Let’s start this off by saying Alan Wake is a cult classic. I played the original a decade ago when it came out and loved it, despite its issues. However if you’d asked me for a list of games I wanted remakes for, even just from Remedy, Alan Wake would not have been top. Even with the hackneyed amnesiac writer approach, Alan Wake had a narrative that captured my imagination back then, probably because I had read dozens of Stephen King novels as a teenager, and it garnered something of a cult following. So whether I would have asked for a remaster or not, what does it play like, ten years later? Is it a different game with a new lick of paint, or could it really just have remained floating in a lake of rose-tinted nostalgia? Make sure you’re on the right page of this manuscript, and let’s read.
Alan Wake is still the perfect Stephen King homage in video game form. It’s not subtle; Alan quotes the famous author in the opening scene, the opening moment. And with good reason. You want to fess’up straight away when your story is this brazenly and deliberately a Stephen King novel.
It’s the quinessential King horror setup. Small town America, an outsider, a writer even, comes into town, looking to get away from it all and recharge, only to find himself attacked and drawn inexorably into the mystery of the town. Of course, horror always seems to happen to horror writers. It’s a conceit Mr King has used a few dozen times at this point. When the homage is so en pointe and deliberate, the part of me that would deride it as unoriginal and cliche is thankfully left behind on the ferry.
I’ll keep my story notes brief for those who haven’t played it yet- no spoilers beyond the end of Episode One. When Alan and his wife Alice arrive in Bright Falls, and head to their nice cottage on the lake, everything seems fine. They have a little fight over a typewriter Alice bought to try to kick start Alan’s writer’s block, and then while he’s out of the house cooling off, she’s attacked. When Alan returns, Alice is missing. Skip ahead and Alan wakes (sorry) in a crashed car, no memory of the last seven days. He’s attacked by figures wrapped in Darkness, and comes back to the town only to find not only Alice still missing, but the cottage they’d been in hasn’t existed for a decade. That’s just the bones of episode one and there are six in total.
The story is fun, but (I hate to say) it’s also cliched. Not the plot itself, but the writing, the dialogue. There are scenes between Alan and Alice in the early parts of the game, especially in flashback, that just sound like the worst Channel 5 straight-to-TV movies. It’s a hard line to walk, getting an authentic B-movie feel, rather than just sounding badly written. Sometimes it nails it, sometimes it hits its thumb with the hammer.
Alan himself is very frustrating, embodying the worst horror tropes for most of the game. He is driven by a series of fantastically bad decisions, ones that anybody playing would know not to make; meet the kidnappers at night, approach the dark figure, investigate that ominous horrific sound. He often references that he knows he’s making a bad decision. Well, don’t bloody do it then! The episodic structure and the sharp, abrupt scene changes, go a long way to making Alan Wake feel like a TV series more than a game, close to the Twin Peaks vibe it’s clearly going for.
The Remastered edition, like many GOTY or collection editions, brings together the story DLC from the game into one package. Two further episodes (for a total of 8) for you to enjoy, The Signal and The Writer (which follow on from the end of the story) are neatly included in the asking price.
If you liked the story the first time around, there’s every likelihood you’ll like it again. However sometimes a second look reveals the holes you didn’t notice when you were engrossed. Personally a second playthrough just made the writer in me notice all the odd jumps in narrative logic, the bad dialogue, or plot holes. Sometimes, nostalgia is the kinder option.
The Remaster has done little to update the gameplay of the original game. You fight with light, using your flashlight to burn the darkness off enemies before you can shoot them. With the darkness, they’re invincible. Sans darkness, it’s they’re vulnerable as any human. I would also describe it as ‘lite’ combat. For an hour or two its interesting, but then it becomes repetitive, and there’s very little in the way of embellishment in the system to keep the combat fresh. Gun play is inaccurate and floaty, the dodge function just does nothing useful, and the remaster has not done anything to address these issues.
The controls feel pretty out of date now; the run command is mapped to L1 for example, rather than the far more universally accepted L3 these days; the dodge control feels cumbersome and is mapped to L1 too, making you constantly do a little head-down dodge before you run. Little things started to annoy me, such as every time you collect ammo the game switches to the latest weapon type you picked up, constantly meaning you have to change your weapon back. I hated the gimmick of running through an area with no enemies, only to suddenly have the camera sweep backwards and reveal enemies behind me that had appeared from nowhere.
Outside of combat, the gameplay is mostly picking up items and going back and forth between points of interest. Its narrative driven, but it can be dull, and some sections go on for way too long, sapping your drive to continue. The Remaster has done nothing to change the pacing, or the order of events, so your memories will be intact, unlike Alan’s. I kinda wish they had tightened things up though.
So what about graphics, the remaster part of a remaster? The most important bit. Well, the character models, faces, locations, enemies and items have all had a spruce up – it’s undeniably a massive step up from the original. There’s texture where there often wasn’t, there’s much less fogging and blur and obscuring shadows (outside of scripted fogging and obscuring shadows of course). The most notable really is Alan Wake’s face itself, which is almost unrecognisable. It’s not quite a different face, but it’ll feel like it to those who played the game originally. He has much more in the way of expressions, but maybe not quite enough to bring him completely up to date. I actually miss his old hair, as the new hair is more one colour and has less of the original’s waviness.
However, there are plenty of things that do still show their age. The animations are still what they were, relatively stilted and abrupt. Mouth animations on most characters haven’t been remastered to the point that they don’t look like they were done eleven years ago – they’re better than they were, but they don’t compete with Control for example. They often look like they didn’t use as many points of movement in performance capture as they do today, and so didn’t have that much to work from.
It would be great if the success of the remaster prompted the greenlight for a true Alan Wake sequel. Maybe that rumoured Alan Wake 2 that Remedy wanted to make before they shoehorned their ideas into Quantum Break. More likely is that the next Remedy game will be part of the expanded universe that both Control and Alan Wake are a part of – so a sequel of sorts.
This new version allows another decade’s worth of Gen Z gamers to appreciate a cult classic. It’s hard to play games that are more than a system generation or two old without remasters, or at the very least re-releases, so I’m glad it exists. It’s the new best way to experience a classic.
However it is a remaster in the barest terms. Character models and lighting effect upgrades are great, but what this isn’t is any tangible improvement over the original – repetitive floaty gunplay, naff controls, stilted animations and dull erratic pacing – they’re all still intact after a decade. It’s a product of its time, no matter the facelift.
I feel this release might have been better justified had it also included American Nightmare, which was a full follow-on game set in the Twilight Zone world of the TV in the main game. It would have made this a Remastered Collection, much more deserving of purchase and revisiting. I never got chance to play American Nightmare so that would have been much more likely to cement my purchase.
A decade is a long time in gaming. Perhaps there is a point at which we shouldn’t really accept just straight remasters, perhaps at the ten-year mark, and instead look to completely remake these games from the ground up. Ideas and gameplay that was acceptable and groundbreaking then, often don’t hold up to scrutiny this many years later.
A graphical facelift will be appreciated by fans, and make it easier for newcomers to experience a cult classic. However the game itself has not been improved and shows its age across its dull repetitive combat, stilted animations and decade old ideas. The Remaster doesn’t shed new light on a game that might have been better remembered remaining in nostalgic darkness.
Alan Wake Remastered is available now on PS4, PS5 (review platform), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC via Steam.
Developer: Breaking Walls, Remedy
Publisher: Game Seer Ventures, Epic Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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