Alan Wake 2 Review – Save The Writer, Save The World

Alan Wake 2 is a winding monsterpiece – an incredibly deft, breathtaking horror story packed with vicious plot threads and twists.
alan wake 2 review ps5

Alan Wake 2 is a multi-threaded monster. A literature-minded horror adventure with sprawling plot threads that dangle and tease, inspiring questions, curiosity, and an ever-forward march as it spins a complex web of terrors. But while it weaves a tale that seems to dance out of reach with every strange chapter, as the interlocking stories of Saga Anderson and Alan Wake play out, deft writing and a strong plot means the answers eventually coalesce in gripping fashion.

There’s a moment where the game finally clicks. Where all the answers to its questions swirl down the drain hole in tandem, and the mysteries at the heart of the game unravel. It’s glorious. For all the weirdness and wonder Remedy lays down, when the beating heart of Alan Wake 2 is revealed, the shock and catharsis are unmatched. For every question the game asks – Who is Saga Anderson? What is the Cult of the Tree? Where has Alan Wake been for 13 years? – there is an answer that arrives with such satisfaction that it elevates the entirety of the game.

It’s like a magic trick. You wander the game’s woods, chart the strange towns of Bright Falls and Watery, encounter beasts, question your reality. Answers spiral frustratingly out of reach, until Remedy reveals its hand – and everything suddenly, and wonderfully, makes sense.

This game is a monster. An incredible, shocking, narratively complex monster. While minor technical performance issues (visual glitches, slow frame rate in parts) trickle into the PS5 version of the adventure, these were not enough to dampen its vigour.

A Saga for the ages

alan wake 2 saga review
Screenshot: GamesHub

Amongst the shining lights in this horror tale is Saga Anderson, a new character who shares the spotlight with Alan Wake. In a game named after its original protagonist, it’s a dangerous choice to introduce another character in the spotlight role – but one that pays off considerably.

As the bright-eyed, astute stand-in for the player, Saga is a powerful force, reflecting the strangeness of the game’s narrative, and asking all the right questions. Sent into town to investigate the mysterious Cult of the Tree, Saga’s inquiring and open mind is one of her greatest strengths.

She prods at the game’s mysteries until they unravel, as her own story is shifted by the dark forces at work in Bright Falls. She’s headstrong and stubborn, and acts in her role – the written hero brought to life in Alan Wake’s world – with great aplomb, taking the supernatural goings-on in her stride.

Key to her memorable portrayal are two factors: a brilliant, nuanced performance from actor Melanie Liburd (This is Us), and Remedy’s implementation of the Mind Place mechanic.

Read: Alan Wake 2: Post-launch DLC content and story revealed

Taking the reigns of Saga, players are able to literally sort through a complex web of questions. As you travel through dense environments, you’ll gather clues and make observations, each of which can be placed on a ‘board’ inside Saga’s mind, with links between clues made by pinning notes and discoveries together, to form of a vision of the story.

alan wake 2 mind place
Screenshot: GamesHub

In places, the game’s tale winds and twists, with multiple plot threads spinning out in unexpected directions. The Mind Place functions as a means to tease out these developments, to make sure players are kept in the loop, and to visually depict mental puzzles and thought processes. In effect, it strengthens the game’s story, and provides a facet of reason and logic that tightens its magic.

While Alan Wake 2 delivers obtuse images, strange metaphors, and mind-boggling magical items, the game’s plot, viewed through Saga’s lens, remains accessible, as each thread can be tracked and pinned for clarity. As the game’s story becomes more layered, with more dialogue, more hints, and more supernatural weirdness, Saga’s ventures are plotted in a way that ties up loose ends and always makes sense.

How this mechanic differs from Alan’s own story, which weaves through Saga’s in dual chapters, reveals much about both characters, providing unique touchpoints for players as they travel along each plot line.

