Alan's back, and in 4K!
Developer Remedy has partnered with d3t for a current-gen remaster of Alan Wake, its 2010 Xbox 360 classic. Alan Wake Remastered now offers up to 4K resolution and 60 FPS (frames-per-second) gameplay on consoles alongside enhanced character models and environments, improved facial animations and lip-synching, and more.
The result is glorious.
If you’re not familiar with the original Alan Wake, you may have caught an abridged version of his plight inside Control‘s most recent AWE DLC. Just in case you haven’t played through Stevivor’s GOTY of 2019 (or 2010 if we had such an award back then), Alan Wake is a acclaimed fiction writer. Off the back of a successful book launch in which Alan kills off his long-standing protagonist Alex Casey, he and his wife Alice head to the sleepy town of Bright Falls. Alan thinks its purely for rest and relaxation, while Alice has planned to try to help her husband combat a case of writer’s block.
There, the Wakes find that the locale (and the owls) aren’t as they seem; day turns to night and Alan is immersed in a supernatural mystery of life-changing proportions. What’s worse, he stumbles across manuscript pages that suggest he’s either behind the chaos that has erupted… or worse yet, that it’s all in his head.
Alan Wake is incredibly self-aware; Remedy’s Sam Lake (aka the face of Max Payne… and the face of Alex Casey?) has written a game about Wake, who appears in an episodic television-style retelling of a story that Alan himself has written. While the tale takes inspiration from a number of compelling sources like the novels of Stephen King, The Twilight Zone and The Birds, it’s clear that Alan Wake puts its love of Twin Peaks at centre stage. The town of Bright Falls is almost identical to that of Twin Peaks and features near carbon copies of its diner and even some of its inhabitants.
To say those that live in Bright Falls are a little eccentric is an understatement. Within five minutes of entering the town you’ll meet Rose (a server at the diner who also happens to be Wake’s biggest fan), Tor and Odin Anderson (aging brothers who used to front a metal group called the Old Gods of Asgard) and Cynthia Weaver (an old woman so terrified of the dark, she carries a lantern with her at all times).
As it turns out, Cynthia’s not as crazy as she seems; at sundown, Alan and other Bright Falls residents find themselves hunted by friends-yet-not. Hunters, loggers, and police wear the faces of familiar townsfolk, but are shrouded in a murky darkness that swirls around them. Enraged, they mumble phrases connected to their past lives as they set out for blood. Control calls these beings The Hiss, agents of a powerful, dark and corruptive presence; Alan and the others who fight alongside him have labelled these atrocities The Taken.
Armed with his wits, a flashlight and a pistol, Alan journeys through the night, avoiding conflict whenever possible. When he can’t, he needs to use light to burn away the Taken’s darkness before following up with his gun to eliminate the threat. If injured, Alan can only properly heal in the bathing, vibrant light of a safe haven; a short respite from that which lurks in the void.
More than ten years on and two years into COVID-19, Alan’s fitness is a very personal vibe. He’s an everyman, which is a nice way of saying he can’t run for too long and he barely leaves the ground when he jumps. To make matters worse, he’s not great with a gun either. He huffs and puffs as he sprints and quickly slows, despite the threats around him. If you can manage to make it to a safe haven in this state, you’ll notice Alan doubles over and gasps for breath. Alan’s limitations, coupled with combat that requires strategic shield-breaking, well-timed dodges and outright aggression, forms a simple gameplay loop that provides limitless amounts of tension.
Alan is the Ethan Winters of survival horror long before Ethan ever existed, and without a magical green liquid that can fix an amputation.
Gameplay and the narrative are a balance of light and darkness, the result creating a world so compelling it now needs a Remedy Connected Universe to contain it all. See a QR code? Then scan it, folks — it’s far more fun than checking in at the supermarket.
The experience is delivered through a setup straight out of The Blair Witch Project; you’ll control Alan in the daytime, piecing together what’s happened while wholly preoccupied with the waking nightmare you know will continue when sun goes down. There’s tension in and out of combat, a delicious mix that makes you want to press on at the same time you want to hold your hands over your eyes.
Alan Wake is a product of impeccable design that I absolutely appreciate more at 39 as compared to 27. It’s a shooter if you’re skilled, but it’s a tactical jaunt of cat and mouse if you’re even better. There’s a meticulous streak of survival horror that runs underneath; gather, hoard, and use supplies at your own risk.
That’s not to say that a 11-year-old game doesn’t feel like it at times. Alan Wake is awash with collectibles; while manuscript pages and media drops are must-finds that add to the tale Remedy has crafted — just as similar items do within Control — things like tin can piles and coffee thermoses do not. There are Achievements and Trophies tied to said items — just like in the original — and I’d hoped Remedy would have at least gone the tin can approach in greatly reducing the number required to check off a box. A new Easy difficulty addresses accessibility somewhat, though items tied to Nightmare difficulty remain and can limit one’s enjoyment of the entire Alan Wake experience.
That said, this is a remastered game and not a remake, so these qualms are slight. This is Alan Wake as it was, warts and all… though with some visual glow ups, of course. Alan’s new character model — all of the new character models, in fact — look great, as do the environments that take me back to the pine-covered forests of Washington. Everything looks better, plain and simple, though animations could still be improved somewhat… as can Alan’s weird, U-shaped elbows. I also noticed a couple cutscenes that chugged along at times; gameplay thankfully remains solid, smooth and doesn’t suffer from those issues.
Alan Wake Remastered is a remasterpiece. I caught myself audiably saying, “man, I love this game” over and over while playing. I’ve dipped back in to Alan Wake’s American Nightmare to continue on, and I have a feeling I’ll be scheduling another replay of Control when this silly season quiets down. Remedy’s universe has captured my heart; Remastered certainly holds its own in 2021, but also serves as an impressive reminder of how far the studio has grown since 2010.
Now please don’t break my heart, Remedy, and immediately follow this up with an announcement of Alan Wake 2.
Alan Wake Remastered was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox Series X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
5 October 2021
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