I have a confession to make: I came into this review with a little bit of a bias.
Alan Wake is one of my favourite games of all time. I take any opportunity I can to recommend it to people, to praise the moody, dark aesthetic, and to rave about the narrative; I’ve listened to the excellent soundtrack countless times; and I even lovingly refer to Alan as my sorely under-caffeinated, middle-aged son; so when Alan Wake: Remastered was announced, it’s fair to say I didn’t exactly have the most impartial reaction.
At its core, the game is simple. You play as Alan Wake, a famous author currently two years deep into a severe writer’s block. On a trip to the beautiful Bright Falls (more than a little reminiscent of a certain town called Twin Peaks), Wake’s life is turned upside down. His wife Alice goes missing, and the people of Bright Falls become possessed by a malevolent force called the Dark Presence, attacking Wake whenever the sun goes down as he tries to find her. Wake is equipped with a flashlight, which he must use to burn the Dark Presence out of possessed individuals — called Taken — before they can be defeated.
It’s a classic third-person action-adventure set up, but what makes Alan Wake special is the quality of narrative throughout the game. Along his journey to find Alice, Wake discovers lost pages to a mysterious manuscript called Departure — one that he apparently authored, but has no recollection of writing. Departure becomes a story within the story, as well as providing chilling warnings of the danger ahead. There’s nothing quite like listening to Wake (excellently voiced by Matthew Porretta) read a page about confronting a chainsaw-wielding psycho and knowing that you’ll have to face them yourself soon enough.
For me, Alan Wake is more than just a video game: I’ve also interpreted it as an exploration of mental health, particularly depression. Wake races from oasis to oasis of light in an otherwise dreary and dark world. He finds himself dealing with something that other people can’t even see, let alone understand. His only ally seems to be himself, and even that’s not guaranteed when his very own thoughts turn against him through the pages of Departure. Even his name serves as an allusion to the fact that Wake constantly finds himself trying to “wake up” from his nightmare, to “snap out of it”. For anyone who has experienced incredible lows, all of that sounds pretty familiar. It’s part of the reason the game stuck with me for such a long time — I first played it during a pretty rough period of my own life, and there was something relatable in Wake’s struggle to try and stay within the light, battling his internal self as much as the Taken surrounding him.
Booting up the remaster, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia paired with a fearful undercurrent of “what if it’s not as good as I remember?”, but I’m pleased to say that after all this time, Alan Wake still holds up. The cinematic cutscenes and episodic structure invoke a well-shot TV drama more than a video game. The new character modelling gives Wake a visual upgrade that’s more accurate to his live-action actor Ilkka Villi, and the scenery textures are considerably improved. Gone is the awkward product placement that littered the original, and enhanced facial animation helps characters look less puppet-y. Pleasingly, all the licensed music from the original remains, including tracks from David Bowie, Roy Orbison, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and of course The Old Gods of Asgard.
A further enhancement I would have loved to see would be the inclusion of a proper Photo Mode — with the improved visuals giving the dark and ominous woods around Bright Falls even more beauty, it seems a shame not to include one. I also wish there were subtitles for creative director Sam Lake’s audio commentary, which can be difficult to parse during action-packed scenes, especially with Lake’s delightfully bewildering Finnish accent.
Those who have played other Remedy Entertainment games, particularly Control, will know that Wake is a key player in what is called the Remedy Connected Universe — and the tantalising addition of new hidden videos in Alan Wake: Remastered, linking the two games together, suggests Wake might be in for a comeback in any future Control sequel. With this fresh lick of paint, there’s no better time for new Remedy fans to see where it all started.
Alan Wake’s story is now a staggering 11 years old. Even remastered, there’s certainly games out there that are longer, that have more advanced visuals, and that push their platforms closer to the performance limit, but for anyone who enjoys a strong narrative experience, like a favourite thriller novel, dog-eared and well-thumbed, Alan Wake: Remastered is worthy of a place on your shelf.
Alan Wake: Remastered might not bring much new content to the table, but the improved textures and subtle animation enhancements add extra polish to a narrative experience that still stands up as one of Remedy’s best.
Ruby reviewed Alan Wake Remastered using a PC code purchased from the Epic Games Store.