Alan Wake re-emerges from the darkness looking better than ever, and at the perfect time for reappraisal.
It’s been 11 years since Remedy took us to Bright Falls and led us down the kind of deliciously demented path the developer has since become synonymous with. Now, with Control pushing Remedy to new heights (not to mention connecting with Wake’s world), a remaster of Alan Wake for a wider audience makes a lot of sense. But is Alan’s shadowy adventure worthy of a Stephen King-esque renaissance?
King is the touchstone for why many people fell in love with Alan Wake. His go-to plot setup of ‘an author walks into a horror story’ shapes the crux of Wake’s own tale, but in general, Remedy takes more inspiration from Dean Koontz and David Lynch.
Esteemed crime writer Alan Wake goes on vacation with his wife, Alice, to the seemingly sleepy town of Bright Falls to escape the high-pressure demands of a book tour. After settling into a cozy cabin on Cauldron Lake, things get weird. Alice appears to fall into the lake, and Alan dives in after her, but then he awakens behind the wheel of a crashed car in the woods. Not only is his wife missing, but Bright Falls is besieged by a legion of demonic shadows of the townsfolk known as ‘Taken’ and the dark is out to kill him. Alan soon finds the mystery goes far deeper, and gets far weirder than he initially believed. If he’s to survive and unravel the secret of Bright Falls, Alan needs to fight darkness with light…literally.
While Alan can dispatch Taken with guns, they are most vulnerable to light sources. They can’t get close to light without being stunned or killed, and as such, the most important part of Alan’s arsenal is the good old handheld flashlight. In order to use guns on Taken, Alan needs to shine a light on them for a certain amount of time to stun and weaken them first. A squeeze of L2 ‘aims’ the flashlight more directly to speed up the effect, but depletes its batteries, potentially leaving Alan largely defenseless in the dark. As the game progresses, more light-bringing tools are added, including a flare gun and flashbang grenades, both of which act as more aggressive avenues of light-bringing death to the Taken
One thing that works really well for me is how the game never lets you keep anything for too long. You only ever find what the game wants you to find for the current situation, and places limits on how much you can hold. This means you often go from being fully tooled up at the end of one section to absolutely nothing in your pockets for the next. I get why that may be frustrating for those fully weaned on games that continuously expand and upgrade both character and arsenal, but for the story being told, and the kind of man Alan Wake is (a fairly unfit, noncombative writer) this lack of comfort is entirely appropriate and welcome.
There’s one aspect of the combat that does grate slightly, however. Alan’s fumbling movement can make some of the more intense combat sequences a real game of trial and error where you need to get beaten to death by crowbars a few times before you can figure out what shortcut to survival the situation is actually calling for. Alan can dodge attacks, but its implementation feels a touch hit and miss thanks to its controller mapping and camera.
All of this will be intimately familiar to old hands, and while technical tweaks at least ensure it’s less aggravating than it once was, it didn’t prevent it from standing out again. Speaking of technical improvements, that’s what most are here for, after all, Alan Wake largely falls into the same remastering pile as the recent Quake and Diablo II efforts by not poking and picking at the core of things too much, and making some improvements where they were needed. Bright Falls looks great. The new lighting and upgraded texture detail bring the game a bit closer to Control visually, whilst retaining the awkward charm of the original look.
The way it stands out most is in the lighting. It’s always been fundamental to Alan Wake’s dark/light balance, but now it accentuates what was there with more dazzling light sources up close, a proper gloomy glow to light that’s in the distance. The dark holds an unnerving menace at times, all the more effective because of the soundtrack’s ominous drone when threats are incoming. Nothing here detracts from the original version’s giddy, absurd, nightmarish atmosphere.
Cutscenes get a lick of paint too, which I feel is nearly always essential if you’re going to remaster the rest of the game, but clearly, not every company agrees when even this year, there’s been some risibly low efforts. They aren’t a great upgrade in all departments, some scenes just don’t seem to gel with it, and there were a couple of instances where things slowed down or stuttered, which didn’t appear to happen anywhere else in the actual game itself. It’s a minor misfire in an otherwise decent remaster.
I think that while the upgrades and improvements are necessary and welcome, there’s little that would have prevented Alan Wake’s somewhat goofy horror from resonating with a modern horror audience as it once was. The game’s episodic television-style structure was a daunting, unusual prospect in 2010, but there’s been a barrage of titles that have implemented the structure since (to varying degrees of success) so now it feels a lot more natural. The King renaissance and its effect on modern horror television also play a part, as too does the reappreciation for Twin Peaks with its return to screens in the years since Alan Wake was first released. Throw in Remedy reintroducing Alan Wake through its most recent hit, Control, and there simply isn’t a better time for Wake to rise from his slumber.
Bright Falls has so much character, so much strange shit going on, and such an otherworldly feel to it, and it just begs to be revisited and properly explored. Early parts of the game set the atmosphere, but it’s the latter half of the game that really sets the tone. Here’s where it draws fair comparisons to King, as the meta nature of the game spirals increasingly into absurdity and the melodrama is wholly welcome as a relief from the foreboding darkness. The Koontz inspiration remains, in my opinion (a mysterious situation with a seemingly impossible evil presence hounding the protagonist is just as much Koontz’s bread and butter as King’s is ‘writer walks into a horror story’), but becomes less prevalent. The now established connection to Control also gives the events of this game a fresh perspective.
It’s nice to have the additional DLC episodes in here as well. I hadn’t played them until this review, and I really enjoyed what they added to the game. In some ways, they feel more like a bridging gap between what Remedy had done, and what it wanted to do rather than just the rest of Alan Wake’s story, but that in itself interested me.
I’ve recently written that with remasters, I truly appreciate them when they don’t try to forget the flaws of the original, but instead just smooth the edges off them in a subtle manner. Alan Wake Remastered is one of those, and while it has its moments of frustration and you can sometimes laugh at the overzealous, but admirable, dedication to having Alan narrate the fuck out of everything, it truly is a part of the package, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Alan Wake Remastered review code for PS5 provided by the publisher.
Alan Wake Remastered is out October 5 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X/S, and PC via the Epic Games Store