The first Alan Wake game was released in 2010 for the Xbox 360. And despite the lack of a soon-released follow-up game, that T-rated title and its dark, creepy world gained an almost cult-like status.
Now, 13 years later, Alan Wake 2 hits the latest consoles dressed in even darker M-rated garb.
This is a survival horror game. And like many games of that genre, it does everything it can to make sure that gamers never feel quite comfortable or safe.
The first game focused on the titular Alan Wake, a bestselling crime novelist drawn into the weird town of Bright Falls after losing his wife to something called the Dark Presence. Alan fought to bring her back but ended up trapped in a Dark Place, where he realizes that his typed-out fiction could actually shape reality.
Alan Wake 2 kicks off when a young female FBI agent named Saga Anderson takes lead on a case in Bright Falls that somehow seems connected to the long-missing author—and perhaps a series of bloody murders that come with a cult-like vibe. (The opening scene depicts a large naked man being strapped to something like an altar and having his heart gruesomely carved from his chest.)
Then things go from gory to preternaturally creepy as Saga and her gruff, whisky-voiced partner, Alex Casey, must wade their way through cultists and deadly supernatural entities in pursuit of answers.
Alan, meanwhile, is living in a nightmarish version of New York City. And a nightmare it is as he lives scenes over and over and must figure out how to write himself out of this haunted otherworld prison. Shadowy figures hound and attack him and constantly whisper his name. (Oh, and his bestselling crime detective novels feature a cop named … Alex Casey.)
Gamers switch back and forth between Saga and Alan as both characters’ situations and experiences gradually bleed into one other in increasingly paranormal and unpredictable ways.
Players battle with ghoulish bullet-sponge foes and must use a combination of a light source—to burn away that deadly foe’s dark protections—and a limited supply of bullets, crossbow bolts and explosives.
There are environmental puzzles to solve. And both Alan and Saga have special “mind rooms” where players can work through problems. In Saga’s case, it’s a room with a clue-gathering caseboard. For Alan it’s a writing space where players restructure his hardboiled story scenes.
This is a single-player third-person game.
Alan Wake 2 gives gamers a well-thought-through concept that folds in on itself over and over, creating a story that feels like an enigma within a jigsaw within a conundrum. It’s hard to pull apart the tangled threads, but ultimately it’s rewarding, if you enjoy such things. And Saga and Alan’s two different worlds are compelling in their creepy detail.
This game contains amazingly seamless transitions between its CGI graphics and live-action segments, creating a sense that the game is nearly photorealistic. Gamers also find some unexpected creative twists in the game, such as a surprising late-night talk show-themed musical section that is, frankly, a crazy-but-refreshing break from its generally dark elements.
All of the above said, Alan Wake 2 still earns its M-rating in spades. That mentioned realism also results in more believable gore as characters are shot and hacked, resulting in large wounds, dripping blood-spatter and dangling entrails.
The general atmosphere here is dark and oppressive and, yes, at times bleakly convoluted and nightmarish. The zombie-ghoul foes can be unnerving. There are bloody headshots at close range. One particular character is fully naked with exposed genitals and backside. And the language is often very harsh—featuring f- and s-words and misuses of God’s and Jesus’ names.
There’s no mistaking the creative survival horror detail behind Alan Wake 2. But it parades its grisly, clotted and darkly foul M-rating like a badge of honor.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.