My memories of first playing Alan Wake, at the time of its Xbox 360 launch in the spring of 2010, have inevitably faded somewhat in the last decade. I can recall the Twin Peaks-evoking oddness of its Bright Falls location (almost an open world), and its protagonist's portentous manuscript pages read out with the gravitas of a deflating balloon - which is fine, it just adds to the fun pulpy side of the experience. All those Energizer brand batteries, left in wonderfully convenient spots. I remember its possessed thresher chasing after me, like John Carpenter's Christine but bigger and angrier; and Alan's agent Barry Wheeler's terrific puffer-puffer jacket... or perhaps it's a gilet, that detail's been lost to time (likewise whether or not he enjoys lumpy chicken wraps).
What's definitely stuck with me is how different Alan Wake felt, in a time of so many titles in its genre with superpowered protagonists. One thing, our hero is called Alan. My dad's called Alan. Nobody calls their hero Alan. But Finnish studio Remedy sure did. Alan's just a regular guy in plenty of layers with a creative blockage, and he's trying to uncork that with some R&R time in some not-at-all cursed place with his wife who absolutely isn't going to be kidnapped by shadowy nasties. A regular guy who can just about point a revolver in a straight line and likes his coffee served in multiple insulated flasks scattered across spooky forests. Totally normal human, like you or me. At least, he is compared to the player characters of other third-person action-adventure titles of the same year: God of War III, Vanquish... Sonic Colors.
Watch the latest trailer for Alan Wake Remastered...
What didn't linger in the brain box, though, is just how brilliantly scary Alan Wake can be. In my mind, in my decaying memory, it's an action game first, a poop-your-pants chill 'em up way beneath that. How could it not be, coming from the studio that gave us Max Payne? Sure, it's dark and creepy, but it's also about an author trying to get his mojo back. And his wife, obviously.
But playing though some of the new remastered version - a package that supports 4K visuals and includes both The Signal and The Writer DLCs - what strikes me is how effective the jumps are, and the little things that pop on the screen just outside of that spot you're focused on, so you point your flashlight but nope, nothing's there. At least, nothing's there now. Where whatever that thing was has gone... I guess we'll be finding out, soon enough.
I'm only two episodes deep into Alan Wake Remastered but let me tell you: my arse has been on the edge of my sofa, almost all the way through. My heart's been working double time, which I really wasn't anticipating - and I'm 11 years older now than I was then, so I'm not sure that's a good thing.
Treading through the darkness, running low on batteries for my torch, spying a spotlight and racing to it but Alan is, again, just an ordinary fella in extraordinary circumstances, so he doesn't sprint all that well (and I don't mean the stiffness of his flapping arms, a hangover from this being a game for a past generation). And so that darkness comes alive and catches up with me, with Alan, in the form of the possessed humans our writer with a Smith & Wesson must blaze his torch at to strip the evil away, and then, um, straight up murder those guys. In Alan's defence, even with the enveloping black mist removed from enemies, they still want to crack an axe into his noggin. TL;DR: this is way more Resident Evil than I recalled ahead of restarting it.
We're used to there being nightmares in the dark, in our video games. It's the comfort blanket for them, their safe space - and sometimes ours, too, when we need to hide away. But in Alan Wake, the darkness is the nightmare, a persistent force that consumes and controls, that has us questioning our eyes, our senses, our reasons for pressing onwards. Who are we serving, as the player: Alan, his wife Alice, or the Dark Place that is so set on bringing him closer, deeper?
These are questions the game only half-answers - that much I remember from 2010 - but it's interesting seeing, or rather reminding myself, how much legitimate horror there really is in this game. Which is to say: plenty. There's action, thrills, amazing set-pieces, everything you expect from a Remedy game - but underlying all of that is this crackling seam of genuine horror, something that seems so very obvious on a replay.
I know from previous chats with Remedy creative director and writer Sam Lake - who got in a lake to promote this release, no less - that Alan's a big favourite of his, and this series is one he'd love to bring back to the studio for something more, a proper sequel or even a TV show. (You can find our conversation with him, here.) And if Alan Wake Remastered performs well, that could be on the cards for the company, which has put out Quantum Break and our game of the year for 2019, Control, in the years since. Indeed, Control included more than a few nods to Alan Wake, implying that the two games shared a universe, so the seeds of something more, something new, have been sown. What remains to be seen is just what kind of monster will germinate and shoot forth, rising from the darkness and onto our screens.
Alan Wake Remastered is released on October 5 2021 for PlayStation 4 (version tested), PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via the Epic Games Store.
Featured Image Credit: Epic Games, Remedy Entertainment
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