If you thought Control was a mindfuck, you’re not ready for Alan Wake 2. Remedy says the sequel that’s been 13 years in the making is the most expansive game the studio has ever done, and that’s saying a lot if you consider its impressive oeuvre.
Part of the reason the studio is so sure Alan Wake 2 will take the crown is its concept: The dual protagonists, author Alan Wake and series newcomer FBI agent Saga Anderson, exist in two different realities, and you can swap between them throughout the survival horror gameplay. That means you could play nearly the entire game as Saga and Alan’s story, or vice versa, or swap between them as you see fit. There’s only one ending, though, and it’s sure to be a doozy, as Remedy says the team was inspired by Silent Hill, Fargo, and Midsommar while working on the long-awaited sequel.
During the 30-minute hands-off demo I saw at Summer Game Fest, Remedy showed off much more physical and strategic combat than the original Alan Wake had back in the Xbox 360 days. The demo level, called “Return 2 The Heart,” takes Saga through the dusk-lit the woods of the Pacific Northwest. She uses a flashlight with a waning battery to ward off bizarre creatures bleeding into her world from a realm called the Dark Presence, with the beams of its light sort of breaking their shimmering, surreal shield so she can blast them in the face with a sawed-off shotgun.
Both Saga and Alan (who seems to be trapped in that other realm) will have a different set of weapons at their disposal that are upgradable via the Mind Place, a safe, enemy-free area you can enter at any time with the touch of a button. This space isn’t just for weapon upgrades however, it’s also central to progressing the plot, as it’s a mental construct of Saga’s work on this twisted, freaky case that feels like the first season of True Detective got ported into a Remedy game. As you find clues in the real world, you have to enter the Mind Place to place those clues on a massive case board, and only then can you progress Alan Wake 2's story. It’s the Charlie Day/Pepe Silvia Always Sunny in Philadelphia meme, but you’re playing it.
If Saga is stumped, you’re unable to proceed in the story, but Remedy has another game mechanic you can use to help the detective deduce her way forward. In the Mind Place, you can sit at a table and use Saga’s “Profiling” skill to get into the minds of her suspects. Here is where Remedy does some of its most Remedy shit, as a cutscene shows Saga talking to herself, trying to understand the people behind these horrors, the lighting swapping violently from cool tones to harsh, intense reds as she wonders aloud.
There are also what Remedy is calling “Break Rooms”: well-lit spaces that Saga can return to for a reprieve from the hulking, Midsommar-esque monsters that pop up from the flooded forest floor or jump from behind trees. The infamous thermos will be in these rooms, now converted into a game-save tool rather than a collectible like in the original game.
The demo also showed off the balance Remedy is trying to strike between the fear you get from an eerie, lingering sense of unease and the more schlocky, old-school jump scares you’d expect from a Resident Evil game. Both are effective.
I never played the original Alan Wake, but the Remedy rep at Summer Game Fest assures me that the sequel is a perfect starting point for newcomers. Saga, who is stumbling into this bizarre world and learning more about it as she goes, represents the player here. You and her are along for this freaky ride, and it’s okay if you’re stumped—because so is she.
But Remedy lore heads will also love Alan Wake 2, and if you’re a real sicko you can go back and play the Control: AWE expansion, which spells out how the events of the upcoming sequel all started. With Alan Wake 2, it’s clear that Remedy is doubling down on the series’ twisted, brilliant plot, while also bringing its gameplay into the modern day with necessary upgrades. This years-in-coming sequel will finally drop this October.
Kotaku is covering everything Summer Game Fest, from the main show on Thursday to other events happening throughout the next week. Whether you’re into larger-than-life triple-A games or intimate, offbeat indies, you can keep up with all things SGF here.