The announcement of a remaster for Alan Wake, one of the most prominent cult-hit video games of all time, came as a surprise to many people. It had been pulled from and relisted to online marketplaces due to music licensing issues, the PC port had been canceled and then un-canceled, and a supposed sequel has been rumored and scrapped multiple times in the decade since its release. But now, hitting PlayStation platforms for the first time, developer Remedy has rekindled the flame yet again.
Alan Wake Remastered tells the story of its titular author’s trip to a small American mountain town called Bright Falls with his wife, Alice. Wake has found himself burned out after killing off the protagonist of his successful thriller series and hasn’t been able to get over his writer’s block for the last two years. But, unbeknownst to him, Alice has chosen their destination due to the town being nearby a clinic for struggling artists, and is hoping the small-town getaway might reinvigorate his creative juices.
The game opens on Alan having a strange nightmare about a stormy night and a lighthouse, where he must flee an encroaching, mysterious dark force destroying everything behind him until a startling series of premonitions and the voice of his wife wake him up on a ferry. They arrive in town, get the key and directions to their cabin from a mysterious woman claiming to be standing in for the regular cabin manager, and retreat to their temporary home, where Alice presents her husband with an unwelcome gift – a new typewriter.
After Wake storms out, the lights in the cabin go out, immediately flaring up Alice’s extreme fear of the dark, and he rushes back in to save her. Seeing that she’s gone over the railing and into Cauldron Lake, he dives in, blacks out…and wakes up in his crashed car a week later, hanging over the edge of a cliff.
As Alan makes his way through the forest back to safety, he’s attacked by the same dark presence he saw in his dreams, possessing the townspeople and causing them to become insane and seemingly invincible. The primary combat system has the player weakening each enemy with Alan’s flashlight to remove the darkness, protecting them before sinking a few rounds into them and causing them to disappear. The enemies are relentless and clever, frequently sending several foes to rush Alan while one of them throws projectiles that must be dodged.
The combat in Alan Wake was, and still is, a satisfying dance of maintaining distance and strategically using the flashlight for its minor stun effects. While the gunplay isn’t precise (by design, as Wake isn’t particularly experienced), the sound design makes every shot feel weighty while taking the pressure off of the player to try and line up headshots because you really can’t.
The game’s environments have aged remarkably well, with wide-open space to maneuver through detailed forests and small-town locales. This aspect of the game’s visuals didn’t need very much polish, but when placed side-by-side, the visual upgrade is noticeable, though this wouldn’t be mistaken for a modern-day new-gen title by any means.
If it wasn’t already clear, the story is heavily inspired by the likes of Twin Peaks and Stephen King. At the time of the original game’s release, this led to many joking comparisons to Deadly Premonition, a similarly inspired title that had been released only a few months prior. However, the plot of Alan Wake is far more straightforward.
As you progress, you’ll find pages of a strange manuscript that Alan seems to have written during the week he’s missing, and the events in the manuscript frequently end up playing out in front of you. For example, you’ll find a page talking about Alan being attacked by someone with a chainsaw, and then it’ll happen, though the prose on the pages is often more cryptic than that. Alan’s only goal is to find his wife and get out of Dodge, hoping to leave the strange events and dark presence behind.
These oddities lead to my most extensive critique of the original game. As much as I loved Alan Wake at the time, it didn’t go quite as deep into the weird and horrific side of its story as I wanted it to, and with the game unchanged, that’s still something of an issue. (Control more or less fixed this later, but it would have been cool to see elements of that title added into this one to more cleanly tie them together.)
As for specific issues with this newly remastered edition, I have two in particular to mention. First, the team behind this remaster re-sculpted Alan’s face specifically to make him look more like his model, but every other face in the game has only been up-rendered from its original version. As a result, almost everyone else aside from Alan falls straight into the uncanny valley with strange, plastic-looking mannequin faces, and it’s a distraction from what is otherwise a typical graphical upscaling job.
The second is that I don’t feel like this re-release is as complete as I want it to be. At $30 USD, the price is suitable for the content here, but I would have been happier to pay $40 if the team had also included the standalone half-sequel American Nightmare. While Nightmare is a rather polarizing entry, I appreciated its deliberate differences in tone and gameplay. Additionally, its exclusion will likely lead to unfamiliar players having no idea it exists, despite it having the most concrete canon information on what happened to the title character after the original game’s events.
Alan Wake Remastered isn’t a purchase that anybody already owning a copy of the original needs to make in its current state. Still, it is a very welcome release for PlayStation owners who missed it the first time. Apart from the faces, every aspect of the original has aged beautifully in the time since, and its twisty, American-literature-flavored plot still holds up as well. It would have been nice to see some of Control featured here, and the fact that American Nightmare has been left out is disappointing, but if you’ve never experienced this journey for yourself, it’s a perfect time to jump into the cold waters of Cauldron Lake.
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