It’s always risky when the hero of a video game series hands the reigns to someone else. For every time it’s worked (Marvel’s Spider-Man 2), there are just as many when it didn’t (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty).
Thankfully, the third-person survival horror game Alan Wake II (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC.) falls squarely in the former category by being just as much fun when Mr. Wake is missing as it is when he’s around.
Set thirteen years…
after the first game, Alan Wake II finds the titular novelist still stuck in the Stranger Things / Upside Down-like Dark Place where we left him.
But it’s also the story of Saga Anderson, an FBI agent sent to Bright Falls, Washington — i.e., the small Pacific Northwest town where Wake disappeared years earlier — to investigate some ritualistic murders, only to get caught in a horror story of her own.
Except for some key elements. First, where Resident Evil 4 was inspired by Night Of The Living Dead and the classic Hammer horror films, and Dead Space took influence from Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing, the Alan Wake games owe more to Twin Peaks and Criminal Minds.
and Alan Wake II also have different kinds of enemies. While both share Resident Evil 4‘s love of fanatical cultists, the ones in the Wake-ing world are impervious to pain.
You see, unlike in real life, you can easily identify bad people the Alan Wake games because their inner darkness surrounds them in black smoke. A smoke that works like a bulletproof vest.
Good thing you can clear it out by using your flashlight or a flare or, really, any source of illumination. If you can clean them, they can be killed.
As for Alan Wake II, aside from the usual new stuff you always get in a sequel — a new story, new problems to solve, etc. — there are some fundamental differences that make this sequel much more of a survival horror game than its action oriented predecessor.
you don’t just play as Wake, you also play as the aforementioned Saga, who spends her time in Bright Falls running around lush forests, small towns, and places where the two overlap, such as an abandoned amusement park.
When playing as Wake, though, you’re in New York City, running around city streets and inside buildings, though always in the dark realm.
(Oh, and sorry sexist / racist gamers: you have to play as Saga. This isn’t an adventure game where you pick who to be; you have to play as both. Now fuck off.)
Both of these areas are also bigger and more open than anywhere we went in the first game.
In addition, there are some slightly enemies in Dark Manhattan. While most can still be dispatched with a little light cleaning, you also face enemies who are all smoke, and thus dissipate completely when exposed to light.
Alan Wake II also…
differentiates itself as being more of a survival horror game by being less combative.
Instead, you spend just as much time, maybe even more, solving situational puzzles. And not just the usual “figure out a lock’s combination by deciphering the marks on some photos” kind of puzzle (though there’s a lot of those, too).
When playing as Saga, for instance, you also have to solve crimes by finding clues you place on a wall and string together with red yarn like an FBI agent in a movie. Or a crazy person in real life.
(That you do this in a mental construct you call “the mind place,” where you also have a radio and TV and a novelty coffee mug, just reinforces that yeah, you might be nuts.)
As for Wake, he has a “writer’s room” where he figures out the plot of his new novel by also using note cards and poster board.
Wake’s part also differs…
from Saga’s because he has a lamp he can use to grab light, which he stores in the lightbulb so he can move it somewhere else.
By doing so, he alters his surroundings in a way that suggests he is changing the time of the illuminated or darkened area.
For instance, if Wake’s standing near stairs blocked by piles of garbage, he may be able to flip the lamp switch and go to a time when that junk isn’t there.
Or not. Unlike when you changed time frames in Titanfall II, this doesn’t work everywhere all at once. Only in certain spots.
For all its differences and additions, though,
Alan Wake II still has many of the same tenets as the original. Take the scary stuff. A genuinely frightening game, this uses all manner of aural and visual trickery — lights, shadow, sound effects — not just for jump scares, but also to create a real sense of tension and dread…which it then punctuates by having something jump out at you. Just like the first one.
Alan Wake II‘s controls also work much the same as they did in the first game, albeit a lot better. While they felt very much of their time when that game came out in 2010, they felt rather dated when I replayed it a few months ago. Here, though, they feel thoroughly modern.
Though, admittedly, they’re neither as intuitive, nor as satisfying, as those in the recent remakes of Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space.
This, unfortunately, is just one of the things that made Alan Wake II less engaging than it could’ve been.
Take Saga’s aforementioned crime solving. Using the board in her mind place is essential, and you often can’t progress until you place a card on the right place. But it can often be rather confusing.
It also doesn’t help that,
unlike some games, Saga never offers any helpful hints. Unlike the chatty Atreus in God Of War: Ragnarok, she never reminds you to check the board, even if you’ve been pointlessly running around the forest for 20 minutes.
Navigating both realms in Alan Wake II is also problematic, thanks to the absence of a mini-map or a way to mark where you want to go and then follow an on-screen guide. This is especially true when Saga is in the forest, where the trails aren’t always clearly marked.
It can also sometimes be hard to tell which button to press during dialog interactions because the symbols are light gray on white backgrounds. Though it’s decidedly worse when you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV.
There are also times when,
instead of using the game’s engine for cutscenes, they use live action footage. It’s something the good people of Remedy Entertainment have done in their other games, including (if memory serves) Alan Wake, though it’s always an awkward distraction.
It’s also annoying (though completely understandable in the fiction) that when you go to their respective happy places, either as Saga or Alan, time in the real world doesn’t pause.
Similarly, while I know it’s part of the challenge, it still doesn’t make sense that batteries in the Wake-verse don’t last very long. Certainly not long enough to not be annoying.
But the biggest thing that makes Alan Wake II not as much fun as the original — for me, anyway — is that it’s decidedly more about being scary than being a shooter.
While Alan Wake II is a better game — deeper, more varied, and with better controls — as someone who’d rather be shot than scared, I found it to be less exciting and thus less engaging.
as people like to say, your mileage may differ. If you’re looking for more of a survival horror game than a scary shooter, Alan Wake II is exceptional. It’s as scary as Dead Space, as compelling as Resident Evil 4, and more challenging than either of them (even if that challenge is more intellectual than reflexive). Which is a neat trick to pull off, no matter who the main character may be.
SCORE: 8.0/ 10