Wake in fright

alan wake gameplay live action
Image: Remedy Entertainment

If Saga’s tale is a linear, focused, and logical journey, then Alan’s story is one of wild metaphor and whimsy, with strangeness being the foundation of a multitude of fascinating scenes. There is, in effect, two strands of the Alan Wake 2 narrative – Initiation and Return. One concerns the real world, with divergences into the darkness. One concerns the darkness itself – its nature, its impact, and its history.

Picking up in the familiar, in the closing moments of the original Alan Wake, Return reflects a long journey to the surface for Alan, who has been imprisoned and manipulated by a Dark Presence for more than a year, with his reality warped as a result. He’s scattered and confused, and this is reflected in the depiction of his world, and in his struggles to be free.

He can write reality to life, but he’s bound by the rules of the universe – which means his quest is more concerned with subverting the text of his novels, which, like his mental state, have become horror stories. There is seemingly no escaping these horrors – so Alan works on loopholes, creating bizarre entrances into the real world through his out-of-control imaginings.

One of these entrances is via a talk show, which plays out in intentionally jarring live-action segments starring Ilkka Villi as Alan Wake (with Matthew Porretta providing Alan’s voice), Sam Lake playing both himself and Agent Alex Casey (with James McCaffrey as Alex’s voice), and David Harewood as the mysterious Mr. Door. These segments are frankly, wonderful.

Villi, Lake, McCaffrey, Porretta, and Harewood delight in the oddness of their roles, delivering over-the-top performances that work to amp up Alan’s own feelings of displacement, and the unsettling nature of his circumstances. Alan is the guest on a famous talk show. Sometimes, the interview format is repetitious, and appears to take place during a promotional tour for the latest in-game Alex Casey movie. Sometimes, the Old Gods of Asgard are there. Sometimes, the talk show becomes even more bizarre – to great, unexpected effect (and one that should be experienced without forewarning).

alan wake subway
Screenshot: GamesHub

While repetitive in parts, these segments serve as a clear representation of Alan’s state of mind – fractured, frustrated, worn by years of punishment, with a burning desire for return. As this journey continues in surreal loops, the game’s main story flits around him, taking new form – sometimes, at the whims of Alan himself.

Like Saga, he has access to a Mind Place, but Alan’s version allows him to subtly transform his world.

As he explores looping landmarks in and around the Dark Place – an apartment, a familiar hotel, a subway station with shades of Max Payne – he can insert various plot threads into the narrative, reshaping his world by placing adjectives or events to solve puzzles. Solutions are occasionally obtuse, and require patience to complete, but the mechanic remains clever in every implementation, allowing players a certain measure of experimentation as they travel desperately through each set piece.

Madness at the end of the world

Saga and Alan’s dual stories, scattered and filled with questions, eventually come together to form a cohesive, striking picture – one of two opposing forces pushing against the bounds of their predestined worlds. Saga is a reluctant hero, written into a horror story at the whims of Alan. Alan is a writer in desperate need of said hero, at the mercy of a tale that won’t stop winding, drawing him further into the darkness.

alan wake gameplay
Screenshot: GamesHub

The balance between these tales is wonderful and surprising, with Remedy frequently pulling out more cards, providing new reasons to wander off the beaten path, to explore side quests, and understand more of the strange intricacies that haunt this tale. Compelling references to the wider Remedy Connected Universe (RCU) are also scattered here, with Control and even Max Payne and Quantum Break being essential texts for this journey – if only to understand peripheral callbacks, characters, and the appearance of certain locales.

Alan Wake 2 almost feels mad in its approach, with an overwhelming array of threads in the tale that threaten to collapse under pressure at any moment. Yet with clear and incisive logic, matched with a devotion to delightful absurdity, the team at Remedy has managed to craft a breathtaking story – one that plays out in clever, fascinating, and horrifying ways. This game is a monster. It will lodge itself inside your head, and threaten to stay there forever, if you’ll only let it in.

Five stars: ★★★★★

Alan Wake 2
PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Epic Games Publishing
Release Date: 27 October 2023

The PS5 version of Alan Wake 2 was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are scored on a five-point scale. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.