Alan Wake 2, a Masterpiece Sequel

I finally played Alan Wake in 2021 and it blew me away. The graphics were dated, but the gameplay and storying telling are timeless. Fast forward to the 2023 and Alan Wake 2 dropped after 13 years from the release of the first. I’m so happy to report it’s a masterpiece, worth the wait (though my wait was short) and improves on everything from the first game.

The Graphics of Alan Wake 2 Raises the Bar

Alan Wake 2 the dark place version of NYC.

Before even playing the game, the big buzz was the impressive graphics available in Alan Wake 2. It sports full and impressive support for DLSS 3.5. It includes all the ray traced lighting, shadow and reflection with ray reconstruction goodies Nvidia cards excel at. All those visual goodies come at a cost of frames, so it’s a revelation that the game supports frame generation on RTX 4000 series cards.

The timing of the game’s release is perfect to flex the muscles of my new Galax RTX 4090. As is customary with any new graphic showcase PC game, I made sure all my settings were dialed all the way up. The 4090 is ridiculously expensive even though it is the most advanced video card, so it better handle it all. I’m glad to report it handled it easily. My FPS was consistently above the 90s and 100s with all the bells and whistles turned on.

The awesome Alan Wake 2 reflections are hypnotic to look at, but the lighting really shines. This whole game always has a dimly lit mood. It’s a game about the light vs the dark, so it’s like a perpetual dusk. With the combination of my new card and my Alienware OLED, it’s the perfect match for all those shades of dark.

There’s so many dark scenes, but my dynamic duo shows all the detail. No blotchy black/brown nonsense of older games. Darkness and dim scenes show so many shades. The indirect light can bounce colors off of objects onto other parts of a scene. My brain just knows that is the way things should look in real life, so it’s a joy to have some of that feeling in game.

The story and gameplay are fantastic, but the graphics alone are worth the price of admission. No game since Cyberpunk 2077 reached this level of wow for in new graphics features.

Gameplay in Alan Wake 2 is Familiar, but Better

Alan Wake 2 Saga talking to Thor and Odin in the trailer park

The thing I really loved about the first Alan Wake was the light is the most powerful weapon. The flashlight charge is a huge part of the game’s arsenal. Sure bullets still do the killing, but not until light breaks their dark “shield”.

This unique game mechanic replaces things like grenades as the go to explosives with flashbangs, flares and flare guns. For the most part, there’s not a huge difference in this part of the game between the first and the sequel. The graphics improvements definitely enhance things with all those light effects, but it’s still satisfying to use light as a weapon.

Where the sequel starts to set itself apart is with a brand new player character, Saga. As an FBI agent, she investigates murders at Cauldron Lake, the same location from the first game. What’s noticeable to players of the first game is that her partner is Alex Casey, a character from one of Alan Wake’s novels.

Saga Anderson in her mind place

The game definitely plays with that subject a lot later, but what really shines are the actual investigations. As Saga investigates the murder scene, she has her own “Mind Place” to assemble the case. It’s like a virtual room with her case files and a while with evidence found for each.

Having Fun Gathering Evidence

Placing cards of evidence on her case wall is one of my absolute favorite parts of the game. I have around a dozen case files, each with their own wall of evidence. Unraveling the mysteries of the story, the Cult of the Tree and more, is satisfying. The funny thing is, I mentioned to my wife that the ID channel (basically 24hr murder cases) should make a game. Well, Alan Wake 2 is close.

Saga's mind place case board with evidence posted

With all the supernatural themes in the game, it’s like the ID channel meets the X Files.

Alan Wake’s Return

There’s also a whole segment of the game that does involve Alan Wake in the “Dark Place“. The Dark Place is basically a twisted version of part of New York City. All the lights from the streets and the buildings cast impressively detailed reflections and contact lighting.

Beyond those impressive visuals, It’s great to take control of Alan Wake again after all this time. He has his own writer’s room much like Saga’s Mind Place. Instead of case files, his board includes scenes from the scene and story beats. It’s trippy how selecting different story beats for each scene changes the surroundings. Sometimes a blocked path opens up or new items are available.

Alan Wake 2 Initiation draft 2 story board in his writer's room

Scenes were interesting when story beats changed from before a crime, then the bloody aftermath, followed by the police taped scene. It’s a great game mechanic that fits so well with the story of a writer trying to write himself out of a dark place.

There’s even a whole selection of side contents to tackle for both Alan and Saga which I’ll dig into some other time.

Alan and Saga’s Stories Twist Together

Alan Wake looking at the Old Gods of Asgard band.

I still think about the first Alan Wake. The story of a writer and his wife going to an old cabin for a writer’s retreat. Fast forward to the wife disappearing and Alan Wake living through pages of a book he didn’t remember writing. There’s twists with a psychiatrist where maybe he’s just crazy, but then others see the dark presence and well it’s great. Play it if you have not already.

Now 13 years later, Saga Anderson and her partner Alex Casey investigate murders at the same Cauldron Lake where Alan Wake disappeared. I love how it follows the FBI investigation into the events and how the story intersects with the FBC (Federal Bureau of Control). The latter group coming from the same group from Remedy’s last game, Control.

Investigating the events of the game as an FBI agent is a great change from the last game. Alan Wake is still a big part of the game, of course. It’s not just agents investigating murders inspired by him, but also him trying to escape the dark place. His gloomy version of part of New York City is a great change of pace.

After enough Saga Anderson missions, the game opens up the choice to switch between Saga and Alan’s stories at will. I spent plenty of Alan Wake 2 as Saga first, enjoying the investigations, but Alan’s story is a nice change of pace. The only part I didn’t like so far was a weird musical in the dark place. The dance numbers by the game characters was a bit corny, but the lighting was great.

Barring anymore musicals, I can’t wait to dig deeper into Alan Wake 2, but I already know it’s a masterpiece.

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