Alan Wake 2 rejects your reality and substitutes its own

Alan Wake 2 will present a lot of questions, but none bigger than what in its world is actually real.

Epic Games

Those who have played the original Alan Wake may believe they know what they're in for with the upcoming sequel. Alan Wake 2 should be more Alan Wake, no? However, Remedy Entertainment is hammering home that the players don't know Alan Wake like they think they do. In fact, after recently going hands-on with Alan Wake 2, it's becoming clear that even Alan may not necessarily know Alan. After spending so much time in the Dark Place, Alan may not even know what's real anymore, and neither will anybody else.

Earlier this month, Shacknews had the opportunity to try out both sides of the Alan Wake 2 narrative. We, once again, got to meet Saga Anderson and see more of her story. Then we got to experience Alan's side of the story for the first time, and this is where the story really started to get weird, even for Alan Wake.

Saga entering the trailer park in Alan Wake 2

Source: Epic Games

Our time with Saga took us to her third mission, which is called The Local Girl. Her investigation is beginning to intensify, but so are the obstacles getting in the way. On top of trying to piece together what's happening, the FBI agent is starting to see some bureaucratic resistance from another department that may be familiar to players who have followed Remedy's most recent work. Yes, the Federal Bureau of Control will play a role in Alan Wake 2's story, though to what extent ultimately remains to be seen.

In The Local Girl, Saga is searching for a key item called the Clicker, which ties her investigation to all of the weird happenings surrounding the missing Alan Wake and a bigger mystery involving a strange cult known as the Cult of the Tree. The idea is to explore the small town of Watery, speak with its various citizens, and gather information to add to Saga's Mind Place case board. While the path forward isn't always clear, talking with different people and learning new information can often open new dialogue options or reveal where to go next.

Saga's investigation will take her to a pair of brothers who run the local trailer park. She's able to gather information from the primary owner, Ilmo Koskela. However, she's thrown off by how familiar Ilmo and Jaakko Koskela are with her. They not only believe they've known Saga for years, but they're able to seamlessly reel off a purported past history of her living in their trailer park. While Saga is internally questioning this, she's able to use this to open up the next step forward, which involves reaching the trailer park through an abandoned coffee-themed carnival called Coffee World.

Saga explores Coffee World in Alan Wake 2

Source: Epic Games

As Saga moves through Coffee World, we experience more of Alan Wake 2's combat. Cultists will attack with growing ferocity, some able to move in the blink of an eye. The idea is to weaken them with light before moving in for the kill with whatever firearms are available. This is where comparisons to classic Resident Evil games will inevitably surface because Saga only has a limited amount of resources. Ammo, battery power, and bandages are precious entities that can run out if used carelessly, and players do not want to be caught empty against any of the cultists since they can kill quickly. Because of that, it's also critical to learn how to time dodges.

Coffee World also shows off some examples of Alan Wake 2's puzzles. The key to the trailer park is through the gift shop, which is locked. Saga has to rummage through the theme park's various run-down rides, dispatching any cultists that pop up along the way, to find the key. Once inside, players are presented with a logic puzzle where they have to figure out how to unlock the nearby safe. Like with other puzzles in Saga's section of the game, players can piece together clues within the Mind Place.

One last thing about Saga's Mind Place, which will also apply to Alan's Plot Board, is that it is important to note that retreating to this internal asylum does not put the game into a pause state. It is entirely possible for Saga to be inside the Mind Place and suddenly get ambushed in the real world by an enemy that she wasn't expecting. Players must make sure the coast is clear before going in for a Mind Place review. Fortunately, there are a few safe spots in the game. Brightly-lit break rooms act as a sanctuary where players can save their game, restock on whatever supplies are available, and safely retreat into the Mind Place or Plot Board.

Alan in the rainy Dark Place in Alan Wake 2

Source: Epic Games

After moving forward with Saga's investigation, it was time to experience Alan's role in this story for the first time. As seen in the recent Gamescom reveal, Alan is stuck in the Dark Place and is struggling to find his way out. A mystery caller reaching out through a pay phone soon guides him to the nearby Oceanview Hotel. However, players quickly come to realize that the Dark Place plays by its own whacked-out rules. Going through the hotel's front doors and walking through the lobby hallway only loops back outside.

Once Alan tries to go through a roundabout path down a nearby alley, players are introduced to a fascinating mechanic involving a handheld Angel Lamp. When prompted, Alan can charge it with a nearby light source and let it loose in certain areas where it will warp the physical space around it. An empty construction site, for example, suddenly becomes a filled-out walkway and allows players to proceed. Along the hotel rooftop, the Angel Lamp takes a broken-down bar area and totally restores it with shadow-repelling light. The restored bar area also contains a solution to a nearby puzzle, so if the players are prompted to use the Angel Lamp, it's usually for a good reason.

Speaking of shadows, Alan's combat sequences are noticeably tougher than Saga's. Shadow enemies are much less tangible than the human cultists in Saga's story, so it takes a little more time to shine the flashlight on them and make them vulnerable. They're also much more willing to hit in bigger numbers. After struggling to defeat them along the alley rooftops, I ultimately opted to run away and avoid confrontation altogether.

The story starts to get turned on its head once Alan finally makes it to Room 665. This is where he finds an old-timey film reel. Once Alan plays it, he finds himself transported into the film itself. The ensuing live-action cutscene brilliantly moves the narrative forward, similar to what Remedy originally aimed for with Quantum Break back in 2016.

Here, Alan meets Thomas Zane, a filmmaker/actor who has been working with him to adapt Alan's novel, Initiation, into a movie. After a trippy flashback illustrates how the duo worked on the adaptation together, Zane issues a dire warning. Alan's evil double, Scratch, is also looking for the key to escape the Dark Place, and Zane says that if he succeeds, Scratch can end reality as everyone knows it.

Alan walks through the neon hellscape of the Dark Place in Alan Wake 2

Source: Epic Games

Over the course of this playthrough, players come to learn more about how Alan is able to influence reality itself through his writing. However, there are hints that his reality may not be the only one affected. Remember the earlier encounter between Saga and the Koskelas, where the brothers seemed to remember Saga as a resident even though she clearly knew that never happened? That isn't the only instance of Saga coming across people's memories of her that never existed. The implication is that whatever's happening with Alan is also rewriting Saga's reality. How it all comes together in the end remains to be seen, but Remedy made sure to note that players can switch between Saga and Alan's stories at their own pace. In fact, it's entirely possible to play one and then the other.

Alan Wake 2's story promises to go much deeper, with players able to piece it all together like something out of The X-Files or Twin Peaks, the latter of which Remedy's Sam Lake isn't shy about noting as a major influence. Over time, players will be unsettled by haunting imagery, jump-scare-style flashes, and music that fits the frightening atmosphere. Combat feels much closer to something like Capcom's older Resident Evil titles while the story unfolds with a modern blend of pre-rendered cutscenes and live-action cinematics. With its refined combat and modernized storytelling techniques, Alan Wake 2 has every chance of being Remedy's magnum opus.

The mystery begins when Alan Wake 2 releases on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S on October 27.

These impressions are based on an on-site PC demo from a press event in Los Angeles. It may not be representative of the final product.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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