I never thought I would be playing Alan Wake again after 10 years. Most of the plot, gameplay, and characters felt like mere shadows of a half remembered dream I had. Moments of the sequences I enjoyed mixed with the frustrated “eh” feelings I had for the combat, left me wondering if revisiting this game now that I am closer to the age of the titular character would change the shape my thoughts from what I thought of it before.
Like Alan, I was tasked to pick up the pieces of an enjoyable and immersive experience I had forgotten and put it back into place with the person I am now. What I found was not only a game that represents the best and worst of an era of gaming that I still love to this day, but also a game that still shines as a missing relic of the cultural shift gaming was going through at the time of its creation that feels more present than past.
This Xbox 360 exclusive turned cult classic has been recently remastered on all current gaming consoles, other than the Nintendo Switch, with a decent graphics upgrade to its main game and DLC episodes. It also has added a new insightful commentary track from the writer/director of the game, Sam Lake, that provides his own thoughts on the looking back on Alan Wake after 10 years. The game itself remains unchanged to make sure that Alan Wake stays Alan Wake for better and for worse. Its a love letter to the game and its fans to provide a better opportunity for them to relive the game to its fullest and to provide newcomers the jank of Xbox 360 and PS3 era games on new hardware.
In Alan Wake, we follow the titular character Alan Wake and his wife, Alison, as they journey to Bright Falls to get away from the big city and Alan’s looming writer’s block. After getting into a fight with Alison in their very clearly haunted cabin, Alison is then taken by The Darkness. Alan must fight his way through a nightmare of his own creation with only a flashlight, a few guns and the mysterious manuscript pages left behind to provide Alan guidance to the mystery that unravels in front of him in order to save his wife.
The greatest strength in Alan Wake is its story. It shimmers in its Twin Peaks, Stephen King, and Twilight Zone inspiration that feels more like homage than outright copy. Though, it’s self-serious pontifications on the relationship of light and darkness can often come off as pompous Creative Writing grad drivel (I would know, I’ve written like this), it is this games genuine approach to genre that helps the story not fall into parody. Each humorous interaction with the campy small town life that Alan Wake has connect to the haunting manuscripts that you find. Those pages describe in-game events in paperback thriller detail which breathe life into the game and still feels refreshing to this day.
This remastered Alan Wake even encapsulates the early 2010 prestige TV feeling in its use of episodes that pace the game like a TV show. It allows each episode you play on your couch to leave you feeling like your binging your new favorite show. The team at Remedy understood the world they wanted to make and the love they truly had for it but unfortunately this attention to detail seems to be lacking in the actual play of the game.
Third-person survival shooters can be a difficult genre to execute and Remedy is a company that is not an exception to that rule. Its heavy use of its themes of each night encounter feeling like a nightmare bleeds into its mechanics in the best, but often worst ways. Enemies are thematically shadowy doppelgängers of the townspeople. They move quickly in dark and are unable to be killed unless you use your flashlight to destroy the barrier on them.
The mechanic of breaking that shadow barrier during a one on one encounter from the use of your flashlight or flare gun is deeply fascinating each time you do it, however whenever the game throws more than five shadows it can be cumbersome. Often the camera of the game can be disorienting when trying to get a read on how many enemies are around you and will often not notify you to attacks or enemy spawns coming from your blindspots until it feels too late to dodge. The game tries to regulate this through its flare mechanic, that can help mitigate enemy clusters from overwhelming you, but I was often caught off guard on enemies further behind me that I didn’t know had spawned, killing me from behind. Another sore spot for the game also comes from its gameplay pacing.
Alan Wake’s storytelling pacing is well done. Each reveal and story beat leads into the next that builds great tension for each of its episodes however, when it reaches its mandatory gameplay segment it can often feel drawn out not for story sake but for game sake. Certain journeys through the forest often felt 30 minutes too long that created a sense of exhaustion for me. It often felt like the game and its story was at odds with who was driving its vision and the perfect example of this situation happens in episode 3.
The episode starts as Alan and his writing agent/best friend, Barry, arrive at a trailer park to look for info on who kidnapped Alice but instead Alan has to run away from the police who are now looking for him so he can meet the kidnapper to save his wife. In a storytelling concept, it is a solid tension filled event that allows you to feel the highs and lows of this situation, but with its gameplay you go through this journey from escaping the police to reach the other side of the mountain completely in real time. This gameplay section felt the most unbalanced with is unwillingness to pace itself in a story sense as it dragged through different events that felt like they were created only to make the game longer rather than to better serve the game’s story.
These gripes are not something that I think should completely deter you from ever playing this game and in fact I think might beneficial to see how much games have gained from the improvements they created from this inspiration. Remedy themselves improved on their story and gameplay merging style through Control that almost feels like a complete continuation of Alan Wake’s DNA right down to Control’s actual DLC.
In a world of reboots and remasters of games of the last few generations, I never thought I would see Alan Wake as a choice to be remembered. I loved the game when I was younger and revisiting its pages made me love it even more. It’s an experience that I think can be harsh because its old gameplay style hasn’t changed but there still isn’t a game quite like it and for that I think its definitely worth remembering.