Alan Wake 2 Hands-off Impressions: Twice the protagonists, twice the thrill
As part of Summer Game Fest Play Days, Remedy Entertainment showed us a behind-closed-doors look at their upcoming narrative-heavy survival horror title.
It probably doesn't surprise many to hear me say this, but Alan Wake 2 looks very, VERY good. Remedy Entertainment has a developer calibre that few can match, and following up on the excellent Control, Alan Wake 2 is shaping up to be a truly brilliant survival horror game. How do I know this? Because as part of Summer Game Fest Play Days, I had the luxury of attending a behind-closed-doors presentation, led by multiple members of the development team at Remedy themselves.
The hands-off demo started a little while into the Alan Wake 2 storyline, and saw new additional protagonist Saga Anderson heading out into the wilderness of Cauldron Lake in Bright Falls to investigate a series of murders. This case leads Saga to a bunch of unsettling clues, which all have ties to pages of manuscripts littered around the surrounding environment, pages written by the famed and titular character of Alan Wake himself - who has been trapped in the Dark Place for the past 15 years.
Remedy has always been a master of environmental storytelling, but in Alan Wake 2, it really feels like the developer has turned this up a notch. The world is incredibly detailed and feels truly real and immersive. But it's also incredibly uncomfortable to explore as the wind howling through the trees and the way the light penetrates the tree line makes for an environment that is, simply put, freaky. Saga's journey through the woodland of Cauldron Lake that I got to witness always had me on the edge of my seat as every moment felt like a point where something nasty and hostile could jump out and start attacking the FBI detective character. Granted, this level of unease wasn't helped by the many jump scares that Remedy sprinkled in.
This is an ad:
The familiar process of exploring and piecing together a mystery at the core of the storyline is still very prevalent in Alan Wake 2, as it was in its predecessor, and this isn't the only place where there are similarities, as Remedy has returned to a whole batch of familiar tropes and gameplay elements. The idea of using light to weaken threats is still a major mechanic in Alan Wake 2, as is wandering into spotlights to slowly regenerate health and to escape danger. Safe rooms are once again back as well (with these used as areas where you can swap between Alan and Saga's campaigns at any moment - with each campaign playable from start to finish however you so please), as are the red supply cabinets dotted around the world where you can find batteries, ammunition and so on. Unlike the original game, Remedy has (thankfully) decided that thermoses needed a new purpose, and now in Alan Wake 2, they act as save points, and not incredibly overused collectibles.
Looking at the gameplay, Remedy uses similar shooting systems to that of other survival horror games, meaning the aim is wobbly and unstable, and you're not overcome with ammunition to pelt downrange at foes. There are multiple weapon types to discover and use, including handguns and shotguns, as well as evasive moves once again to help avoid attacks from threats. If you are caught by an enemy however, quick-time events are used to see Alan or Saga escape danger, with minimal damage. In the spirit of the great survival horror games as of late, Remedy has looked to them for inspiration when it comes to the inventory, as now Saga and Alan will need to manage the items and weapons and so on that they carry, by arranging them and slotting them into a grid-like format.
This is an ad:
But these minor tweaks and additions aren't the only areas that Remedy has looked to iterate and add new features and gameplay elements. This demo was solely framed around Saga and what she brings to the table so it's unclear as of right now how these abilities translate to Alan himself, but Saga alone can now use a collection of new abilities including visiting a Mind Place and through Profiling.
Sherlock Holmes fans will have a very good idea of what the Mind Place is all about, as it is in effect the same concept as that of the Mind Palace. The idea is that Saga can, at any time, enter a construct of her own mind, a safe space where she can assess and start piecing together a mystery away from the hazards and distractions of the physical world. In the Mind Place, Saga has access to a detective board where she can assess gathered clues and pinpoint how they connect to one another and even lead to additional clues. Then, to add to this, she can start to unpack and understand characters she meets by Profiling them, with this being a sort of interrogation mechanic where she spots flaws and character traits and uses them to unravel how a character ticks. It's all very Sherlock, but it works in practice.
While I only got to see 30 minutes of Alan Wake 2 gameplay, with a chunk of this being similar to what was offered in the latest trailer, the quality that Remedy is aiming for in this game is clear. The immersive elements, the narrative depth, the character animations, the performances from the cast, the presentation and the fantastic graphics, they all come together and make for an experience that is incredibly exciting. The middle of October is shaping up to be one of the busiest weeks of the year for the gaming space, but Alan Wake 2 has the potential to be the cream of this promising crop.