Alan Wake 2 revives the story-driven video game
New York Daily News December 1, 2023
From Until Dawn to The Evil Within series to all those excellent Resident Evil games, I’ve played plenty of horror video games. But I’ve never had to stop playing one just 10 minutes in.
That’s exactly what I did when I started Alan Wake 2, though. And that’s because I’ve never played a game quite this creepy and legitimately scary. The opening moments of Alan Wake 2 start you off in a green-gray world, walking uncertainly around with no clothes except your hairy back. And then just minutes in, the screen flashes with images of something else. As you walk, this continues – and you don’t know why.
Those images got to me early on, leaving my mind to run wild about what they could be, what they could mean – and why I would be better off playing Alan Wake 2 in the daytime and not at night. And it’s this extreme horror factor that’s captivated gamers since the game’s release. In Alan Wake 2, developer Remedy Entertainment proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that a game can still excel with storytelling and mood as its backbones.
Alan Wake 2 arrives on a gaming landscape that increasingly gravitates towards multiplayer games and rogue-lites instead of story-driven experiences. Emblematic of that was the struggles of Immortals of Aveum, a story-focused FPS, earlier this year. But Remedy maintains steadfast in its story-first approach, crafting a pulse-pounding atmosphere and tale. In an interview, creative director Sam Lake and game director Kyle Rowley explained why the story game remains as relevant as ever, and how current-gen tech makes Alan Wake 2 an even more complete experience:
Daily News: The original Alan Wake was released way back in 2010, on the Xbox 360 generation of consoles. How was it different developing this sequel a whopping 13 years later – and two generations of consoles later?
Kyle Rowley: The biggest thing for us for this game is that we have access to the solid state drives on the consoles now, which means that we can feed data to the game a lot faster. I’d say four of our core mechanics rely on us being able to feed data to the game really quickly. One is the fact that on an instant button press, you can access both Saga (Anderson), one of our FBI profilers, and then Alan. They can access this, like, headspace basically. We instantly teleport you the player there, and you can wander around in a free space. So like, that’s something that we just wouldn’t have been able to do on previous (console) generations. And, you know, visually, I think with the next generation of consoles, we can have much higher-fidelity visuals with higher density.
How much did you focus on storytelling in this game?
SAM LAKE: That was a big, big ambition. Number one was two playable characters (Alan Wake and Saga) in two different worlds – and with that, two points of view into this kind of, like, psychological horror story where we are questioning what the truth is? What’s fiction? What’s true, what are memories, what’s actual false memories – all of this but giving the player control over the pacing. So this is very much interactive storytelling.
How challenging is that storytelling when you’ve had so much time between games, 13 years? Is this game more for the person who played the first Alan Wake, or more for a new generation of gamer?
LAKE: This is very much a Remedy Connected Universe experience. There is a ton of content to be discovered by our returning fans, threads that we will pick up and take further exploration into , content that you will discover, things that you didn’t know before. While we go into this experience with Saga Anderson . . . all the new players go in as well. And for fans of Control (the 2019 action game from Remedy) coming back, they do know a lot more about the background and recognize things. But that’s not essential for understanding and enjoying the story.
ROWLEY: The thing was that Saga will act as a point of view for new players. There’s kind of hidden elements related back to Control and the Remedy Connected Universe scattered throughout.
Are there any games that you took inspiration from?
ROWLEY: We were lucky enough to . . . when we were thinking about doing this game there was kind of like a revival of modern horror with the Resident Evil remakes. And then outside of games, there was kind of a big resurgence in terms of modern horror with, like, Hereditary. And we’ve kind of taken learnings from Silent Hill. Like, if you go even back to original Silent Hill the idea that atmosphere is the foundation that the horror is built on top of.
LAKE: Atmosphere plays a big big role, and just this kind of being-paranoid nature of something being wrong and we don’t quite know what is wrong for the longest time. That’s a big part, going back to the original inspirations obviously, or the original Alan Wake.
Alan Wake 2, and all this narrative focus and creativity, arrives in an era when the multiplayer game and constant replayability are bigger themes than ever. But the narrative game, when done well, can still dominate, right? Why is that?
LAKE: The industry is big enough now that it can support multiple different types of games. Like, there’s people who really want and love multiplayer games. They love socializing with their friends, you know, having a bear on a Friday night and shooting some stuff. But there’s also a lot of players, I think, who really appreciate narrative-driven experiences. If we look at the kind of, biggest games that came out this year, the Spider-Man (on PlayStation 5), there’s like, so many good games that are narrative-focused. I think that we’re excited about creating stories, story-driven games. I’m hoping that we get to keep doing it.