Skip to main content

Alan Wake 2 review: The best psychological horror game I’ve played in generations

In a superb blend of reality and fiction, Alan Wake 2 will earn its place as one of the best horror games out there.

A review header for VG247's Alan Wake 2 review, featuring the game name, a five-star rating, and a quote that reads: "Horror experiences don't get much better than this".
Image credit: VG247/Remedy Entertainment

Alan Wake 2 plays out like a completely different game when compared to its 2010 predecessor. For all the right reasons. Believe me when I say that Remedy Entertainment has created something so unnerving, and wholly bizarre, that it will give Silent Hill’s reboot a run for its money.

Alan Wake 2 starts out as a detective story, but as you reunite with the missing (presumed dead) Alan Wake again, everything becomes even stranger. It’s Twin Peaks in a video game format, to put it simply; nothing in the town of Bright Falls is as it seems, and its townsfolk are hiding more than they let on.

Playing as FBI agent Saga Anderson, you explore the town of Bright Falls and its surrounding wilderness; creepy, rundown theme parks, biker hangouts, plenty of swampy forests. As you pick Bright Falls apart, you retreat to Saga’s Mind Place – it’s exactly like BBC Sherlock’s Mind Palace – where you’ll piece together clues, profile suspects, and can even watch some unnerving (but amusing) live-action TV. We all need to unwind, after all.

Stepping into Alan Wake’s shoes, things are less comfortable. His mind, his perspective, is dark as you’d imagine – and the highlight of the game. Saga is fantastic, but there’s nothing like Alan Wake’s beleaguered POV on this damned scenario. This troubled author has got himself into a grand ol’ mess, but for each portion of the game that sets your teeth on edge, there’s a goofy scene to make up for it. In true Alan Wake fashion. Specifically, the Old Gods of Asgard moment in this game ranks amongst Remedy's best – and that's saying a lot.

And you're the author of your own experience, too: you can switch between the dual protagonists on the fly, and finish up Saga’s story before even making a dent in Alan’s, if you so wish. The choice is yours. A common theme in this game...

FBI agent Saga Anderson focuses her flashlight deep into the dark woods in a screenshot for Alan Wake 2
You're in for a big surprise. | Image credit: Remedy

As Saga has her Mind Place, so to does Alan have his 'Writer's Room'. Here, he’s piecing together the plot of his own story – Return – which he doesn’t recall writing, nor does he think he even wrote (Twin Peaks' comeback series in 2017 was coined ‘The Return’. Coincidence?) He’ll be given pictures and prompts that, when paired, can transform environments, evoking P.T. and Layers of Fear, especially when prowling endless corridors or discovering strange environmental loops. These new mechanics can be a little cumbersome, but once you get used to them, you can manipulate the world to your advantage. It's satisfying, and helps relieve the tension. Sometimes.

Alan Wake 2 is the best psychological horror game I’ve played in generations. It summons thoughts of Silent Hill, at its best. This expedition into the deepest, darkest parts of our protagonist’s minds takes us into The Dark Place, comparable to the Otherworld of Silent Hill, but the terror submerged in the recesses of your psyche aren't half as explicit as Masahiro Ito's horrors.

Instead, you’re facing the shadows and silhouettes of people you know and have met; the townsfolk of Bright Falls and all the counterparts that have paid a visit during this uneasy season. And those townsfolk are ever so bizarre; there are numerous moments and live-action scenes intertwined with your investigation that’ll make you confused, make you belly-laugh, make you question everything.

Saga Anderson, of Alan Wake 2, looks perturbed in the setting sun of a mountain township.
It's one hell of a Saga. | Image credit: Remedy Entertainment

Comic relief isn't as present as it was in Alan Wake, either (or maybe I struggled to take the game as seriously as I should, but that’s Barry Wheeler’s fault). But when Remedy needs to lighten the tone, it’s executed with a perfectly light touch. Comic moments would catch me off guard after the fright of my life, making me go from yelping to laughing, hysterically. Anyone watching me play Alan Wake 2 would think I'm on the brink of insanity. A perfect example of narrative and reality merging together, then.

Let’s not forget that Saga Anderson is accompanied by Alex Casey for much of the game – modeled in the likeness of the game’s writer, Sam Lake. Casey's moody-but-amusing quips are the soundtrack to his own story unfolding; this is his last case with the FBI, and it becomes more apparent throughout the game that Casey is succumbing to The Dark Presence – much like Alan and Saga, and Thomas Zane before them.

It’s an intricate plot that could be mistaken as convoluted or pretentious by some, and put down before it even gets going by others. And yes, it certainly is pretentious, but I’d argue that it’s been executed with precision, with care, and with fans of Remedy in mind. You are going to be confused at the best of times, but that is part of the point. Our characters are confused, and we’re confused with them. We’re scared alongside them, too. But in spite of that – perhaps because of it, we are – one way or another – going to get to the bottom of The Dark Presence and free them.

Saga Anderson in Alan Wake 2 aims at a cult member in a run-down convenience store. The only light is a flashlight in her hands, and the cultist weilds a fire axe.
Not the 'stag do' you were hoping for. | Image credit: Remedy Entertainment

There are plenty of treats for veterans of Remedy titles, too, and plenty more to snack on for attentive fans of David Lynch and Stephen King. This was the case with 2010’s Alan Wake, sure, but there’s even more for keen fans to gorge on here; Alan Wake 2 has the surrealism of a Lynch film, with beats and bits ripped straight from a Stephen King novel. Alan Wake 2 folds in the influences with the utmost care, and remains wholly distinct while doing so. Its style – aped, in part, from Kubrick – is undeniable.

Speaking of style, Alan Wake 2 has lots of it. Every environment is gorgeous. From the forests of Bright Falls to Alan Wake’s apartment, everything is incredibly detailed; you’ll see echoes of the past (literally, as a game mechanic), but also figuratively through emails, items, and decor, if you’ve a keen eye. I did experience some technical issues that hindered my progress in the later half of the game, but Remedy has assured me that these have been fixed for launch. There's no denying this is a tech-hungry title, though. Those minimum specs are there for a reason.

While Alan Wake 2 drove me up the wall as I pieced together its fractal story and resisted the urge to succumb to its mind-bending live-action scenes, it continually impressed me. I was genuinely sad as I edged closer to the game's conclusion. I want more of this tantalising cast of characters and ever-so-creepy town… more of this big psychedelic trip that refuses to let you predict where it's going. I can’t get enough of this story about the battle between dark and light, good and evil, and the fight to overcome our own protagonist’s subconsciousness.

Modern day horror experiences don’t get much better than this, and I'm pleased we've got more to come in, at least, two sets of DLC.

Alan Wake 2 is out October 17, and will be available on PS5, Epic Games Store for PC, and Xbox Series X/S.

This review was conducted on PC (with additional testing on PS5), with codes provided by the publisher.

Read this next