Alan Wake 2 stands out as a champion among modern survival horror games. Its beautifully woven story encompasses everything you could want from a blockbuster horror title. Expertly crafted cutscenes meld together reality and video games while thrilling combat and frightening chases keep things interesting as you dig into a gripping narrative.
Fantastic art style and graphics
A progression-stopping bug
Now I think I’m a detective
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Platform reviewed: PS5
Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC
Release date: October 27, 2023
Survival horror Alan Wake 2 is hands down one of the best games I have ever played, thanks to its fantastic narrative, horrifying exploration, and beautiful setting. You are dropped back into Bright Falls, a quaint town, where you must help free Alan Wake from his watery 13-year prison sentence, after the events of the first game. You also get to play as Saga Anderson, an FBI agent written into Wake’s horror story to help defeat the evil Mr. Scratch once and for all. Both characters are controllable in the third-person, just like Alan Wake, but while such controls and perspectives might remain the same, the spooks have been amped up.
That’s not the only thing that has been amped up. Alan Wake 2 is as high-stakes as you can get from a survival horror game. You are dropped into a strange town and forced to piece together an ever-changing puzzle while fighting off plagued residents known as the Taken. The eerie setting and unsettling creatures will make you jump right from the very beginning, providing some of the worst scares I’ve experienced since Amnesia: The Bunker. However, like any spooky survival game, the more you play, the better it gets as you familiarize yourself with the location, and rhythm of attacks, while also, most importantly, finding plenty of resources to help along the way.
A better way to play
The narrative in Alan Wake 2 is one of its most compelling features, as it should be. Instead of relying on horrific scares, beautiful scenery, or fantastic soundscaping, as so many horror games do, the developers at Remedy Entertainment go the whole nine yards and perform an excellent medley with all these aspects while ensuring the narrative remains the star of the show.
This sequel was set up wonderfully by its predecessor which provided a fantastic premise and location. However, Alan Wake 2’s story means this second installment really comes into its own and feels like an airtight, complete package that newcomers can also enjoy. This accomplishment is partly thanks to one of the protagonists being a detective; it’s Saga Anderson’s mission to get to grips with the twisting narrative in Bright Falls, which means you can get your head around all the plot points vicariously through her with ease.
Getting to stroll through an expertly crafted musical set piece while trying to escape the talk show. I got to see the live-action cast perform a terrific ballad that stayed with me for the rest of the game.
Instead of being bombarded with endless chit-chat from a partner NPC whose job it is to follow you around and explain needlessly obvious things, you’re left to piece together everything for yourself, at your own pace, and in your own time - made easier by the assistance of an extraordinary gift and various manuscript pages you can find lying around the town and its surrounding area. It was a terrifying pleasure to simply exist in this liminal space for however long I wanted, walking the line between dawn and dusk, following a spider web of pathways in the deadly, quiet forest. I enjoyed it so much that I often spent hours searching the woods for strange clues or cultist supply boxes that I could pillage for resources.
Anderson’s special gift is her mind palace. However, instead of sprawling halls of say, a Sherlock Holmes mind palace, this is simply a dimly lit room with various utilities inside. You can profile the people you meet here, ask their subconscious questions, and read through manuscripts left to help you decipher the past or warn you of the future, but most importantly, it is here that you can plot out the story and piece together clues.
Each case in the game has its spot on the wall where you can place all the clues you have gathered in a sprawling mind map, which helps you think up questions and propels the narrative forward. There are so many reasons why I love this technique, but the best one is that it provides scared players a refuge to take a breath and recap on what they know, fixing one of the problems from the first game: Wake’s endless monologues. Instead of listening to Wake ramble on about everything that's happening, you can read about it at your own pace in a more engaging way.
The future is now
While the narrative is fantastic, delivering an engaging way of experiencing what is a near-confusing and mind-bending story, the icing on top of the cake in Alan Wake 2 has to be the imaginative cutscenes and fantastic art style.
Melding together reality and games, you come across multiple instances, while playing as Wake, of the real actors performing scenes. The actual actors are usually found in a late-night talk show studio laughing about all of Wake’s wonderful crime books while a highly disturbed Wake looks on in confusion, questioning his reality.
Fusing these realities gave me the same chills I felt all those years ago when I first realized I could control my character during Half-Life’s cutscenes. This always looks fantastic and bends your mind, as from here on out, you’re not quite sure what reality looks like.
There are also the beautifully shot cutscenes during Anderson’s profiling sessions in her mind palace. These seamlessly combine real actors with their in-game counterparts as they flash on and off the screen. These short scenes are wonderfully creepy and beautifully artistic, as they add another layer of confusing and thrilling scares to the game.
Overall, Alan Wake 2 simply looks terrific. From the first moment you walk down the crooked and root-riddled forest pathway during sunset to the murder site to the reality-distorting sequences in the Dark Place, it never fails to look its best. Even when being chased down bloody halls riddled with mutilated bodies, I still had brief moments where I thought how pretty everything looked.
Some serious entomophobia
My time in Alan Wake 2 wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. Unfortunately, there was one instance which stopped me in my tracks. Towards the end, I found myself trapped in a room, unable to get past a bug that prevented me from getting further.
Even in the dead of night, when I wanted nothing more than to shut my eyes and pass out, I tinkered around with this bug in hopes of finding a way to pass through it, simply because I didn’t want to stop playing, I was having that much fun. For prospective PS5 players, worry not; the issue has already been patched out of the game so that all new playthroughs will be unaffected by this game-ending bug. Were it not for this bug, it’s easy to imagine slapping a five-star score onto Alan Wake, but as I can’t see how the story ends and what happens with the game after this point, I can only talk about what I’ve seen so far.
Sign of a good horror
Despite my time in Alan Wake 2 being cut slightly short, I enjoyed every second of the thrilling and terrifying survival horror game. It scared me so badly that I woke up my neighbors; I didn’t realize how horrifying this game would be in its first few acts. However, I also couldn't ever put it down, despite its scares giving me the shakes.
Exploring the beautifully terrifying locations, immersing myself in the thoughtful and expertly crafted narrative, and simply experiencing the joys of watching something so artistic and well-choreographed was a pleasure.
I’ll be playing Alan Wake 2 repeatedly, exploring new undiscovered crevices of its map, uncovering more clues about the true nature of the townfolk in Bright Falls, and looting the local cult for everything they have. There are so many sides to Alan Wake 2 to enjoy, which is why it easily earns its mantle of being my game of the year.
There are average accessibility settings in Alan Wake 2. While there isn’t a dedicated accessibility page in the menu, you can find multiple features that will help ease your time in this frightening game. For those playing with controllers, there's aim assist, single tap walk, and quick turn. There are also general interface options such as subtitles, which you can change the size and background of, and HUD alterations for visual accessibility. Finally, there are a few audio accessibility options which can help customize how intense you want the experience to be.
How we reviewed Alan Wake 2
After over 18 hours in Alan Wake 2, I made it right to the end before I was prevented from going further. However, over those dozen and a half hours, I managed to experience every aspect that the survival game offers including side cases such as cultist supplies or trying to unravel the mysterious case of the children’s lunch box. I played it at the standard difficulty and am pleased to say that while it’s challenging, it’s by no means impossible. However, there are options if you want to make it easier or harder.
I reviewed Alan Wake 2 on my PS5 preferring performance over quality. I didn’t encounter any hiccups until the end, and there were smooth transitions, and quick-loading screens, and the visuals were beautiful despite not choosing the quality setting.
Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.