Alan Wake 2 Preview: Waking Up

Alan Wake, the writer, has been trapped in the Dark Place for 13 years. Alan Wake, the series, has been trapped in a dark place for almost 13 years. After an underwhelming spin-off, it stayed dormant in the void as Remedy Entertainment continued on with other projects, only poking its head out in an unexpected backdoor way with the studio’s 2019 hit Control. Despite all that time toiling away on his cursed typewriter, it seems like Alan Wake is stepping back into the light in a major and wholly deserved way with Alan Wake 2.

Even though it’s been a long wait, this version of Alan Wake 2 probably could not have happened if the gap between games had been shorter. According to creative director Sam Lake — a gifted writer known for his scripts as much as his likeness to the original Max Payne — Alan Wake 2 is an amalgamation of what Remedy has learned over the years. The Alan Wake 2 that could have probably happened a decade ago if the first game had become a smashing success is not the Alan Wake 2 that is coming out in 2023.

“I feel that we couldn’t have done this [before now], like if we had been lucky with our wish to do Alan Wake 2 and it would have ended up going forward, all the earlier concepts were very different from this,” said Lake. “I don’t think that we could have made this game before we made Control. Lessons learned from Control affected this quite a bit.”

Alan has to keep an eye out for ghostly enemies.

A lot of these Control inspirations are not subtle, either. Wake’s levels inside of the Dark Place are ever-twisting as if they were inside the confines of the Oldest House. Stairs leading down into a basement can send Wake to the rooftop of a building. A room can change entirely if looked at from a certain angle or lit with a special light. There’s even a special class of enemies that appear as ghostly apparitions until the last second and force players to treat each wispy specter as a threat. All of these trippy visuals are meant to make the player question what’s happening as they delve into the psyche of a tormented man who’s about to break.

This surreal approach more cleanly matches Alan Wake’s aesthetic while giving it a more interesting base. Creeping through a world that’s darker and transfixed on spooking the player is more engaging than the action horror trappings of the first game, which was not great at action and light on horror. There’s Resident Evil-style shooting and resource management, but also puzzle solving and level design that begs players to search around and backtrack for items more valuable than thermoses. There’s just simply more meat here.

Shooting is more responsive this time around.

Having to shoot at evasive shadows is more thrilling and tense — thanks to the tighter controls — and demonstrates how Remedy has refined its combat chops in the ensuing years. This is concisely shown by how peeling shadows off enemies now works. Instead of laboriously whittling down the darkness with the flashlight, it comes off in just one quick burst; the challenge comes with tracking the threats down and keeping an eye on them. Foes seem much more aggressive now, too, so hopefully, the controls can keep up in the long run.

While it remains to be seen how scary the game will be, it is more fitting that Remedy is trying to make it scarier, given its many horror and horror-adjacent inspirations like Twin Peaks and Stephen King’s novels. Remedy is also trying to imbue more of the atmosphere in other places, as well, which explains the existence of the new Mind Place. This secluded mental space gives players the chance to sift through clues and suspects and pin them together on a corkboard. Doing so will open up new dialogue options and let players more clearly see how everything is linked. While Saga, the new playable character, has a Mind Place that has players tying together clues, Wake’s is all about players connecting together a storyboard.

However, it is more of a guided experience since clues can’t be pieced together incorrectly — every player will be led to the same conclusions. Not being able to fail might suck out some of the potential satisfaction that would come from successfully piecing together a case, but director of communications Thomas Puha explained that this proved too difficult and confusing during development. To remedy this, it was made to be more linear after a lot of deliberation and testing. Wake’s half of the campaign is a little more open, though, as players combine different plot elements to create new “stories” in the world, which appear to be used for puzzles. Regardless of how on-rails it is, it’s still an appropriate way to frame the story for both of its characters and their wildly different professions.

Alan Wake 2 Preview: Waking Up
A lot of Alan Wake 2’s goofier moments seem to be in the live-action scenes.

Alan Wake 2 also has its share of silly moments. Ahti, the janitor from Control, can be seen belting out Finnish ballads on a stage in a dingy karaoke bar in Watery, one of the new Pacific Northwestern towns. Players can stumble across a number of live-action scenes, one of which is a humorous commercial about a coffee-based theme park called Coffee World. It still seems darker than the first game, but not without its lighter moments. Lake said this was all on purpose and something Remedy took seriously. 

“I think it will be a very unique balance,” said Lake. “It is a survival horror game. Obviously, you can see an echo of Resident Evil there, like in resource management and all that. But at the same time, it is still an Alan Wake game in the sense that it’s not just all-out horror, as many horror games tend to be. It’s dark and horrifying from the get-go and all the way true [to Alan Wake], and for us, it was important to have all of these different sides to it.”

The game also doesn’t pause when players enter the Mind Place.

Lake also said that there was excitement to come back to Alan Wake and had the team wondering how it could make this sequel “bigger and cooler and turn the knobs to the max.” This is why there are so many unique elements to Alan Wake 2 and why it isn’t just another traditional Alan Wake game. 

It’ll need those different factors since it’s releasing in the middle of a packed release schedule, almost echoing how the first game came out on the same day as Red Dead Redemption. Lake unabashedly noted that Remedy wanted to “get out of Spider-Man 2’s way” with its 10-day delay, but Alan Wake 2 is still just weeks from titans like Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Lords of the Fallen, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Ghostrunner 2, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, just to name a few. Alan Wake 2 is nothing like those games, though, and Lake explained how that is what the studio is banking on. 

“[Sticking out] is a big part of how we approach these [games],” said Lake. “We feel that we need to do something that looks like us, stands out, is unique, and is something different because there’s a lot of competition out there, and we can’t do the same thing that somebody else is doing. A lot of thinking goes into how we can make this exciting and something that people will go in and go, ‘I have never experienced something like this before.’”

Alan Wake 2 is obviously drawing from the Resident Evil 2 remake and Control, but it still looks to have enough of its own identity with that signature Remedy flair that fully blossomed in Control. Combat looks to be more fluid and tense, while its storytelling has appeared to have gotten more complex and strange. So while the wait for Alan Wake 2 has been especially long, it seems like it’s only benefiting from Remedy’s experiences and justifying its long bout in the Dark Place.

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