I didn’t even realize that this game was in the works, which is a bit unusual for me, as I try to stay plugged in, what with having this review blog and all. But on October 20th, this game dropped onto the Switch Eshop, along with a discount. I’d heard of it before, with it being something of a major project for Remedy (the studio that made it). Plus it’s one of those third person survival horror experiences I enjoy so thoroughly, so of course I had to check it out.
The first word that comes to mind when trying to describe this game is “cinematic.” I’ve played a handful of games that try to lean into that descriptor. They often have sweeping camera shots, like they’re establishing characters in a prestige drama. Much time is given to making everything feel larger than life.
The game thrusts you into the darkness almost immediately. It establishes that the core gameplay loop of this game is going to be guiding main character Alan Wake through various dark locales, aiming to sprint from one source of light to another, while attempting to deal with the darkness shrouded enemies that lurk in between.
This is done by focusing your flashlight upon an enemy until they flash and become less dark silhouettes and closer to beings that look like actual humans. It’s an interesting take on the genre, though it can get annoying at times. They also don’t let you know that simply pointing the flashlight at the enemy is enough: you don’t have to focus like the tutorial and the screenshot above imply (this was a sticking point for me, as I ran out of battery in some of the early chapters).
It’s an interesting take on getting the player involved, and one that only sort of plays into the cinematic feel the game will be establishing. There is something of a mystery here: what is the darkness? Why does it create something like madness? Why is it afte Alan Wake?
These questions aren’t immediately answered, as the game instead shifts to an almost suspiciously peaceful and idyllic setting. Titular character Alan Wake, novelist/writer, is taking a trip with his photographer wife, Alice. The situation is a sharp contrast to what we just experienced in the dark, as we see this beautiful Northwest wilderness, complete with mists and an impressive lake.
Alan and Alice move through the town of Bright Falls, the sort of rural town that properties like this love (the Twin Peaks influence is strong here). Little hints at something more pop up, like creepy ladies that warn you of the light, or the fact that people you’re supposed to be meeting aren’t there. Eventually Alan and Alice gain access to a cabin that’s almost literally in the lake, which makes for yet more scenic beauty.
Alice unveils a surprise for Alan: she’s brought a typewriter and set it up in one of the rooms. Alan lashes out at his gorgeous wife, telling her that she’s pressuring him to write. It’s unnerving, again more like watching a drama than a video game, and it ends with the two separating. Night falls, and something terrible happens: Alice falls from the cabin into the lake. Alan follows, only for the water to overwhelm him.
He wakes up post car crash, and discovers pages from a manuscript, one listing Alan Wake as the author. He doesn’t remember writing it, but it perfectly describes a car crash, and then, well, the scene screenshot above. Something’s coming in the dark for Alan Wake.
Good thing he’s got that flashlight, huh?
It again feels almost more like playing out a movie than an actual game, and it establishes how the game will pattern itself moving forward. You’ll play through a section in pure light with Alan Wake, meeting townsfolk and finding out more about the strange community of Bright Falls. This will inevitably lead to Alan seeking out something in the night, where the various darkness clad creatures will be lurking for him.
The controls work more or less alright, and they follow the general third person shooter/survival horror structure. One stick moves Alan, another aims his flashlight and usually the camera by extension. Left trigger focuses the flashlight and aims; most of the time that setup works pretty well, though there are a few times where it eats way more of the flashlight’s battery than you’d like.
Alan gets a variety of weapons, most of which are the usual fare. You’ll start with a handgun, and at some point pick up a shotgun and/or a rifle (they make you choose one or another). Upgrades to the flashlight and shotgun will also appear from time to time, and it’s a bit awkward to switch, as it requires being in just the right spot and holding down a button.
The big fun addition to the arsenal are the flares. You can get a flare gun, which fires a flare straight into enemies, which will then explode, usually taking several other enemiese along with it. They’re meant as your desperate, most powerful weapon, and as a result, they’re pretty well hidden.
That’s one part of this game that’s a bit lopsided. The hidden caches of flares are usually worth looking for: they grant you those flare guns. The game also adds some hidden manuscript pages, which are narrated by Alan and add more to the characters and situations. There’s also radio shows, which are usually interviews between characters. There’s also television shows, which are these odd little stories of Night Falls, a place that’s a sort of Twilight Zone version of Bright Falls.
There are also hidden coffee thermoses. They add absolutely nothing.
There are also hidden stacks of cans. They add absolutely nothing.
There are also some hidden items in the added DLC episodes. They add absolutely nothing.
This game is not a collect-a-thon, which apparently some of the makers didn’t get. I guess this encourages you to explore. The issue is that as you explore, more dark creatures stumble forth. This means you’re draining resources to get rid of them in order to… find a useless coffee thermos.
This is particularly egregious in the earlier parts of the game, where you’re still figuring out how things work. The game does drop hints to let you know that you don’t have to fight every encounter: this is a survival horror game, after all (though there seems to be some debate abotu that). It still leads to unbalanced moments.
On top of that, most of the time, whatever you gather in one “episode” doesn’t transfer over to the next. This works almost directly against the survival horror aspect, where you usually want to horde items for bosses and tricky situations. That also adds to the frustration that comes above, because you can end one chapter absolutely loaded with gear, then go into the next and run out of everything worthwhile.
This feels unnecessarily punitive to the player. Sometimes it’s particularly egregious, like in the middle of a chapter where Alan does a “whoops” and drops almost your entire aresenal. It makes zero sense for a man in this situation to be so careless with his equipment.
However, there are moments in the game that are just absolutely amazing. At one point, Alan and his best friend/agent Barry Wheeler (who adds a breath of fresh air in the form of comedy) climb onto a stage that was previously used by a pair of heavy metal musicians who were channeling the Norse Gods. They get the music and stage effects working, which leads to an action set piece where Alan fights off encroaching darkness while rock music blares and lights erupt everywhere.
It is literally one of the most fun moments I’ve ever had with a video game. They load you up with a decent amount of ammunition, the music is great, and after a few episodes of frustration, this feels like a great outlet. I’ve played situations like this before (Resident Evil 3 has one, at least in the remake), but this is far and away the most fun I’ve ever had playing through one. It was not just a highlight of the game, but one of my gaming highlights for the year.
The story does stay engaging throughout. This is one of those games with twists and turns to the story, and a lot of the game is figuring out what’s going on. It’s fairly well told, and there are very few moments where it feels like the characters are being stupid, a common problem in these thriller/horror pieces. They throw in some in-universe reasons to explain a lot, and it’s fairly interesting.
Some reviews and early feedback pointed to issues with the graphics. I admittedly am not a great judge of graphical fidelity, unless it involves sprites or hand-drawn characters. I thought that the graphics looked good, and that several of the settings were downright breathtaking. Perhaps it looks worse on other hardware or if you don’t play it docked?
I regularly play survival horror games in October; hence the earlier playing of Tormented Souls. Alan Wake Remastered is likely to go into that rotation. It’s a bit more of a thriller than a survival horror, and yes, it’s very unbalanced, but the highs are extremely high, and the game delivers on a cinematic thriller/horror experience.
8 extreme highs don’t quite make up for unbalanced gameplay and a bit of a shaky start, and unnecessarily punitive moments feel unnecessary