Today, it was announced that Epic Games will be publishing a remaster of the 2010 Xbox cult classic Alan Wake later this fall on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation. The company had previously announced a deal with Remedy Games, the development studio behind the bureaucracy-set, blockbuster third-person shooter Control, to publish two of its projects. The first was a “AAA-Multiplatform Release,” the other a smaller game set in the same universe, which many are now assuming to be the Alan Wake remaster.
For those of you unfamiliar with Alan Wake, the game absolutely whips. It follows the story of the titular Alan Wake, a Stephen King-esque horror writer, as he confronts nightmares in the Pacific Northwest. While its flashlight-based combat was a bit clunky at times, the game was deeply engaged with the sense of place and mystery it created. Its narrative played a lot with fiction, perspective, and the power of language, and it is now widely considered a classic of the Xbox 360 generation.
I was a child when the game was initially released, and it was among my first “Oh shit, games can be like this?” experiences. The way it engaged with both its own text and the genre conventions it was playing with was nothing short of revolutionary at the time. In fact, I liked the game so much that one day, while I was in Barnes & Noble, I saw a copy of the game’s novelization and purchased it. Said novelization was fine! But the fact that a novelization of a game about a novelist writing and engaging with his own novels even exists in the first place is a fun treat for me.
I would argue that it’s cool, weird things like that which make Remedy Games so good at making classics. Both Alan Wake and Control have gone down in the canons of their respective generations, and that’s due in no small part to Remedy Games’ mastery of producing a sense of place. These are games that thrive in the details of their settings, the just-offness of Alan Wake, the brutalist, screen-filling text of Control. There is no mainstream developer better at creating dream worlds than Remedy Games.
This mastery is why I’m excited for Alan Wake to get a remaster. Normally, new coats of paint don’t actually do a ton for the games they’re hastily applied to. You get quality of life improvements here or there, maybe a better vista or two, but more often than not the game doesn’t actually benefit from the years of future technology that have since been developed, because it wasn’t built with that technology in mind.
Alan Wake feels like a different story. Its reach exceeded its grasp, which is to say it was strange and ambitious and kind of broken upon release. That weirdness cemented it as a cult classic, but the technical limitations of the time definitely held the game back. I am legitimately excited to see what it looks like with ray tracing, especially since light was the game’s defining mechanic. To defeat an enemy in Alan Wake you had to shine your flashlight on them until their armor, made of materialized night, was burned away.
I can see it already, lines of light cutting through the too-tall and too-close trees, dragging its fingers across the liminal black. Trying to carve the dreaming dark away, and never quite managing to hold it off.