Alan Wake is a great game. Originally released on the Xbox 360 in 2010 with a PC port arriving later, it told the story of titular writer Alan Wake as finds himself in a Stephen King-esque nightmare, where a story he can't remember writing comes to life after his wife goes missing. If Max Payne proved Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment could walk, Alan Wake proved it could run.
Unfortunately, Alan Wake is also a game that many people missed when it first launched, partially due to launching alongside a little title from Rockstar Games called Red Dead Redemption. While it's certainly become a cult classic and reached more people thanks to the aforementioned PC port and, years later, hitting Xbox Game Pass, it never reached the heights that it deserved. Alan Wake Remastered has the potential to change that as it joins the huge catalog of Xbox games.
What makes Alan Wake worth playing?
I really liked Control and its unique blend of horror, action, and general weirdness, and that game helped expose Remedy to a broader audience. However, there's simply something special about Alan Wake. Remedy's proven more and more capable in its gameplay since then as the studio branched out its combat later on through time-bending adventure Quantum Break and the eerie halls of Control. Yet, Alan Wake remains to me the pinnacle of the studio's excellent storytelling.
Alan Wake works because while there's absolutely a creepy story, there's almost as much character building and plot development during broad daylight as there is amidst the pure terror at night. By many standards it's a great horror game but it's also a well-paced thriller. The narrative is woven perfectly into the (admittedly simple) combat: Alan uses some guns but he has to first weaken threats with light. His health is refilled in the light and it grows to reinforce safety. At any point while playing through the day, there's a clock ticking in the back of your head, realizing that eventually, night will again fall and the monsters will come.
The unease of making your way through the day, trying to understand what's going on free of the dark shadows that attack at night, provides a tense juxtaposition. It's a slow-burn framing for the story and one that pays off in spades. True thrillers are rare enough in video games in general, but as far as higher-budget titles go, Alan Wake is in a class of its own.
This is reinforced by just what Alan deals with. He's not fighting horrific monsters but shadowy corruptions of everyday people, things and animals. It feels more grounded, like a waking nightmare world that slips in and out of existence. Characters you trust, people Alan cares for, are all vulnerable to it. The story is lent a more personal terror than simple zombies or other commonplace horror fodder.
Why Alan Wake deserves that remaster
Overall, the presentation of the game holds up over 10 years later, which is why Remedy has opted for a remaster here instead of a full-on remake. Enhanced resolution and frame rate, along with some other effects, are all helping to present the game in its best light possible, but this is the same Alan Wake fans like myself know and love.
I understand the concern some potential players might have with the gameplay not receiving any real changes, but as much as the concept of requiring a flashlight for weaking foes is neat, the gameplay was never the real focus. Not choosing to overhaul that aspect isn't going to detract from what makes this experience so tense and interesting.
The combat is simple but since the basic premise for fighting remains the same all throughout the game, massive overhauls weren't needed.There are some incredible moments I still don't want to spoil if you've avoided knowing them all this time, but let's just say one encounter backed up by an in-universe song from Finnish band Poets of the Fall still puts a smile on my face.
That special story deserves to be seen more, and the announcement of Alan Wake Remastered could deliver that broadened exposure. One thing that helps is the (relative) quiet into which this remaster is launching. Even with a handful of major games this holiday season, the numerous delays of high-profile AAA titles means that things are a little sparser than usual — though of course there's still plenty of games — so this remaster has a fair bit of room to breathe. Certainly, it has more than the original game had.
Remedy has quite a few games in development right now, including a proper follow-up to Control and a multiplayer-based spinoff title. There's also another game signed with Epic Games, one that is reportedly a proper Alan Wake sequel. With the events of Control's AWE expansion tying the Remedy universe together, now is the right time for players to acquaint (or re-acquaint) themselves with Remedy's slackjawed wife guy writer. If a sequel truly does pan out, it's also a great time for Remedy to draw on what the team first created that drew players — and Alan himself — to Bright Falls.
Alan Wake was always a great game, but it took many people a while to realize it. Now that Alan Wake Remastered is coming, I hope people don't miss out on it again.
Where the horror began
Alan Wake Remastered is a chance for everyone, both fans of the game and newcomers alike, to jump back in and experience one of Remedy's best stories. With a little more polish, this scary story can now stand the test of time.
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