Genre-bending in video games is hard to achieve. Inevitably there are gameplay expectations that are hard to meet, but when it is done successfully the results are unforgettable.
Alan Wake is an action-thriller game, with a horror edge, from Finnish game studio Remedy Entertainment. Released in 2010 on the Xbox 360, the game suffered low initial sales due to being released in the same week as Rockstar Studios’ Red Dead Redemption.
As time went on, however, Alan Wake’s momentum started to build and by 2012 more than two million copies of the game had been sold, according to Remedy.
Over the years, the game progressed to cult status, with a strong following of adoring fans. This support prompted Remedy Entertainment to release Alan Wake Remastered in 2021, which improved the graphics of the game for a better experience on new consoles.
The studio announced in 2021 that a sequel for Alan Wake was coming in 2023. In anticipation of the sequel’s release on October 17, I decided to give Alan Wake Remastered another play, to see if it fuels the excitement even more.
Darkness vs light: the Alan Wake story
Ideally, the less you know the better when it comes to playing Alan Wake, because the narrative reveals itself in a very calculated and precise manner. Should you want to know more though, read on.
The game tells the story of the titular Alan, an author suffering from writer's block and unable to produce a follow-up to his first best-selling novel. His wife decides it would be a good idea for them to go to Washington state and stay secluded in a cabin, in an attempt to find some creative inspiration.
But writer’s block is not his only issue, because Alan starts to have very vivid dreams in which he is followed by shadowy figures that want to inflict harm on him. Using a torch and a gun, he’s able to fend for himself.
As the story moves along, reality and dreams start to become one, and the protagonist doesn’t know what is real and what isn’t. At one key stage, his wife disappears into a lake and he is left to rescue her, plunging him into a surreal world where his works of fiction enter the real world.
On the surface, the game looks like a straightforward third-person-shooter experience. The player controls a character who is viewed from behind, while shooting a gun at his enemies. Looking deeper though reveals a broader experience.
Alan’s surroundings become more eerie and surreal, with an uneasy feel. This is what makes the game genre-bending.
Alan Wake has influences from games like Silent Hill 2 (2001) and television shows such as Twin Peaks (1990), but how it uses these influences is what sets it apart.
Is it a horror game? In some ways, yes, but it is also more than that. The game’s scary elements don't come in the form of monsters or fearing the dark, which you will also have to contend with, it's more of an existential dread.
Alan Wake Remastered is a unique game with interesting characters that keep you wanting to see and hear more. The gameplay can seem clunky at first because of the game’s age, but the remastering job is superb, with great visuals of Washington's beautiful mountain vistas.
The biggest sell is the chance to dive into Remedy Entertainment’s giant effort in establishing an intricate shared universe between its games. Those who played Control (2019) will know that it and Alan Wake exist simultaneously, allowing for a trove of stories and possibilities.
Alan Wake is equal parts creepy and intriguing. Playing the game means stepping into a world that promises spooky surprises and chilling conspiracies. Play it with the lights on to maximise the chances of getting a good night’s sleep afterwards.